The sixth round of the 2009 FIM MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend at the Montmeló circuit close to the Mediterranean port city of Barcelona, with another huge crowd expected for Sunday’s racing.

Having ended Valentino Rossi’s seven-year winning streak at Mugello last time out Casey Stoner heads to the Gran Premi Cinzano de Catalunya as the standings leader, with his Italian triumph his first victory since the opening round in Qatar. The Australian Ducati Marlboro rider was the winner of an epic Barcelona race in 2007 and finished third last year.

Second in the general classification and the only other rider with two wins to his name thus far in 2009, Jorge Lorenzo is out to set the record straight at his home GP. The man from Mallorca trails Stoner by four points and will be keen to perform well in his first race in MotoGP in front of the Catalan crowd, having missed out last year due to concussion after a Friday practice crash.

Reigning World Champion Rossi, meanwhile, trails Stoner by nine points and aims to close that gap at one of his strongest circuits. The Italian Fiat Yamaha star has never finished off the podium at Montmeló in the premier class, with five wins, three second places (two of which have come in the past two seasons) and one third place at the track.

Last year’s racewinner and home favourite Dani Pedrosa has victories to his name in all three Grand Prix classes at the venue, but he faces a late fitness test to see if he is ready to participate. The Repsol Honda rider damaged his right thigh when he severely stretched his hip in Mugello in practice, then crashed out of the race.

Pedrosa’s teammate Andrea Dovizioso lies just one point behind the Spaniard in the championship, having missed the podium by less than a second at the last two rounds. He will be keen to add to his solitary MotoGP podium to date as soon as possible and as a former 250cc Barcelona racewinner he will fancy his chances this weekend at a circuit where he placed fourth in 2008.

Home representation also comes from Toni Elías (San Carlo Honda Gresini) and Sete Gibernau (Grupo Francisco Hernando) as they both try to bounce back from recent operations and climb up the general standings. Gibernau missed both of the past two races after picking up shoulder and collarbone damage in France, and makes his comeback at the scene of his 2006 crash.

The weekend will also see the next chapter of an intriguing 250cc title race unfold at Montmeló, with championship leader Álvaro Bautista out to prove a point after his battle with Marco Simoncelli in Italy at round five.

Bautista and Simoncelli ran off track together when the Spaniard was under pressure for the race lead from the Italian at Mugello. Simoncelli took second place and penalisation from Race Direction away from the event, whilst Bautista finished third.

Mapfre Aspar rider Bautista has tasted victory at the Barcelona track before, albeit in the 125cc class en route to the 2006 title, and he finished second to Simoncelli in last year’s 250cc race. Simoncelli is third in the overall standings, currently 22 points behind Bautista.

Trailing Bautista by seven points is Scot Racing’s Hiroshi Aoyama -a Barcelona resident. In his five Grand Prix appearances at Montmeló, all in the 250cc class, Aoyama has never finished on the podium.

Also featuring in the group of top five competitors who have all won races this season, Valencian rider and 2004 125cc Catalonia victor Héctor Barberá and Mugello top man Mattia Pasini can all be expected to push for classification elevation this weekend.

The second visit to Spain in 2009 means another home race for many of the 125cc stars, but the current leader in 125cc hails from Britain and is equally familiar with the circuit. Bradley Smith heads Bancaja Aspar teammate Julián Simón by 3.5 points, although both have yet to finish on the podium in northeast Spain in the World Championship.

After his strong start to the year Andrea Iannone’s season has taken a turn for the worst in recent weeks, and he has home talents Pol Espargaró and Sergio Gadea biting at his heels. Espargaró was second in last year’s race at the track which is within a short scooter ride of his Granollers home.

The Gran Premi Cinzano de Catalunya takes place on Sunday, June 14th, with practice starting on the afternoon of the previous Friday.

—  Ducati Preview

Following their outstanding success in the Italian Grand Prix, the Ducati Marlboro Team is preparing for another challenge this Sunday around the hills of Montmelò, on the industrial outskirts of Barcelona, Spain. Casey Stoner produced a performance that boasted intelligence and determination in equally impressive measure at Mugello, avoiding unnecessary risks in the first part of the race before extracting the full potential of his Desmosedici following the change from wet to slick tyres as he opened out an insurmountable advantage over his rivals.

