The somewhat thin crowds at Mugello this past weekend were in a way reflective of the lack of Italian domination in Grand Prix racing over the last few seasons. With Spaniards taking all 3 GP Championships in 2010, three non-italian nations doing the same in 2011, Valentino Rossi unlikely to win a race for the second season in a row, and inconsistent results for Italians in the lower classes, things look bleak for Italia in 2012 as well.
And while this didn’t stop those present from showing the energy and passion that this racing mecca is so well known for, it shouldn’t be too surprising that despite the incredible Moto2 win by Andrea Ianonne and the endearing swagger and impassioned ride to 2nd of Romano Fenati in Moto3, I pick a non-Italian rider to spotlight after attending the Gran Premio D’Italia TIM.
That rider is the reigning Moto2 World Champion, and MotoGP rookie sensation Stefan Bradl.
In 2011, Stefan Bradl won the Moto2 Championship in what some waved off as a gift due to the Marc Marquez accident at Sepang (much like Nicky Hayden’s 2006 Championship was for many years tied to the terrible luck experienced by Valentino Rossi that season).
But here lies the truth. While we love the bravado and passion of the Italian riders, the very pinnacle of which may have been reached by Marco Simoncelli, there’s a new breed of riders who can dazzle with bravado…and brains. Bradl’s Moto2 World Championship suddenly doesn’t look so lucky anymore as he could very well become the most successful MotoGP rookie since Andrea Dovizioso in 2008.
Stefan’s best ride of the season came this weekend at the Autodromo del Mugello as he missed the podium by a whisker, beating two works Ducatis in the process, and surprising everyone in the paddock and on the hillsides alike.
Bradl provided one of the best spectacles of the race as he hounded Dovi for seven laps before making best of a rare mistake from the Yamaha rider, who outbraked himself in San Donato. Staving off attacks from the much more experienced Dovizioso for 11 laps, Bradl finally lost out to the Italian by 5/100 of a second over the finish line.
In 2008, after nine rounds, Andrea Dovizioso stood 6th at 79 points. At the conclusion of the Italian GP on Sunday (the 9th round), Bradl is 7th with 75. It should also be noted that LCR Honda is coming off an absolutely abysmal season with Toni Elias in 2011. Bradl’s results have galvanized the team (I expect we will see that trend continue), and I will not be at all be surprised if we see Stefan Bradl on the podium before the end of the season.
Plus where the previous Moto2 Champion embarrassed himself in MotoGP, the current one shows that mature riders can succeed in moving up to the premier-class, despite assertions to the contrary voiced by Casey Stoner and a growing number of insiders, who are concerned with whether the Moto2 class can be a good feeder for MotoGP.
Meanwhile Luccio Cecchinello could not be happier. But not only does he praise Bradl for his skill, courage, and tactics, he also told me that he holds Stefan in the highest regard as a man. High praise for a 22-year-old rider whose name barely rang a bell two seasons ago.
And getting back to the Italians and the mecca of motorcycle racing that is Mugello, while they definitely love their local boys, every rider is a god in Italy. Several members of the Stefan Bradl fan club present at the track were decidely dark haired and possessed a native affinity of Italian. As I swam with them through the track invasion after the MotoGP race ended, their loftily held flags were met with total respect.
Photo: © 2012 Jules Cisek / Popmonkey – All Rights Reserved