This weekend’s Catalan Grand Prix is a home race for all four Honda MotoGP riders.
The company’s six-times MotoGP king Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) and younger brother Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) hail from Cervera, an 80-minute ride from the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit, Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) was born within earshot of the track and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) bases himself near the track during the racing season.
All four will be hoping that the Catalan GP will bring them some luck, after a difficult Italian GP at Mugello last weekend. Racing is always full of ups and downs, a fact the Marquez brothers, Espargaro and Nakagami know all too well. All four plus their teams and their HRC engineers endeavour to always learn from the hard times to become even stronger and faster in the future.
This will be the older Marquez’s fifth race following a nine-month absence due to an arm injury sustained at last year’s season-opening Spanish GP. The last four races have indeed been up and down for the 28-year-old Spaniard. He made his return at April’s Portuguese GP, securing a remarkable seventh-place finish, backed that up with another top ten at the Spanish GP and led the subsequent race at rain-lashed Le Mans, only to crash out. Last time out at Mugello he tangled with another rider during the early stages of the race and tumbled out again.
Marquez is very much looking forward to the weekend at Barcelona-Catalunya, a slightly less physically demanding track than Mugello. This is important, because his right arm isn’t yet at 100% and he needs a lot of upper-body strength to ride the way he likes to ride. He knows this will be another difficult event, but every race weekend helps rebuild his muscles.
The eight-times World Champion (he won the 2010 125cc and 2012 Moto3 crowns before graduating to MotoGP in 2013) has a great record at the track. During his previous ten visits he finished on the podium on nine occasions across three different categories.
Marquez won the 2010 125cc Catalan GP, stood on the Moto2 podium in 2011 and 2012, won the MotoGP race in 2014 and 2019, finishing third in 2013 and second in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Team-mate Espargaro has an even closer relationship with the venue. The 29-year-old Spaniard was born in nearby Granollers in June 1991, a year before the first Grand Prix was staged at the brand-new Barcelona-Catalunya circuit. One of his clearest memories of his childhood is listening to the distant roar of racing motorcycles, waiting to follow his dream of racing bikes.
Espargaro has also enjoyed success at the track. He won the 2013 Catalan Moto2 race, on his way to winning that year’s Honda-powered Moto2 world title. During his 125cc days he finished second in the 2008 125cc Catalan GP and third in the 2010 125cc race, which was won by Marc Marquez!
Espargaro has yet to stand on the MotoGP podium at the track and his aim will be to set that right on Sunday. So far he has yet to get the maximum from his RC213V but he is learning more about the bike at every race, so he is confident of bettering his previous best – two eighth places in the Qatar and French GPs.
Nakagami has also stood on the podium at Barcelona-Catalunya. In 2016 he finished third in the Moto2 race, behind winner Johann Zarco and runner-up Alex Rins, who are now MotoGP rivals. The 29-year-old from Chiba is still chasing a first MotoGP podium. At Jerez earlier this year he secured his third fourth-place finish, less than a second outside the top three, underlining the fact that he has the speed to challenge for the podium and that it can only be a matter of time before he achieves his current target.
Last year’s Catalan GP was staged in September – following postponement due to the global pandemic – and Nakagami rode superbly, once again challenging for a podium finish. He ended the race in seventh place, less than two seconds behind third-placed Rins.
Barcelona-Catalunya has long been a happy hunting ground for LCR team-mate Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V). In 2014 he won the Catalan Moto3 race, just before his big brother won the MotoGP race. This family double made history – the first time that brothers have won GP races on the same day.
Marquez followed that success with Moto2 victory at the track in 2017 and again in 2019, on his way to winning that year’s Moto2 world title.
This year the younger Marquez has yet to recapture the form he showed in the later stages of his rookie MotoGP season, when he took podium finishes in last autumn’s French and Aragon GPs. So far this season his best result is a sixth place at Le Mans last month. The 24-year-old Spaniard will no doubt be boosted by the fact that he knows Barcelona-Catalunya better than just about anywhere, which should help him to be more competitive.
The circuit, situated to the north of the historic city, was built in the early 1990s to bring the motorcycling World Championship to Spain’s biking heartland. It hosted its first Grand Prix in May 1992 and has been a popular fixture in the season ever since. The track layout is highly technical with an enthralling mix of fast, long corners and slow, tight turns, camber changes and bumps, plus a long start-finish where horsepower and slipstreaming are crucial.
Following Sunday’s racing MotoGP riders and teams stay at the track for a one-day test on Monday. Then they have one weekend off before heading for another two races on consecutive Sundays: The German GP on 20 June and the Dutch TT on 27 June.