Four-way tile fight heats up at Catalan MotoGP

Madrid (AFP) –

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Four riders are gunning for top spot in the MotoGP overall standings as they prepare for Sunday's Catalan Grand Prix.

After seven rounds, early pacesetter Fabio Quartararo is a point behind leader Andrea Dovizioso heading into the race at Montmelo, near Barcelona, having not won on his Yamaha since the last race held in Spain, July's Andalusian GP.

At 21, Quartararo is the youngest of the title contenders and in only his second season at the elite level, and his fourth place in last weekend's Emilia-Romagna GP might have offered some encouragement that he is still capable of winning the world title.

But the Frenchman's Yamaha team-mate -- and winner in Italy -- Maverick Vinales has closed the gap, level on 83 points with Quartararo and hot on the heels of Ducati's Dovizioso.

Spain's Joan Mir (Suzuki) sits four points off the top in fourth.

"Barcelona is a track that I like and I am happy to go to because we can achieve a good result there," said Quartararo.

Dovizioso certainly has the benefit of experience. At 34, he is the only one of the current four contenders to have taken points from every race since the start of the season, with a win coming in Austria in mid-August.

However, he will leave the Italian team at the end of the campaign and there have been hints of discord in the camp.

"In the last two races, unfortunately we have not been competitive enough," Dovizioso said. "If we want to fight for the title, we cannot waste time."

The absence of Marc Marquez, who is still injured, opens the door for Dovizioso to finally win a world title after finishing second in the championship for the last three years.

Yet Vinales has momentum after his victory at Misano last Sunday, his first of the season.

The 25-year-old Spaniard will also feel at home at the Montmelo circuit, but he has never bettered a fourth place finish there in MotoGP.

His compatriot Joan Mir, meanwhile, is the surprise of the season. The spotlight was more on his teammate Alex Rins but it is the 23-year-old Mallorcan who is now jostling for the championship.

Mir is yet to win a premier class race, although his two second-place finishes have kept him in contention. "It is important to be as consistent as possible and to get on the podium," he said.