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.

Jules Cisek is a race fan and photographer. He is also the producer and presenter of the MotoPod podcast. You can follow him on TwitterFacebook, or on the MotoPod Facebook page.

Photo: © 2012 Jules Cisek / Popmonkey – All Rights Reserved

  • SBPilot

    I wasn’t rooting much for Stefan in Moto2 last year as I wanted Marquez to win, but I have been going for Bradl since he came to MotoGP. His riding is very calculated, little step be little step. He doesn’t make big risks and it’s paid off by not being injured, not costing the team money fixing bikes, increasing confidence level, and increasingly becoming faster on the MotoGP bike. In a sense, he’s riding very…well…German!

    I hope he gets a podium this season. Next season will be very interesting as his arch rival will be riding the factory version of his bike. However, Bradl will have a whole season of experience ahead of Marquez. Unless Marquez is immediately on the pace, we may very well see a satellite Honda ahead of the Repsol Honda more often than not. This can play mind games with Marquez, but can also motivate Bradl. 2013 will be interesting, I see them swapping paint!

  • musashiwasajedi

    Small correction – I think you meant ‘beating two works Ducatis in the process’.

  • SBPilot “In a sense, he’s riding very…well…German! ” – well said :)

    “musashiwasajedi” – at least in theory, bautista is riding simoncelli’s factory bike. “works” was probably the wrong word tho…

  • musashiwasajedi

    Sorry – you were right (I’m not THAT picky!). I miss counted.

    Since Stoner and Bautista both had such a rough day the fact that Bradl beat them both doesn’t stand out quite as strongly – although it shouldn’t be overlooked. He beat them both.

    I was thinking it was an even more impressive feat that Bradl had fought very hard and decisively with Nicky on that last lap and stayed ahead of the fast approaching Rossi/Crutchlow train to keep his 4th place.

    Despite some bad days for others – he still had to earned it.

  • MP

    I flew to Mugello to watch the race last weekend and my seat at Poggo Secco, giving me clean site of turn two through four. Last season, I came to love watching Bradl ride because he seemed to carry himself with a tremendous amount of maturity for such a young rider. At Mugello, Bradl was incredibly entertaining. He would get on the throttle just a little faster, move around on the bike just a bit more aggressively and though I’m a big Hayden fan, it was great to see him get aggressive when he needed to. He’s a fantastic rider and once he’s on a factory ride, I think the rest of the paddock has to really worry.

  • Frenchie

    Bautista is certainly not on “Marco’s works bike”. That deal was for Marco, not Gresini.
    Alvaro is on the satellite version (first spec frame and engine) and the only Honda (or even MotoGP bike) equipped with Nissin brakes and Showa suspensions.

  • Frenchie: you are correct it is NOT simoncelli’s factory bike, my bad. however, it is also not a pure satellite spec using many 2011 works parts and definitely better bits than LCR is getting. described by gresini himself as “almost factory spec” – almost being a very wide variable. point is Gresini rcv213 > LCR rcv213

  • Frenchie

    Thanks for the details, I didn’t know they were using some factory bits from last year.
    Can’t be that important though given they switched back to 1000 with different engine, chassis and the fact Gresini uses Nissin and Showa.
    I guess it could be in the electronics gizmos.

  • Adam

    I for one thought last year that Bradle would make a great addition to MotoGP and he has. he has a good head on his shoulders and doesn’t make silly mistakes… like the ones that cost Marques last year. Bradles championship was well dissevered last year, nothing is gifted to anyone especially at this level. I hope Marques can grow for next year and show the same maturity as Bradle as I’m sure he will be another great rider in MotoGP

  • pooch

    Bradl is a future GP winner for sure. His rookie year has been very impressive, he’s been clean and fast. I liked him better than Marquez in Moto2 last year, and the eventual season winner showed who had a better racing head on their shoulders.

    I’m really looking forward to seeing him battle with Marquez next year again!

  • SBPilot

    @Adam – the only “mistake” that cost Marquez the title last year was the marshals mistake. Fortunately it didn’t cost Marquez his career. If you’re talking about the first 3 crashes he had, they were not all his fault and they were in my opinion necessary for him to learn the limits of the Moto2 bike (which he did extremely quickly). What Marquez did last year was almost unbelievable. To be that far ahead in points with 3 DNFs, first year riding Moto2, it’s quite amazing. Like you said nothing is just given to you at this level.

    Marquez is just as mature as Bradl. Marquez is not a crasher or an overly aggressive rider, he’s just as clinical and calculated as Bradl. He was mature last year and he still is this year, and he will be even more so next year. I think Marquez has an edge on Bradl in outright speed, but that was in Moto2, we’ll see about GP next year!

    Frenchie: LCR also uses Nissin brakes, but they use Ohlins forks/shock instead of Gresini’s Showa.

  • Damo

    Stefan Bradl has done nothing but impress me this season.

  • Yeah, Bradl has been very impressive this season. I think he was somewhat overshadowed by Marquez last season, but the tables will probably be turned a bit next season as Bradl will already have a season in the premier class under his belt. It will be very, very interesting to see them dicing with each other next season. Neither of them will be the rider that the other remembers.