It was the Australian’s eighteenth victory in MotoGP, equalling Wayne Gardner on the list of all-time 500cc/MotoGP winners and consolidating Ducati’s record as the most successful manufacturer in the 800cc era, with nineteen wins from forty-one races so far.

Nicky Hayden, who so far this season has benefited from stable weather conditions at just one Grand Prix out of the five contested as he continues his adaptation to the Desmosedici, showed signs of improvement in Mugello, only missing out on a top ten finish after suffering a rear brake problem over the final three laps.

On Friday morning both riders will be honoured by the Circuit de Catalunya with the unveiling of their own plaques on “Champions Avenue” – adding their names to those of Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Dani Pedrosa, amongst others – in celebration of their MotoGP titles of 2006 and 2007 respectively.

LIVIO SUPPO, MotoGP Project Director
“Mugello was an unforgettable victory but we have to keep giving our best and not rest on our laurels. On Tuesday after the race Vittoriano was back on track for three days of testing at the same circuit with the objective of improving our bike for Casey and for the other riders who are at times struggling to find a comfortable set-up for the GP9. In Barcelona we’ll have a few set-up and electronic updates to try in the day of testing on Monday after the race, so we’ll have chance for our World Championship riders to give us some feedback and direction for more useful development in the future.”

CASEY STONER, Ducati Marlboro Team (1st in the championship on 90 points)
“This championship is extremely difficult and competitive and even a victory like the one at Mugello, wonderful as it was, needs to be put behind us so that we can turn our focus to the next race. Being leader of the championship at this stage means absolutely nothing. My rivals are very clever, mature and capable of winning races so we have to stay focused, do our best to be competing for the top step of the podium again and if that’s not possible then make sure we are bringing home the maximum number of points. Barcelona was one of my favourite circuits until they re-laid it. Even though they put a completely new surface down a few years ago it has never been the same as it was before and the fact they race F1 there hasn’t helped the situation in terms of the bumps and potholes. The layout is nice though – the first part isn’t too difficult but the middle and end parts of the lap are technical and demanding, especially the fast pair of right-handers coming onto the start-finish straight.”

NICKY HAYDEN, Ducati Marlboro Team (15th in the championship on 13 points)
“Barcelona is a track I like a lot, with some really hard braking areas, like turn one, but also with some really fast and technical sections. We can’t do much in terms of preparing for the Grand Prix and this obviously isn’t an easy period for me but I have to think positive and continue to give it everything. That is my way of dealing things and that is what I’ll continue to do alongside my team. I’m looking forward to getting out there and racing again but I’m also looking forward to the test afterwards. I really need some testing and more time in the saddle. This year I’m really feeling the testing ban that has been brought in and I know it’s the same for everybody but for me in particular I know I’d really benefit from some test time, so hopefully we can get some good work done in Barcelona that will help me take a step forward.”

THE TRACK
The Circuit de Catalunya, located around 20 kilometres north of Barcelona, was added to the calendar in 1992, when it hosted the European Grand Prix, before changing to the Grand Prix of Catalunya in 1996. It is a fast and demanding track with a long main straight of 1,047m, which allows the 800cc machines to hit top speeds potentially in excess of 325km/h, and some hard-braking areas such as turn one and the “La Caixa” corner at the end of the shorter back straight, as well as some fast and flowing corners. The combination of long corners and variations in camber calls for a balanced chassis set-up and puts huge demand on front tyre durability and feel. The track was resurfaced in 2005 but many riders still complain about the bumps caused by F1 testing and racing.

—  HRC Preview

The MotoGP World Championship arrives at Spain’s crucible of grand prix racing with three candidates in the thick of the championship and a fourth looking to rebound and repeat his 2008 victory at Barcelona’s majestic Circuito de Catalunya (called Montmeló by locals).

