Great tracks produce great racing, even in the MotoGP class, where the combination of fuel limits, extremely advanced electronics, and stiff Bridgestone tires mean that the way to win races is by being absolutely inch-perfect on every lap.
And Mugello is a great track, there is no doubt of that, despite the fact that the usual Mugello atmosphere had been muted by a combination of a dismal Italian economy and sky-high ticket prices at the circuit, the only way for the circuit to recoup some of the sanctioning fee it must pay Dorna to run the race.
The hillsides were very sparsely populated, perhaps in part a result of the total Spanish domination of qualifying, putting three Spaniards on the front row in MotoGP, and another two on the Moto3 and Moto2 poles as well.
Under Tuscan skies, MotoGP ends its three-consecutive race weekends in Mugello, Italy — one of the most favorite stops on the Championship calendar each season. With Casey Stoner struggling at the Italian track, and Jorge Lorenzo dominating, a clear move in the Championship points seemed destined for the Italian GP. Adding a curve ball to the equation though was Repsol Honda man Dani Pedrosa, who sat on the pole-position, and who also showed a renewed promise to contend for the Championship title.
With the battle at the front of the Championship heating up, the battle between the best of the rest was also coming to a head — especially over the empty seat in the factory Yamaha squad. Said to be held up by one Mr. Valentino Rossi, waiting in the wings are also Andrea Dovizioso, Ben Spies, and Cal Crutchlow. With the American said to have an edge on keeping his seat, mostly due to the checks Yamaha USA writes, Spies’ abysmal season seems almost all but forgiven. Though anything can happen before MotoGP makes its next stop, in the USA at Laguna Seca.
Mugello is a special place, and a special race. One of the things that makes it so special is the atmosphere, the massed crowds that arrive on Thursday and Friday, and party noisily until Sunday night, filling the Tuscan skies with the sound of fireworks, engines being held against their limiters, popping exhausts, and very, very loud Italian pop music (or as was the case on Saturday night as we left the track, Jingle Bells composed entirely of fart noises).
They aren’t here. The hillsides are not exactly empty, but the sparse scattering of tents that dot them are a very pale imitation of the wall of color that used to cover the grass at Mugello. The roads are relatively quiet, bikes fairly few and far between, and travelling to and from the circuit is not the nightmare that it has been in previous years.
So why haven’t the crowds come? There are lots of reasons. First and foremost the state of the Italian economy, of course. As in Spain, unemployment in Italy is rising, and those who still have a job are more careful about spending money. High ticket prices don’t help, of course — a general trend at racetracks around the world. Holding the race in mid-July, when the locals would rather be heading to the beach, rather than in early June was another reason.
And then of course there is Valentino Rossi. The Italian legend qualified in 10th on Saturday, and realistically, his chances of battling for the podium are virtually non-existent. And it’s not just Rossi, competitive Italian riders provide thin pickings for the locals to support. There is certainly a chance of seeing an Italian victory on Sunday, but the odds are stacked against it.
It is a tall-order to beat the rapid-succession qualifying we had at the German GP, which saw a stream of riders dropping pole-position laps one-after-another for nearly 5 minutes straight – but this is Mugello, and the MotoGP riders hate to disappoint when they are in Italy. With perfect racing conditions, the qualifying session had its fair share of crashes, fast laps, and surprise moments. Featuring three manufacturers on the front row, and three manufacturers on the second row, the Italian GP is also shaping up to be a good race, for all the parties involved.
I wish I could take credit for having such a deep understanding of Italian culture that the meaning behind Rossi’s Mugello helmet was self-evident, but the credit belongs to Ducati Corse’s PR man, Chris Jonnum. After seeing Alex Brigg’s tweet that featured Rossi’s new helmet design, CJ was kind enough to connect the dots for us on the meaning behind the special Mugello helmet. And let me tell you, as non-Italian, the trail would not have been easy to follow without his help. Get the inside scoop on Rossi’s lid after the jump.
“I don’t really want to look at the timesheet,” Cal Crutchlow said at the end of the first day of practice at Mugello, “because Lorenzo’s run was an absolute joke.” Crutchlow is well-known for his colorful language – in every sense of that phrase – and his words are easy to misinterpret. But a glance at the consistency of Lorenzo’s times soon makes you understand exactly what Crutchlow meant. On the hard rear tire, Lorenzo was running mid to low 1’48s, with many laps within a few hundredths of each other. On the evidence of Friday alone, Lorenzo is not just going to win this race, he is going to embarrass the entire field.
Monster’s series on Valentino Rossi’s Mugello helmets continues (Part 1 here), with this second installment just teasing out the nine-time World Champion’s signature special Mugello helmet. The video is certainly less wordy than the first, and from what we can gather, Rossi will have a ring of flowers on his head for the Italian GP.
With MotoGP to take to the historic Italian track for FP3 and Qualifying in just a few hours, we shouldn’t have too long to wait to see the final product from Aldo Drudi. Until then, this video will have to suffice. Check it out after the jump.