MotoGP Catalunya: Race preview

| | MotoGP
Picture: GeeBee Images

Bagnaia and Quartararo lead the charge to Catalunya as MotoGP’s battle of Barcelona awaits for another spectacular weekend of racing.

In the wake of so much talk following Pecco Bagnaia’s (Ducati Lenovo) crash in Le Mans, the Italian’s stylish return to the top step on home turf likely felt pretty sweet as Mugello treated us to another Bagnaia vs Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) showdown. Now MotoGP heads to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya with 41 points between the two in the standings, in favour of Quartararo, and plenty more to talk about.

Starting with Ducati, Barcelona hasn’t seen a Borgo Panigale win since 2018 and the number 63 seems a good candidate to change that looking at his form at similar venues. Teammate Jack Miller, meanwhile, will just want more from the weekend in whatever form, with only a single point to his name from Mugello. Gresini Racing’s Enea Bastianini crashed out and now has a slightly bigger deficit at the top of the championship, and Prima Pramac’s Jorge Martin will want more before planning surgery to fix his ongoing issues arising from his big crash last year. Satellite teammate Johann Zarco wants to be more than top Independent Team Ducati on race day, too.

Rookie Marco Bezzecchi, Mooney VR46 teammate Luca Marini and Mugello polesitter Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing), however, probably want more of the same. ‘Diggia’ impressed for pole and then took a good chunk of points just outside the top ten, and Marini put in one of his best races with some choice moves to take a top six. But Bezzecchi stole a few headlines as the rookie led the race, went toe-to-toe with winners and champions, and still only just faded from the podium. He’s now really leading Rookie of the Year.

At Yamaha, the two sides of the coin continue to trouble the Iwata marque. For his part, Quartararo remains championship leader, keeps taking podiums, and wrung absolutely everything out of his machinery at Mugello to get stuck into a Ducati and Aprilia party in the top six and come out only six-tenths off the win. He won in Barcelona in 2020, he had his leathers drama in 2021 but retained some scything speed at the front, and Yamaha are the most successful factory at the track. Can ‘El Diablo’ get back on the top step and can a venue where the bike has a proven track record help the likes of Franky Morbidelli make a step forward?

Speaking of steps forward also speaks to Aprilia, after another podium at Mugello extended their best ever run and made Aleix Espargaro only the third rider on the grid who’s taken three or more premier class podiums in a row. Now the challenge will be four and with Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez away, it’s only Andrea Dovizioso (WithU Yamaha RNF) Espargaro can equal. It’s home turf for the Spaniard at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya too – as in, walking distance to where he grew up – and with the form he’s in, it’s hard to imagine Espargaro aiming for anything other than victory. On the other side of the box meanwhile, Maverick Viñales continues to make progress with some searing laptimes near the end of the race in Mugello, with those early laps now the next focus…

For Red Bull KTM, Catalunya is turf they’ve already conquered, with Miguel Oliveira on the top step last season. But comparing Mugello 2021 and a podium to a top ten for the Portuguese rider a year on, there remains some margin between the Austrian factory and the podium, and there remains plenty of work going on to cut that down. Brad Binder, however, continues to give it full gas on every given Sunday as the South African put in another race day charge up to seventh after a tough qualifying for both riders. What can KTM do in Barcelona?

The tougher times also continue for Suzuki Ecstar. In the last two races neither rider has scored, but Barcelona offers a good track record and another chance to reset for 2020 Champion Joan Mir and teammate Alex Rins. It also offers a layout that may suit the Hamamatsu factory more, so can put the recent turmoil behind them and come out swinging again? It’s also home turf for both, with plenty of support in the stands.

Finally, at Honda it’s Stefan Bradl back in for Marc Marquez as the number 93 heads for surgery, and the test rider will likely have plenty to use the track time for as the factory continues to fettle the RC213V. Pol Espargaro looks for some better form too, and on very home turf, and the same can be said for LCR Castrol’s Alex Marquez. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Idemitsu), meanwhile, continues in his step forward… can he keep it rolling?

The Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya sees the field ready to race once more. Who will come out on top?