Dani Pedrosa looks set for a four round battle with Casey Stoner for third in the 2009 MotoGP World Championship, providing the Ducati rider returns as planned this weekend at Estoril.
While the 2007 world champion has missed the last three rounds to try and recover from a mystery illness, Pedrosa has been a consistent frontrunner for Repsol Honda - taking two podiums and falling from the lead at Indianapolis.
As a result, Pedrosa has moved seven points in front of Stoner heading into this weekend's Portuguese Grand Prix.
“It's been quite a long break since the last race and I really enjoyed it - combining time to relax as well as taking the opportunity to put in some good training,” said Pedrosa of the lengthy break since Misano. “It's unusual to have three weeks off at this stage of the year, but now it's time to get back on track and I'm very much looking forward to facing the last part of the season.
“We need to be very focused from the first practice on Friday to prepare the bike as much a possible for this race. At this track you need a machine that performs well on the brakes and over the bumps and is able to maintain good rear grip,” he revealed. “It's quite a tough track from a riding point of view, but I feel confident on this front because physically I'm in really good condition now.”
Pedrosa, who celebrates his 24th birthday on Tuesday, has finished second at Estoril for the past two seasons.
“I have good memories from 2008 when we managed to finish second even though we had mixed conditions on Sunday with some light showers at the beginning of the race. Obviously I would prefer to have stable weather and dry conditions, but whatever happens I'm looking forward to getting back on track,” declared Dani, who sensationally collided with team-mate and world championship leader Nicky Hayden in the 2006 Estoril event.
Present team-mate Andrea Dovizioso arrives at Estoril looking to maintain the consistent run of form which has seen him take fourth place in the last three races and, before that, score his first MotoGP victory at Donington Park.
On his MotoGP debut at Estoril last year Dovizioso was highly impressive in only his third top-flight race, forming part of a four-way battle for the lead with Valentino Rossi, Pedrosa and Lorenzo for the first half of the race before a fall denied him a possible podium finish.
Dovizioso has three podium finishes and one win to his name as a 250cc rider.
“Estoril is a track where I have achieved some good results and I'm really looking forward to getting back on the bike after this long break,” said the Italian. “Last year's race here was looking going well for me too, and I was fighting with Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Valentino before I crashed, so I have a positive feeling coming into this weekend and I'm confident I can have a good race.
“It's a very slow circuit and some parts are a bit tight and narrow for MotoGP machines. This means it's not easy to tame these bikes around here and it takes a while to understand how to approach the track and fully exploit the MotoGP bike's performance.
“At the last race at Misano we collected important data on the way to fourth place and the team and I have some ideas of how to further improve the machine set-up with the Ohlins suspension. I'm really curious to see how these new setting solutions will work out.
“We're feeling confident for the final four races of the season and I'm definitely looking forward to racing at Estoril,” he concluded.