The 4,727 kilometre circuit is ferociously fast, having a kilometre-long straight upon which the bikes reach upwards of 325 km/h (200 mph), followed by a braking zone which stresses machinery to the limit.
The track’s sweeping layout includes numerous such points, including the entry to Caixa corner, where rear tyres are regularly forced clear of the track under braking. Another characteristic of the circuit is its long constant radius corners, where riders experience strength-sapping lateral forces for extended periods.
Circuit de Catalunyais considered one of the best designed circuits of the current motorsport era, and hosts both two- and four-wheel grands prix, regularly attracting capacity crowds.
Leading the title hunt is Yamaha’s reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo, who has 78 points to the 66 of Casey Stoner and 61 of Dani Pedrosa, like Stoner Honda-mounted. Last-named seemed set to take the title lead until being unceremoniously punted off during the last round in France, in the process fracturing a shoulder and putting the Spaniard out of his home race.
Andrea Dovizioso, fourth, is three points ahead of the 47 of legendary multiple world champion Valentino Rossi, riding for PUMA’s partner team Ducati. The Italian has won in Catalunya in every two-wheeler grand prix category, having no less than nine victories and a further four podiums to his name.
“The Catalan Grand Prix is one of the nicest of the season for a number of reasons: Barcelona is a beautiful city, the track is really nice - probably my second-favourite after Mugello - and finally, as is always the case in Spain, the grandstands are filled with enthusiastic fans. I’m really happy to return to the track, since I had to watch the race from my house last year,” said Rossi, referring to his enforced absence due to the shoulder injury which has blighted his campaign since.
His Ducati team has burnt much midnight oil in engineering the GP11 to suit his riding style, and enormous progress was made during the last test in Estoril.
“We’re very motivated and we’re working really hard on the bike; step-by-step, we can see that we’re making progress. We know there’s still a lot of work to be done, but we need to keep trying to get closer to the front,” added the 32-year-old winner of 79 grands prix at the top level.
Sixth in the rankings on 39 points is Valentino’s Ducati team-mate Nicky Hayden, world champion in 2006. The US star has a second place (2006) to his name at this circuit, and is another rider who simply loves racing in front of the highly enthusiastic and knowledgeable Spanish crowd.
“Any race in Spain is huge, and Catalunya is no exception. Ducati hasn’t stopped working over the last couple of weeks, and we’ll see at Barcelona if we can keep going on the right path,” he said.
This race marks the start of an extremely hectic period for the sport, with no less than six rounds scheduled over eight weeks, made of three sets of back-to-back races in Spain/Britain, Netherlands/Italy and Germany/US.
Sunday’s 25-lap race starts at 14 00 local (12 00 GMT), with Saturday qualifying from 13 55 to 14 55.