The area around Barcelona has produced more MotoGP racers than anywhere else in the world and the best among them is Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, the 2008 race winner. Just days prior to the start of the GP weekend Pedrosa confirmed that he wouldn’t allow injuries suffered in the previous race in Mugello to keep him from defending his title. The 23-year-old hails from Castellar del Valles, not 30kms from the circuit, and can count on the support of a weekend crowd that should approach 200,000. Pedrosa, who now makes his home in London, spent the one weekend break between races resting and had one final checkup before getting the green light to race.

Pedrosa won last year’s race by 2.8s, setting a new lap record along the way. It was one of Honda’s seven wins at the Montmeló circuit, which has hosted a round of the World Championship since 1992, and where Spaniards have excelled.

Carlos Checa, who was born in Sant Fruitós de Bages, just north of Pedrosa’s hometown, won the`1996 race on the venerable Honda NSR500. Mick Doohan won the next two before Alex Criville, also from the Barcelona area, won in 1999. Pedrosa also has wins in the 125cc and 250cc classes at Montmeló.

The 2009 Catalunya GP is the sixth race of a season that has three riders currently separated by just nine points at the top of the MotoGP point standings, followed by Pedrosa and Repsol Honda teammate Andrea Dovizioso. Entering the previous round in Mugello, Pedrosa was within striking distance of the leader. But Pedrosa crashed after switching from his Honda RC212V fitted with rain tyres to his second bike with slicks in the wet/dry race. The crash ended a streak of three successive podiums. Pedrosa had entered the race at less than fighting strength, the Spaniard having damaged a tendon in his right hip while fighting to maintain control during Saturday morning practice. The same episode caused an incomplete fracture in the thigh bone at the top of the femur. Doctors later determined that the race crash did no further damage.

Andrea Dovizioso makes his Repsol Honda debut at the track where he was the second Honda rider to Pedrosa in 2008. The Italian arrives in Spain riding a streak of two races where he fought for the podium, only to miss out by one position. The track is one of his favourites for its fast, flowing nature.

LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet also lists the track north of Barcelona as one of his favourites. De Puniet won two 250cc races at Montmeló, but hasn’t been able to repeat that success in the premier ranks. The Frenchman was in the top six last year when he crashed. But his second year on the Honda RC212V makes him confident of a good result this weekend.

Toni Elias is another local hero who honed his skills on the numerous GP calibre Spanish tracks. But strangely, the San Carlo Honda Gresini rider, who grew up in Manresa, northwest of Barcelona, has yet to score a point in the premier class at Catalunya. Elias has been fighting back to full fitness following an operation to cure ‘arm pump’ in his right arm and is keen to secure a strong finish in front of the hometown crowd.

In recent races San Carlo Honda Gresini teammate Alex De Angelis hasn’t been able to equal the sixth place he earned in the season-opening race in Qatar. De Angelis has been hampered in his search for rear grip in the dry by too many wet sessions. He’s hopeful that with three dry sessions prior to the race he can make significant progress.

The Montmeló weekend comes two weeks after a similarly challenging weekend at Mugello. Both tracks have a long start-finish straight followed by technical sections of both fast and slow corners, elevation changes, and a dramatic conclusion to the lap. The 4.727kms circuit includes a 1.047km straight where top speeds reach 328.7 km/h before hard braking into a right-left sequence that leads to an uphill climb and the first of several constant radius right-handers. The middle infield straight leads to another hard-braking turn, this time a left-hander into a stadium section that will be filled by tens of thousands of partisan fans getting a glimpse of the final corner sequence before the downhill double-rights leading to the front straight.

With eight right-hand corners, many of which are long and fast, and five slower left-handers, the track taxes the left and right sides of MotoGP’s Bridgestone tyres very differently.

Riders and their race engineers will spend their three hours of practice and qualifying searching for a good all-around package; stability under hard braking, the ability to hold a line through the long corners, acceleration off the slower corners onto the two long straightaways, and compliant suspension. Even though the track was re-surfaced before last year’s race, a steady schedule of testing and the annual Formula One race have left it bumpier than most.

HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) says: “I’m really looking forward to my home Grand Prix even though the build-up has hardly been perfect. For the past week I’ve just been resting and that’s pretty boring. But today I went to see the doctor and the results of the new scan have been quite positive. They decided to give me a trial pain-killing injection so that I can judge how it will feel ahead of the weekend. And today’s scan really helped them pinpoint the best location for the injection so it can have the maximum effect, which was something they weren’t able to do in Mugello. The feeling was good, so it looks like I’ll have an injection before riding each day. Obviously it’s still not going to be comfortable riding the bike but I’m feeling positive that we can go into the weekend and aim for the best possible result. In spite of the problems, my motivation for my home race is still the same. I’ve been waiting for this race for a long time and I want to get the best possible result for all the fans who will be there to support me. I hope I can give them a good weekend.”

Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) says: “Montmeló is one of my favourite circuits of the year. I love this track because of the long, fast corners and it’s a great feeling when you find the right flow from one turn to the next. There is also a fantastic atmosphere at this track, and when you enter the final four corners it feels like a stadium and the sensation is incredible. So I always look forward to this race and my previous results here have been good, including last year when I had a great race and finished fourth. After leading the last race at Mugello and finishing so close to the winner I’m feeling really motivated and I think the team can have a good result this weekend. It’s true that the conditions were unusual – first wet and then dry – but my feeling with the bike has improved so I think we will be stronger at Barcelona.”

Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) says: “The Barcelona race track is one of my favourites. I won two races in the 250cc class with Lucio’s team and I like the Spanish atmosphere. Unfortunately last year I crashed but I was lapping consistently fast and, after our positive result at Mugello I feel confident about this GP. Basically we will start with the same set-up we ran at Mugello. Last year between the Italian GP and the Spanish GP we made some adjustments with good results so we already know which direction to follow. I hope the weather will be fine this time!”

Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says: “I think we are ready. We come here having found some improvements but without having shown it on track in terms of results. We have had a bit of bad luck so far, so we will keep working and pushing hard. Hopefully it will be at Montmeló where things change and we start to get the kind of results we are looking for. We have had a few problems and it is hard to fight against them to put things right but we are giving it all we can and we are getting better. We are working on our issues one by one and reducing them gradually and we just need to make sure we aren’t affected by bad luck or unexpected problems and hopefully at Montmeló we will get our first strong result of the year, as we are getting close. The fans there are very important and they always give us a push in terms of motivation, so we need to take advantage of that and get a good finish which we can build on.”

Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says: “I was disappointed with the last race in Italy because we missed out on some vital points but we’ll keep working hard in Catalunya, especially in the search for rear grip, which is the problem that is still affecting us the most at the moment. I remember being really, really fast at this circuit in the wet last year but it seems our problems this year are the same in the wet and dry conditions, so it is something we desperately need to iron out if we want to move forward and be more consistent. I like Barcelona as a circuit and I was having a good race last year until I crashed out with Capirossi. We were challenging at the right end of the field on that occasion so we go there with optimism, confidence and feeling calm.”

Yuki Takahashi (Scot Honda) says: “I did not like Montmeló when competing in the 250 class, but I believe this is going to change because I feel really better in the fast corners with a MotoGP bike. Moreover, in Mugello my set-up was really good.”

— Yamaha Preview

The Fiat Yamaha Team moves to Spain for the Grand Prix of Catalunya this week and after Valentino Rossi’s home race in Italy last time out it is now Jorge Lorenzo’s turn in the spotlight as the local hero. After a thrilling race in Mugello the pair now lie second and third in the championship and another exciting spectacle beckons this weekend at the high-speed Montmeló track.

Mallorcan-born Lorenzo lived in Barcelona for much of his early career and after a brief hiatus in London last year he has now returned to live in his beloved home city. Following two wins and a brilliant second in Mugello the 22-year-old lies just four points off Casey Stoner in the championship standings and after disappointment on his last visit to Spain earlier this season he is determined to reach the podium in front of his fans this time out. Last year he was forced to miss the Catalunya round through injury after a crash in practice but he has won there previously in 250s and knows that home success is something special in front of the passionate and knowledgeable Spanish fans.

Montmeló has been a happy hunting ground for reigning World Champion Rossi in the past and he has no less than eight victories to his name there, but he has finished second for the past two years and would like a return to the top step at what is one of his favourite tracks. Last year he made an impressive charge through the field from ninth on the grid to take the runner-up spot but he is keen to strike back with a win this weekend to add to his victory in Jerez a few races ago and claim back points on his team-mate, whom he trails in the standings by five points.

