Tides change from yellow to red as MotoGP™ rolls into the championship leader’s backyard.
MotorLand Aragon is one of the new wonders of European motorsport. The technical and spectacular circuit, one of the most recently completed on the calendar, has swiftly moved from new to modern classic for both riders and fans; often cited as a favourite by many on the grid. The motorsport complex in the region of Teruel is a new build, but it was constructed following the traditions of racing in the nearby town of Alcañiz – so much history has not yet been written in the asphalt, but it certainly rises from the dry, arid landscape of the earth.
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) may not have grown up as close to MotorLand as he has to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, but the championship leader considers the track to be his home venue – and it’s clear why. The Catalan coastline is long gone after the journey through the pockets of population that dot the roads up towards La Segarra in the province of Lleida, as the sea is replaced by the river Segre and the landscape loses its green. Cervera, the 2013 and 2014 world champion’s hometown, therefore shares more of the attributes of Alcañiz and the province of Teruel than those of the coast, although they lie over the border. Surrounded by dirt track training grounds, dry earth and 93 flags, MotorLand is Marquez’ anthill – and it’s also his favourite track.
The championship leader didn’t get to see the finish line on his first visit to the track in 2010 after being wiped out on the first lap, but he had started from pole in that 125 world championship winning year. Fast forward a season and the debut was put right in Moto2™, as Marquez took pole once again and added the race win as he staged his stunning championship comeback on the chase behind Stefan Bradl. After a war with key title rivals in 2012 in his world-beating Moto2™ campaign, Marquez was second, and 2013 saw the rookie MotoGP™ world champion take another pole position and victory – despite the controversial incident with teammate Pedrosa in which the older Spaniard’s traction control cable proved a casualty. Then, Marquez had to chase down reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) to earn his 25 points, before 2014 was his first mistake of the year in the wet as Lorenzo bounced back. 2015? Another season, another pole – but another mistake. The only man to have won back-to-back MotoGP™ world championships since Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) may not have a full scoreboard at the Aragones circuit, but his qualifying record shows he has unrivaled speed.
Competition is tough for the newest kid on the block, however. Misano saw teammate Dani Pedrosa take one of the most spectacular wins in recent MotoGP™ history, and the rider from Sabadell is also a winner at MotorLand. Although Casey Stoner won the first two editions of the Aragon GP, Pedrosa was second both times and hit back in 2012 to pass Lorenzo for a dominant win over six seconds clear. 2013 saw him unable to finish after damage to his traction control made him crash out, before in 2014 his fate mirrored teammate Marquez’ as both Repsol Honda riders slid out of the lead in the rain. In 2015, however, the 3-time world champion was back in the running and staged a stunning wheel-to-wheel battle with Rossi – beating the ‘Doctor’ over the line to P2 after their mammoth dogfight. Pedrosa may not always have found luck on his side, in the MotoGP™ world championship or at MotorLand, but his pace around this particular home track has always been menacing.
Lorenzo was the man ahead of that incredible fight in 2015. Taking off into the distance with Marquez crashing out as he tried to stay on his tail, the 5-time champion took a commanding win on a day that would prove decisive come the season finale in Valencia. 2014 also saw Lorenzo win, as the Mallorcan kept it on the road when others suffered in the rain, and he took P2 in 2013 as Marquez managed to convert pole into his one MotoGP™ victory at the track. 2012 was Lorenzo on pole but Pedrosa over the line, with a podium in 2011 and a P4 in 2010 completing the ‘Spartan”s history at Aragon. Although Pedrosa has beaten him over the line more than not at MotorLand, Lorenzo is the most successful rider on the grid in terms of victories with his back-to-back triumphs in the last two years. Back on the podium in Misano, the reigning champion will surely prove a threat at another home race for the Spaniards at the top of the table.
After the familiar turf of Sweet Home Misano, P2 in the title fight Valentino Rossi will be pushing to keep bringing down the gap to Marquez at the top. Struggling at MotorLand during his years with Ducati, the Italian took a podium back on a Yamaha in 2013 – but some way back from the incident that had seen Pedrosa crash out in front of him. 2014 was a difficult Sunday after a bad crash in the wet for the Italian legend, but 2015 was a spectacular fight at the front at least, if not for the victory. Although beaten by Pedrosa on the day and Marquez not seeing the flag, the 9-time world champion’s pace was big progress at the newer Aragon track. His record may not make for illustrious reading at the venue, but Rossi will be encouraged by many other races in 2016 that had traditionally seen his rivals prove safer bets – particularly Montmelo and Jerez.
After Pedrosa made it eight from eight in Misano, Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) may no longer be the most recent winner, but he remains the newest. The next man on track behind the top four in the championship in Misano, the Silverstone winner had another great race to rake in more points and consolidate his placing ahead of his move to partner Rossi in 2017. Viñales took P11 in his rookie MotoGP™ season, but further back his record at the track makes for good reading, with podiums in the lower class – before a maiden pole position in Moto2™in 2014, followed by his second victory in the class. Viñales and the Suzuki are in a different world to the one they were in last season at MotorLand, and MotoGP™’s freshest new victor could prove one to watch.
Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone will surely play a role, too, as both have had podiums at the track – Dovizioso in MotoGP™ and Iannone in the lower classes, in particular a rookie Moto2™ victory from pole in 2010, although Iannone will be recovering from an injury in Misano. And the pretenders to the crown in the Kingdom of Aragon don’t end there in the season that has seen eight different winners take to the top step, because no one can be counted out. There will be another familiar face back on the grid at MotorLand too: ‘Kentucky Kid’ Nicky Hayden. The MotoGP™ Legend and 2006 world champion will be back in action to replace injured Jack Miller at Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS for the weekend, fresh from another podium finish in WorldSBK.
Can Pedrosa’s eighth wonder of the year be followed by another, different ninth? Recent history says it will be tough to beat the home crowd’s dominion over the throne at MotorLand – but 2016 proves recent history can be rewritten.
The Anthill of Aragon awaits, and the supporters of all the Spanish riders will be sure to fill the grandstands. Marquez’ however may outnumber his contemporaries as he chases his third premier class crown – and he’ll definitely be looking to #SpreadtheRed as he heads home.
MotoGP™ World Championship Standings
1 – Marc Márquez (SPA) HONDA 223 points
2 – Valentino Rossi (ITA) YAMAHA 180 points
3 – Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) YAMAHA 162 points
4- Dani Pedrosa (SPA) HONDA 145 points
5 – Maverick Viñales (SPA) SUZUKI 136 points