MotoGP drama continues at Grande Premio de Portugal

The dramatic start to the MotoGP World Championship at Jerez last Sunday enters its second chapter after a break of just four days as the Grande Premio de Portugal gets underway with the first free practice session at Estoril on Friday morning.

The battle for honours between Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau at the opening round in Spain has been a hot topic of conversation since the dust settled on their last-corner collision, with the latest twist coming on Monday night when Gibernau's team announced that their rider's participation in this weekend's event is in doubt. A medical report compiled by doctors in his hometown of Barcelona has revealed a 'capsular injury to the joint linking his upper arm and shoulder blade', damage that is reportedly being treated with an intensive course of physiotherapy, anti-inflammatory medication and daily ultrasound treatment.

Should Gibernau recover in time for the sixth consecutive Grand Prix to be held at Estoril there promises to be another titanic struggle for supremacy between himself and Rossi, the top two riders over the past two seasons of MotoGP. The sparks will begin to fly in Thursday's pre-event press conference, when the riders will come face-to-face for the first time since the tense post-race ceremonies in Spain.

The race also presents an opportunity for several other riders to re-establish their title credentials after they were all blown away by the incredible lap record pace set by Rossi and Gibernau at Jerez. Nicky Hayden crashed out of third place as he pushed to stay in touch, leaving Marco Melandri to complete the podium, whilst other expected challengers such as Alex Barros, Max Biaggi and Colin Edwards were all over 20 seconds behind.

However, the tight and twisty nature of the Estoril circuit presents a completely new challenge to the teams and riders, who will be hoping that the high winds and cool springtime temperatures experienced at Jerez are tempered at Estoril in spite of its location on the Atlantic west coast of Portugal.

Whilst the statistics lie heavily in favour of Rossi, who has taken victory on each of the last four visits to Estoril, Makoto Tamada pushed him close last season and will look for a significant improvement on his season-opening result of eighth place at Jerez on the Honda. Meanwhile, Shinya Nakano will be looking to build on an excellent top five debut for the 2005 version Kawasaki, whilst Troy Bayliss will be flying high on confidence after taking sixth in his first appearance for Honda after a difficult preseason.

Several other riders are battling for fitness ahead of this weekend's event, with Ducati pair Carlos Checa and Loris Capirossi having raced with shoulder and ankle injuries respectively at Jerez whilst Shane Byrne suffered skin loss on his hands and arms after a freak scooter crash in the paddock on Sunday evening.

Dani Pedrosa has no such worries as he defends his early lead in the 250cc World Championship. Pedrosa has the added bonus of having ridden his Honda in a test at this circuit just days prior to the opening race at Jerez, gathering valuable data for his Honda alongside team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama, one of several riders to crash out on Sunday. Casey Stoner and Randy de Puniet joined Aoyama in the gravel trap when racing for podium positions but all three riders have reported a clean bill of health ahead of this weekend's action.

Marco Simoncelli will look to continue his dominance of the unpredictable 125cc class after setting the pace for much of preseason before taking pole position and a clear victory at Jerez. Amongst the riders trying to disrupt the Italian's title plans will be local wildcard Carlos Ferreira, the only Portuguese rider to be taking part in the Grand Prix.

With Portuguese time being one hour behind Central Europe, there is a slight change to the race day programme this weekend, with the action starting with the 250cc race at 11:15h to be followed by MotoGP at the earlier time of 13:00h, coinciding with its traditional CET slot of 14:00h. The 125cc race will take place last, starting at 14:30 local time (CET 15:30).

Source: Dorna Communications

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