MotoGP docks in Catalunya for round six

The MotoGP World Championship paddock has been assembled in record time this week as the series prepares for the second race in consecutive weekends at the Gran Premi Gauloises de Catalunya in Barcelona. Whilst several of the trucks and motorhomes have made their way from the Mugello circuit in Italy across firm European soil through France to Spain, the majority of the 260 tonnes of material required by the teams and organisers for each round of the championship was shipped over by boat, crossing the Mediterranean sea directly from the Italian port of Civitavecchia to Barcelona.

The teams have worked feverishly since their arrival on Tuesday afternoon to prepare the team offices, hospitality units, pit boxes and machines in time for this weekend's event, which gets underway with first free practice for the 125cc class at 9am on Friday. For some of the riders, the past two days have presented a brief chance for rest ahead of another intense weekend whilst for others, the demands of the Grand Prix have already begun.

In particular the home favourite, Sete Gibernau, runner-up in the MotoGP World Championship for the past two seasons, has been under the spotlight after a crash in the last round at Mugello virtually wrecked his hopes of challenging Valentino Rossi for the title this time around. The Spaniard was back in his home city of Barcelona today for a charity football match with his MotoGP team-mate Marco Melandri against a team of Spanish celebrities and refused to admit that his championship is over.

"My aim this weekend is to show anybody who thought that this championship was already over is wrong," said Gibernau, who lies fourth in the championship behind Rossi, Melandri and Max Biaggi. "Barcelona is an important event for me but at the end of the day it is like any other race in that we need to start winning."

Gibernau's compatriot Dani Pedrosa also took part in the football match, which involved major Spanish sports stars including Rafa Alkorta, Luis Enrique, Nani Roma and Ángel Nieto, as he prepares for his home Grand Prix in somewhat more favourable circumstances. The reigning 250cc World Champion leads the quarter-litre standings by 21 points from Andrea Dovizioso and is looking to extend his advantage still further in front of a crowd expected to exceed 100,000 people - with all grandstand tickets sold out.

"To not do well in front of so many people who are there for you is difficult to accept," said Pedrosa, who was denied victory in last season's 250cc race on the final lap by Randy de Puniet. "I remember my victory in 2003, which was very special, and I'm looking forward to enjoying this Grand Prix. It's more difficult to concentrate because everybody wants to see you and be with you - you have to contain the euphoria, imagine that you're not at home and just enjoy the atmosphere."

On the other side of the city a group of Gibernau's MotoGP rivals were taking in the sights of one of Barcelona's most famous landmarks, the Sagrada Familia temple, designed by the legendary architect Antoni Gaudí. Rubén Xaus, Alex Barros and Kenny Roberts, who all have homes in the area, all visited the world-famous cathedral as they enjoyed a relaxing start to the weekend.

Later, the riders came together at the Circuit de Catalunya, on the northern limits of the region's capital, as they plotted to overturn Valentino Rossi for only the second time this season. "For sure Sete will be going for it here so I will have to maintain my full focus throughout the weekend," predicted Rossi. "Last year was a really hard race at the top level, and we went at a very hard pace - Sete and I were more than ten seconds ahead of the others. He is not my main rival in the championship at the moment because Melandri and Biaggi are closer but he will be very dangerous at his home circuit. Whoever is at the front, I hope I can be there and provide another great show."

Joining Rossi in the Yamaha camp this weekend is Toni Elías, who is planning to ride just over three weeks after breaking his wrist and fracturing his leg in a testing crash at Le Mans. Elías was given the green light by Dr Xavier Mir, who operated on the injuries at the Dexeus Clinic in Barcelona. Meanwhile, Olivier Jacque has been confirmed by Kawasaki as a full-time test rider for the rest of this season after his impressive performances as a substitute for Alex Hofmann at Shanghai and Le Mans. Jacque is also scheduled to race at Sachsenring and Valencia as a wildcard entry later in the year.

One local rider who will not race this weekend is 125cc youngster Julián Miralles, who is recovering from a broken leg sustained in the last round at Mugello. Héctor Faubel and Mika Kallio, who both crashed out after fighting for the lead in the final corner of the race in Italy, are expected to ride as Kallio aims to recover his championship lead from Thomas Lüthi.


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