Now in its second edition, the inaugural Aragon Grand Prix was good to PUMA’s partner team Ducati, delivering a first and third here last year.
Motorsport architect Hermann Tilke (he of ‘Tilkedrome’ fame) was commissioned to design the circuit after local institutions pledged support for an alternate venue after the nearby Alcañiz street circuit - which hosted racing for 40 years from 1963 - fell foul of modern safety standards.
The race is one of five MotoGP rounds in the Iberian region, and last year joined the calendar as substitute for Hungary’s cancelled round. The MotorLand circuit, which is 5.077km long and has 17 turns (10L/7R), received accolades last year, winning the International Road Racing Teams’ Association award for the Best Grand Prix – the first time a debutante had been thus honoured.
Given its 2010 successes here, Ducati has high hopes for this round, with nine-time champion Valentino Rossi being particularly optimistic: “Last year at Aragon was the best race of the year for Ducati,” said the legendary Italian, currently sixth in the championship with 133 points, “so we approach this round with our expectations a little higher than usual. In addition, after the difficult practice sessions at Misano, we found a good setup in the end and I had a better feeling with the bike and managed to ride it better in the race, especially in the early laps.”
Nicky Hayden, riding the team’s second bike, scored a fine third here last year, overtaking Yamaha’s then-champion-in-waiting Jorge Lorenzo on the last lap in a beautifully-judged move.
“It’s nice to go back to Aragon, which I like,” said the American, who suffered no after effects following a crash in the last round.
“We haven’t been here a lot, so it’s still new and fun. Last year, it was clearly our best weekend of the season, and in theory, it should suit me and our bike a little bit [better] this time as well. The track was brand-new then, and it was grippy and completely smooth, so we’ll see how well it’s held up,” added 2006 world champion Nicky, who lies seventh in this year’s title hunt after a tough season.
Honda’s Casey Stoner, world champion with Ducati in 2007, heads the points’ log with 259 to the 224 of reigning champion Lorenzo, with Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) third.
Dani Pedrosa on the third Honda topped the time sheets in Friday’s first practice, with the second practice session being cancelled after the circuit suffered widespread power failures in the afternoon. Nicky and Valentino placed seventh and eighth respectively during the pre-lunch session, having concentrated on set-up work.
“Our riders and team are completely focused on the goal, and they’re giving us a collaborative working group that I think is extremely important. At Aragon we expect to continue gathering data and information on the Desmosedici, and to speed up the setup work during the practice sessions,” said team manager Vittoriano Guareschi.
Sunday’s 23-lap race starts at 14 00 CET, with Saturday’s qualifying hour commencing at 1355.