Misano Adriatico, Italy - New MotoGP championship leader Andrea Dovizioso heads into this weekend's San Marino Grand Prix with a slender nine-point advantage to defend over reigning world champion Marc Marquez.
Dovizioso, who overtook Marquez at the top of the riders' standings last time out with victory at Silverstone, is a native of Forlimpopoli, only 65km from the Misano circuit in Rimini. The Ducati man will be looking to make good use of home comforts, especially with his legendary compatriot Valentino Rossi missing after breaking his leg in training.
"Coming to Misano as leader of the championship is fantastic,"Dovizioso said, "even though I'm really sorry that Rossi will not be there, as it would have been great to also battle against him.
"In the past the Misano circuit hasn't been too favourable for Ducati, but a couple of weeks back we did a very positive test at this circuit and we are on good form, so we'll be trying to take home the best possible result."
Dovizioso was losing ground in the title race a month ago, when he was 21 points adrift of Marquez after the Spaniard's back-to-back wins in Germany and the Czech Republic. But he has hit back with consecutive victories of his own, although he has five riders within 35 points of him in a close championship.
Rossi, 38, now looks unlikely though to claim a record 10th world title this year after his injury, and Maverick Vinales will be Yamaha's sole rider on Sunday in his absence.
"It's a big pity that I can't be at my home GP," Rossi lamented. "For sure, I was really looking forward to the round in Misano, because riding in front of the fans there is something very special, but I have to treat the injury with care."
Marquez has won four times at this race, which is called the San Marino Grand Prix because of its proximity to that country and the fact that there is already an Italian race at Mugello. But only one of those wins has been in the premier class, and the Honda rider knows he needs to find his best form after being forced to quit in Britain with engine failure.
"We'll try and have a great weekend in Misano, putting the last race behind us," said the three-times MotoGP world champion.
"The important thing is that lately we've been competitive at all kinds of tracks, so now we go to Misano, which has a twisty, tight layout, with the same approach and mentality that have worked very well for us so far."
'Focus on points'
Marquez's Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa won in Misano in 2016 and sits fifth in the standings, although he hasn't won since edging out Marquez on home soil at Jerez de la Frontera back in May.
"I'm looking forward to the Misano race and it's a track I like," he said. "I have good memories there and I've enjoyed some strong results, so I hope to be able to work well in every session."
Vinales still has championship hopes of his own and is only 13 points behind Dovizioso and four adrift of second-placed Marquez, thanks largely to his two consecutive wins at the start of the campaign.
"I'm starting to have the same feeling on my M1 that I had at the beginning of the season," he said, "and that gives me a lot of calm and allows me to focus on continuing to get points in each race."