The 2011 MotoGP World Championship encounters an intense period of activity across the months of June and July, with six races taking place in the space of eight weekends.

catalunya motogp - Catalunya marks the start of intense MotoGP run

The Gran Premi Aperol de Catalunya gets the stretch underway this weekend, as the campaign enters a demanding section of this season’s schedule, one which will shape the Championship substantially.

Current standings leader and reigning World Champion Jorge Lorenzo heads into Round 5 holding a 12-point advantage at the top of the Championship, and the Yamaha Factory Racing rider has been strong at the circuit in recent years. In 2009 he had a famous battle to the final corner with Valentino Rossi for victory, eventually finishing second, and last season won from pole position. His closest rival in the Championship at present, Casey Stoner, has stood on the podium at the track for the past four seasons and the Repsol Honda rider arrives at Catalunya coming off the back of a victory at Le Mans – the 25th premier class win of his career.

The big question mark going into this weekend will be the participation of Stoner’s team-mate Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard suffered a broken right collarbone at Le Mans when he crashed out of the race and had surgery on the injury three days later, starting physiotherapy last Wednesday, and a late decision will be made on whether he rides. Third in the standings after four rounds Pedrosa – who has won in all three classes at Catalunya – will be desperate not to miss out on more valuable points, but will be all too aware of the risks of making his return to action too early.

Third Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso scored his first podium of 2011 at Le Mans and is just three points ahead of fellow Italian Valentino Rossi, whom he held off to take second place in France. Rossi, fresh from his first podium finish with Ducati at the previous round, is the most successful rider at the Catalunya circuit with nine victories to his name there (including six in the premier class).

Nicky Hayden (Ducati Team) and Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) are both closely matched in the standings, whilst Aoyama’s team-mate Marco Simoncelli is on a mission to secure his first premier class podium finish. The Italian, at the centre of controversy following Pedrosa’s crash at Le Mans, finished the French GP in fifth position having incurred a Ride Through penalty, and has a 250cc win at Catalunya in his bank of experience.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3 duo Colin Edwards and Cal Crutchlow are level on 21 points with Héctor Barberá (Mapfre Aspar Team), the Brit once again making his debut at a new track, whilst Yamaha Factory Racing’s Ben Spies will aim to break into the top five for the first time this season – he placed sixth on his debut at Catalunya last year.

Rookie Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Motoracing) continues his development in the premier class, he finished fourth in last year’s Moto2 race at Catalunya, whilst Toni Elías (LCR Honda) and Pramac Racing pair Loris Capirossi and Randy de Puniet will all be looking for improved results. Rizla Suzuki’s Álvaro Bautista will ride in what will be his third race of the season, as he continues to work his way back to full fitness following a broken left femur.

The 2011 Gran Premi Aperol de Catalunya will mark the 20th successive year that the Circuit de Catalunya has been used since it was first included in the World Championship in 1992.

Stefan Bradl is the man to catch in the Moto2 class having opened up a 28-point advantage at the top of the Championship after four rounds, and the Viessmann Kiefer Racing rider is in fine form as the 2011 season pushes on this weekend.

Five races in seven weekends for the intermediate class will deliver plenty of telling action in quick succession, and Bradl is the form man going into Round 5. The German has won two of the four races in 2011 to date, finishing third at Le Mans in the previous round, and by qualifying in pole position in France became the first rider to take four successive poles in the intermediate category since Jorge Lorenzo did so in 2006.

His closest rival at the moment is Julián Simón, and the Mapfre Aspar rider is hungry for his first Moto2 win. Spaniard Simón was one of a group of riders who took part in a private Test at the MotorLand Aragón circuit last week, and will be hoping that the progress made there will translate onto the track at Catalunya where he stood on the podium in last year’s race.

Italian Andrea Iannone (Speed Master) is just a point behind Simón in the standings and after crashing out in France will be steeled for an assault on the podium at Catalunya. The Italian started last year’s Moto2 race there from pole and was leading before a Ride Through penalty dashed his hopes of victory.

Just three points separate Simón in second and Simone Corsi in sixth position in the standings ahead of this weekend. Yuki Takahashi (Gresini Racing) and Thomas Lüthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2) have each taken two podiums so far this season and finished first and second respectively in last year’s Catalunya race, with Corsi (Ioda Racing Project) having had a consistent start to 2011 as well.

Alex de Angelis (JiR Moto2) and Bradley Smith (Tech 3) have both had solid starts to the season, whilst Marc Márquez picked up his first points of the year in style in France. The Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol rider became the youngest ever winner of an intermediate class GP race with victory at Le Mans.

Espargaró brothers Aleix (Pons HP 40) and Pol (HP Tuenti Speed Up) will want to impress in their home race, whilst Marc VDS Racing pair Scott Redding and Mika Kallio are both still in search of their first Championship points of the season. Spaniard Carmelo Morales starts his full-time World Championship entry with the Desguaces La Torre G22 team, having replaced Raffaele de Rosa on the team.

Bankia Aspar rider Nico Terol remains atop of the 125cc Championship standings going into Round 5 at Catalunya this weekend, holding a 36-point advantage over the rest of the category, and the Spaniard is yet to finish outside the top two so far this season.

Indeed, Terol failed to take victory for the first time this season in only the previous round, where he finished second after a race-long battle with fellow Spaniard and rookie rider Maverick Viñales.

Catalunya is a circuit at which Terol has experienced mixed fortunes in the past. His only podium finish there came in 2009 when he placed second, and a crash in last year’s race resulted in an injury which sidelined him for the following round. His start to 2011 has however more than hinted that a first GP win at the venue is a strong likelihood this weekend.

In taking victory in the previous round at Le Mans in just his fourth World Championship race start Viñales became the third youngest GP winner of all time, and the youngest ever Spanish rider to win a race. The Blusens by Paris Hilton Racing rider, lying sixth in the standings going into Round 5, knows the circuit well due to his CEV Buckler (Spanish National Championship) experience from the past two years.

The rider within closest reach of Terol is Sandro Cortese (Intact Racing Team Germany), and the German has a best finish of fourth from last year at Catalunya. Six points behind him is Johann Zarco (Avant-AirAsia-Ajo) in third spot, with Jonas Folger (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) and Efrén Vázquez (Avant-AirAsia-Ajo) the top five as it stands. Experienced heads Sergio Gadea (Blusens by Paris Hilton Racing Team) and Héctor Faubel (Bankia Aspar) have both stood on the podium at the track in the 125cc class before.

Three wildcard riders will also participate this weekend, with local rider Josep Rodrigues (Wild Wolf-RACC-MS), Brit John McPhee (Racing Steps Foundation KRP) and German Kevin Hanus (Team Hanusch) all accumulating World Championship experience.

The Grand Premi Aperol de Catalunya takes place from June 3rd-5th, and the action gets underway at 9.15am local time on Friday with the first practice session for the 125cc class.