The Circuit de Catalunya is similar to Mugello in that it features one of the longest main straights in the world. The rest of the track is characterised by long radius, medium and high-speed sweeping corners, with two tight left-hand hairpins thrown into the mix. This variation combined with regular changes in camber makes the circuit particularly demanding on chassis balance and means that front-end feel is a key concern for every rider. After the limit on testing this season, the Monday after the race will allow the teams their first chance to test since before the first race and it promises to be a crucial day of development before the busiest stage of the season.

Jorge Lorenzo – “One of my favourite tracks”
“I’ve had a great season so far but it hasn’t all been perfect and I made a big mistake in Jerez when I tried to pass Stoner, so hopefully I can do better for my home fans this time! After Mugello and Le Mans we know that anything can happen and you just have to keep calm and focused. Now we’re going to my home, the closest place to my Island of Mallorca and one of my favourite tracks. I’ve always been fast there, right back to when I went there for the first time when I was in 125s and got my first second row start. My main aim this time is to have a better weekend than last year and to completely forget what happened. I improved on last year in Mugello so hopefully I can do the same again in Barcelona.”

Valentino Rossi – “Hoping for a second Spanish win!”
“Mugello was disappointing but still we took some good points and now, entering one of the most important phases of the championship, this is very important. We still haven’t found the perfect answer to make my M1 exactly how I want but Barcelona is a good track for us so hopefully we can make the final step there, also since we will finally have a chance to test on Monday. Barcelona is, along with Mugello and Phillip Island, one of my favourite tracks and I always love racing there. I have taken one Spanish win so far this season so I am hoping for another this weekend. We need to keep focused and use what we learnt in Mugello to put us in the right shape. Finally I am hoping for good weather because I don’t think these flag-to-flag races in the wet and the dry suit me very well!”

Daniele Romagnoli – “Feeling very strong”
“Going to Barcelona, Jorge’s home race, lying second in the championship is absolutely brilliant and it gives us great motivation; we are feeling very strong right now after two good results in a row. This year the championship is very close and we need to be consistently on the podium in order to stay in touch. We’ve done very well in the last two races in the strange weather conditions but I think everyone would prefer a ‘normal’ race this time so let’s hope for some Spanish sunshine.”

Davide Brivio – “Still on target”
“We’re still on target and close to the top of the championship but this weekend we need to try to gain some points on the two ahead of us in the championship. We have to work at our hardest this weekend. Usually we’re good in Barcelona but there are a lot of others who are also strong there and we know that it’s going to be a hard battle which we have to be involved in! On Monday we have our first test since the start of the season and it’s going to be a very important day which will hopefully give us some good information to help us over the second half of the championship.”

— Suzuki Preview

Rizla Suzuki MotoGP is in the Catalonian capital of Barcelona for the next round of the MotoGP World Championship, with high hopes of good results at the Montmelo circuit.

Chris Vermeulen finished seventh at the 4,727m track last season, a result that didn’t reflect his excellent practice performance that saw him up with the front-runners all weekend on race tyres. He was hampered in the race when he was hit by Alex De Angelis early on and relegated to 13th place. He rode a strong race and was soon inside the top-10, before eventually coming home in seventh.

Loris Capirossi had a race to forget at Catalunya last year, as he too was involved in an incident with De Angelis, causing Suzuki’s Italian racer to crash heavily and injure his hand. Capirossi is determined to continue with the good form he demonstrated at Mugello last time out, as both he and Vermeulen aim for competitive results.

The Circuit de Catalunya is one of the most modern and safe tracks on the MotoGP calendar. It is situated In Granollers, about an hour’s drive from the city centre of Barcelona. The layout features a kilometre long straight where speeds in excess of 300kp/h will be achieved, plus many elevation changes, super-fast right-hand turns and two spectacular downhill corners at the end of the lap. All this adds to an amazing atmosphere from the huge crowds to help to make this one of the best events of the year, Rizla Suzuki will have one practice session on Friday afternoon, followed by another on Saturday morning. An hour of qualifying on Saturday afternoon will decide grid positions for Sunday’s 25-lap race.

