The pre-event Press Conference talks future, past and progress – and the track is renamed the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto
MotoGP™ is back on European soil for the Gran Premio Red Bull de España and the grid are very much ready to get down to business at round four, with only eight points separating the top five riders in the Championship. As always, it was time to talk on Thursday, but before the pre-event Press Conference, there were some special events at the Andalusian track – with Jerez renamed in honour of 12 + 1 time World Champion Angel Nieto.

In a ceremony attended by CEO of Dorna Sports Carmelo Ezpeleta and Nieto’s sons Pablo, Gelete and Hugo, the new name was made official at midday as the track became the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto and a bust of the Spanish legend was unveiled soon after.

In addition, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and teammate Dani Pedrosa led a Red Bull Convoy on Thursday, welcoming the participants at the end of the parade on Avenida Alcalde Álvaro Domecq alongside the Mayor of the City, Mamen Sanchez Díaz – just after another special event at the track as Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi and Angel Nieto were all honoured in the Ciudad de Jerez Motor Awards.

Despite the full throttle day, however, there was more than enough time for the riders to face the media, and Championship leader Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) was joined in the Press Conference by reigning Champion Marc Marquez, Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Maverick Viñales, Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Andrea Iannone, Ducati Team’s Jorge Lorenzo, Reale Avintia Racing’s Tito Rabat and late addition Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) after the Frenchman announced earlier in the day that he will be racing for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing from 2019. Talk centered around the rider market, flashed back to Austin and looked forward to Jerez, with many taking stock as the European leg of the season gets in gear.

Dovizioso was the first to speak, and he was focused on the title fight. “I’m a bit surprised, with the results in the last two races, to be leading the Championship! But not too much because we finished the season in a good way last year and we started this year in a good way. We were focused on trying to get the maximum in the last two races because we knew it wasn’t the best for our bike. The results were ok but not the speed if we want to fight for the Championship, because there are so many fast riders. But we got more points than last year so I’m happy about that.”

The goal this weekend? The same as always – the consistency that has become ‘DesmoDovi’’s calling card: “We have to fight for the podium if we really want to fight for the Championship.”

Last year that fight for the title was against Marc Marquez and he, after a dramatic race in Argentina but a dominant bounce back in Texas, says it’s something of a reset in Jerez.

“The feeling was really good in Argentina and Austin but now we’re in Europe it’s completely different – everything is more narrow, tight, everything is slower – so we need to understand the base setup and understand our level, and that of our rivals,” says the number 93. “And we’ll see with the new track surface – I think everyone will be very close. But we did a test here a month ago and it was good.”

One key topic for Marquez was the track and his record at the Spanish GP, where he’s only ever won once – in 2014.

“I only have one victory but on the other hand I’ve finished on the podium every year and that’s important. But I like this track. Normally we arrive here in the first part of the season without the bike being quite perfect but this year I feel better. The first target is the podium but if I have a small chance, I will try to win.” On domination and the style of win at the Americas GP, Marquez added it’s natural to try and win like that. But if it comes to it? “Normally you don’t have the chance for a race like that because everything is so tight. We’ll see here in Jerez, but if we can win like that I will try, Johann will try, Andrea will try…but if not, I’ll fight until the final corner.”

Compatriot Maverick Viñales is another who arrives fresh from a good result, taking second in Texas after some more difficult races. With the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team having had a more difficult race at the venue in 2017, a lot of eyes are on the Iwata marque and their progress.

“I’m curious to see how the bike is working because for sure we’ve improved a lot when there’s low grip,” says Viñales, referring to the unknown quantity of how the new asphalt will have changed the track. But first, he was very sure about something – progress. “In the second part of Qatar and Argentina I was feeling good, we needed to improve the first part. But race by race we’re making steps and we can improve our level much more. From Qatar and in the next races we’re going to go up and up, I think we understand the way to go. I feel good on the bike and the team is really motivated.”

Andrea Iannone was another who returned to the podium last time out. Taking his first rostrum finish at Suzuki, the ‘Maniac’ is back – and says they’re still close. “For us it’s a positive moment,” says the Italian we needed the result for sure, and it’s good for us and everyone because we spent a lot of time and did a lot of work to arrive at this level. I think it’s important to stay focused, but it’s important we’ve remained more or less close to the top riders.”

Podium form is something Jorge Lorenzo had last season at Jerez. The five-time World Champion took his first rostrum in red at the 2017 Spanish GP, and it’s a venue at which the number 99 has had much success.

“Jerez has always been magic for me in the past few years,” smiles the ‘Spartan’. “I’ve had victories and last year I got my first podium at Ducati. It’s been a tough start to the year, but those tracks aren’t so good for our bike, so hopefully now we’re arriving at a good track for me and, now, for Ducati, where we had good winter tests and were fast, we can change the situation and I can demonstrate my value.”

The start of the season has been a different story for Tito Rabat, however, and the Spaniard began with a smile. “In these three races I think I enjoyed it more than the last two years! We’ve had a very good start to the season. I didn’t really expect to almost take three top tens in a row…this year I feel good with the bike and with the team, learning and learning…now at a home GP we’ll see. It’s where I took my first win in 2013, so I’ll try to push to get a good result but as always thinking race by race and about improving.”

Finally, it was time for some words from Zarco after the Frenchman’s move to Red Bull KTM Factory Racing was announced earlier in the day. The key word for the 2017 Rookie of the Year? Challenge.

“I’m happy we announced it this weekend,” smiled the two-time Moto2™ World Champion. “It’ll be a great challenge for the future. European constructor with a European rider, I think if we get a great result and we develop the bike well, we can have a fantastic future. The way they were developing the bike last year makes me think something is possible. I went there because I want the challenge. I’m on a great wave and I’m enjoying it so much, the performance is good too and I hope we can stay on this level in the next two years.”

The performance is good, the racing is close and it’s now time for the first European carnival of the season at the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto. The riders taste the new asphalt in FP1 at 9:55 (GMT +2) on Friday for the first time, with the lights going out for the race at 14:00 on Sunday.