Qualifying doesn’t tell you the whole story. Which is a good thing, as otherwise they could just hand out the trophies after qualifying and be done with it. A lot of things change in the 24 hours between qualifying and the race – weather, temperature, set up – but most of all, qualifying is just a couple of laps, while the race means spending a long time on the track. Mugello turned out to be a perfect example of this.
Dani Pedrosa had been getting faster every session, especially as the temperatures rose and the grip of the track improved. The Repsol Honda man blasted to pole, just pipping Jorge Lorenzo at the end of qualifying and setting a new lap record in the process. With race day looking warmer, and the track cleaning up every session, Pedrosa looked the hot favorite to dominate at the Italian track.
It looks like we may have a race on Sunday at Mugello. In fact, it looks like we might have two races, looking at the times set in MotoGP and Moto2. The last two races of the day at Mugello promise to have battles for the lead and for the podium, and could well provide some top flight entertainment.
There won’t be much of a race in Moto3, however. Mugello’s artisans are probably already engraving Maverick Vinales’s name into the winner’s trophy to save some time, such is the advantage of the young Spaniard. Vinales is basically four tenths a lap faster than anyone else in Moto3, with nobody capable of matching his pace.
Ben Spies has decided to pull out of the Mugello round of MotoGP, after struggling on the first day of practice at the track. The Texan continues to have problems with a weak shoulder, as he recovers slowly from the surgery performed to correct the damage done in his crash at Sepang last October.
This is the second time that Spies has been forced to withdraw after returning to action too early. After a short period of physical rehabilitation, Spies went straight into winter testing, and then participated in the first race at Qatar, in which he struggled.
He tried again at Austin, but was forced to withdraw from that race after developing severe strain in his pectoral muscles as they struggled to compensate for the lack of strength. Spies then decided to skip both Jerez and Le Mans, to recover from both the chest strain and the shoulder surgery, before coming back at Mugello.
Another Italian GP at Mugello, and another special AGV helmet for Valentino Rossi. A wink to his new non-alien status, Rossi’s AGV Pista GP lid is obviously painted up like a turtleshell, implying the Italian’s pace to his rivals (note the colored figures running along the chin bar of the helmet).
Whether you are a fan of The Doctor or not, you have to admit the G.O.A.T. is taking his new place in MotoGP in stride (at least publicly)…though don’t count him out just yet. Second-fastest in FP1 & FP2 on his 2013 Yamaha YZR-M1, Rossi was also fourth-quickest in this morning’s FP3 session — counting him out of a podium, and even a race win, at Mugello would be unwise.
There are a lot of things that make Mugello special. Its location, in the heart of Tuscany, a sumptuously beautiful part of the world; its layout, fast, flowing, winding naturally up and round the valley it is set in.
The wide open nature of the track, all third and fourth gear combinations which require the perfect combination of intelligence, talent, and sheer courage that make it close to the perfect test of skill. It is fast, it is flowing, and it is undulating.
Even the front straight isn’t really a straight, but a rolling sinew of asphalt that winds down to the first corner. You come down out of the last turn, hammer on the gas, shifting up to sixth as you go, and ride up the rise towards the crest.
Drift right then left through the slight kink in the straight which becomes something resembling a 330 km/h chicane, then just as your front wheel floats free over the crest, you need to get it back down again and get on the brakes for the first corner, the 90 km/h San Donato.
The straight and the braking area are immensely difficult to get right, and a simple error can leave you hurtling into the gravel. Or, in the case of Marc Marquez, drifting towards a wall.
Each rider has their own technique, but subtlety is the key to getting it right. Jorge Lorenzo told the press that he does not really brake over the crest, nor does he use rear brake to keep the front down, but instead Lorenzo rolls off the throttle a fraction.
This puts the front tire back in contact with the tarmac, and allows him to brake at full force for San Donato. Dani Pedrosa’s technique is slightly different, but achieves the same result. “You never really hit the brake at once,” he said, “you squeeze and put the pressure a little after.”