Chris Vermeulen:
“The Catalunya circuit is one I really enjoy and we have performed quite well there. I would have done better last year but I didn’t get a good run on qualifiers, so without those this year I hope my starting place will reflect my race-pace in practice – something it didn’t do last year. The Barcelona race is a bit like a home GP for me as well because I have a place in Andorra so it’s just a short journey down to the event and lots of friends and neighbours come down to support me. We are hoping that the upgrades from Suzuki this weekend will work as well on the bike as they have in the factory, we’re not sure if we’ll use them in the race or hang on for the test day, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Loris Capirossi:
“I didn’t have a good time at Catalunya last year after I was hit by another rider and crashed with some nasty injuries. I am determined to put that behind me this year and carry on from where we left off at Mugello. We know we will have to work hard on the long straight at Barcelona, but we learnt a lot from the last race and hopefully that will help us this weekend. We have got some new parts coming from Japan which should make a difference to the performance of the GSV-R so we are all quite excited about that.”

—  Bridgestone Preview

Tyre compounds available: Front: Medium, Hard. Rear: Hard, Extra Hard (asymmetric)

The Circuit de Catalunya hosts the sixth round of the 2009 MotoGP season and marks the first race of the year to which Bridgestone will bring its asymmetric slick rear tyres.

With eight right-hand corners, most of which are long and fast, and only five left-handers, most of which are much slower, the circuit works the right and left shoulders of the Bridgestone tyres very differently.

The right shoulders of the Bridgestone slick tyres experience far greater loads and cornering forces, meaning they have to be able to cope with higher temperatures.

Meanwhile, the left shoulders are less stressed and therefore must be able to perform at a lower temperature range.

With the nature of the circuit and the high track temperatures expected for this time of year at the Barcelona venue, a harder rear slick is required.

Bridgestone will bring the hard compound and the extra hard compound rear slicks, but in both rear options the left shoulder of the tyre uses Bridgestone’s soft compound.

By combining a hard or extra hard compound right shoulder in the rear tyres for increased durability and consistency at a higher operating temperature range with a soft compound left shoulder for the slower left-handers, the asymmetric Bridgestone rears are able to provide a consistent level of grip and rider feeling throughout the lap.

The recently revised 2009 tyre regulations come into effect from the finish of the Catalunya Grand Prix, when every rider will need to inform Bridgestone how many of each compound of front slick tyre they wish to use in Assen.

This change in the regulations means that rather than every rider being given four of the harder and four of the softer compound Bridgestone front slicks, each can now choose whether they want four of each compound or five of one and three of the other.

This will make rider and team strategy in terms of slick tyre selection even more important.

Spaniard Sete Gibernau will return to action in Catalunya for the Grupo Francisco Hernando team after being sidelined with a fractured collarbone sustained during the French Grand Prix. Dani Pedrosa will arrive at the circuit having suffered another injury to his right hip and thigh bone during the second free practice session in Mugello.

Last year, Catalunya brought the first pole position of the season for Bridgestone and the Ducati Team with Casey Stoner’s qualifying lap record of 1m41.186s.

Hiroshi Yamada – Bridgestone Motorsport – Manager Motorcycle Sport Unit
“Catalunya is an important event for us this year because we are introducing our asymmetric tyre. This is something that we had always planned to do since we were appointed as Official Tyre Supplier last year. The last two races have been very exciting in mixed conditions, so I hope we see the same good racing in Catalunya but without the rain!”

Tohru Ubukata – Bridgestone Motorsport – Manager Motorcycle Race Tyre Development
“The Circuit de Catalunya is a technical track with long right-hand corners that increase the temperature on that shoulder of the tyres. The surface is smooth and the stress placed on the tyres’ outer shoulders necessitates hard compounds, especially for the rear. We will bring asymmetric rear tyres for the first time this season as having dual compounds to suit the right and left hand corners is essential for good feeling and performance at this circuit. Because the left shoulders are not used as hard, the temperature in them is cooler than in the right shoulders but the soft compound on the left side allows the tyres to give optimal grip and rider feeling in these conditions.”