Pecco Bagnaia has already scored his only Grand Prix win, but he has other highlights coming up, including the Mediterranean series Chieri La Dolce Vita, which he won with a blistering victory in Naples. He then entered his second FIM Maribor 250cc race and fought his way up to second. He qualified second for the next race, but in the end finished ninth. So he’s motoring along in Europe right now.
More important perhaps is his time in the North American version of the series, Valentino Rossi’s Repsol Honda. It was his first win with the team, and his best finish with them. If he keeps it up, he could well reach the top in every series on the road. At the end of the day, his elevation from 20th to 20th on the top three podiums last season was his best métier — in that he finished third in the four-wheeled equivalent of the General Motors Cup. All he has to do is stay healthy and keep his head above water — his biggest challenge.
Last season, 2011, was the golden year of the Barca factory MotoGP team. Barca won all six races at the Honda center. Some of their riders only began making the step up to MotoGP at the end of the season. It was the first time since he took on the MotoGP class that Baffert could walk away from the season having won every round. The easiest way to ease the transition was to bring in his longtime collaborator, Joseba Esterowicz, as the BAR line-up did. The second choice was to bring in Aleix Espargaro and they were given six seasons to settle into MotoGP, after two underwhelming seasons in 250cc. A few months after the launch of the Repsol Honda Tech 3 line-up in GP2, the two other Spaniards finally moved up to MotoGP: Davide Tentori and Marc Marquez. There was a moment there when all the riders were sharing a room under the winning team name of “Barcelona GP.”
At the most recent preseason testing, this year’s Barcelona GP line-up is a blend of all three programs. It’s worth noting that for the first time a rookie lines up in the fabled Repsol Honda squad.
Marquez — who returned from an extended mid-season break and a crash which his super surgeon-father had dedicated to the drive he lost in the 2012 Grand Prix race in Qatar. And, when asked about the role of the pole-sitter in the championship, Marquez responded: “The race where I win is the championship.” Why? He said because he sets the pace. Marquez is the clear favorite to win in Barcelona. After having won races in every series to date, he’s looking back at his wins in the world’s most competitive series. His list includes a pole and a race win in Moto2, a race win and a podium finish in GP2, a victory in Moto3, a podium and pole position in MotoGP, and now a victory in GP2. He’s the favourite.
But could he be beaten? “If I was going against myself, I would say not,” Marquez responded. “But it depends what I will do this weekend. I just hope that I’m one step better than everyone else.” The jury is still out on this prediction.
Marquez isn’t the only Spaniard preparing for the grand finale in Barcelona. Nicky Hayden takes the return to the class that brought his career to an end, and his new teammate in the Tech 3 squad is Hiroshi Aoyama. Aoyama is the first to arrive in GP2 since the Honda dynamo Alex Rins. He’s finishing the year in a seriously competitive Honda after impressing last season in a non-competitive Honda, Enrico Battaglin. But, that indicates, Aoyama is already rounding into shape. He went from being a podium finisher in GP2 to a win and two second places in GP3, so you can see that he has the potential. His debut was impressive, too, as he set the pace in the season-ending race and finished third, one position shy of winning the title.