Sunday Summary at Mugello: Of Great Race Tracks, Great Racers, Ducati, & Spies

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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.

The Italian fans that stayed away missed not only some great races, but also some sterling performances from local Italian riders. There were Italians on the podium in all three classes, even one Italian winner, with Andrea Iannone winning the Moto2 race. The people sitting at home who had intended to fill those empty grandstands may well have regretted not going.

The Moto3 race turned into a war of attrition, with the best riders left at the end. Maverick Vinales proved he is the class of the field taking another convincing win, while Sandro Cortese clung on to third, scoring solid points for the Championship, and making the most out of a weekend when the bike wasn’t fast enough to give him the edge. The Championship is coming down to a straight fight between the sheer talent of Vinales and the guile and cunning of Cortese — and it is turning into a very nice little fight.

The star of Moto3 was Romano Fenati, however. After a few tough weekends, the Italian youngster showed once again that what he is mainly missing is experience. Learning his way round tracks he has never seen before, in conditions which are usually mixed, with little dry track time, is hard and easily overlooked. Fenati is coming along nicely, and should be a genuine title contender next season.

In Moto3, Andrea Iannone pulled out one of his usual brilliant rides, taking victory from Pol Espargaro after the Spaniard had dominated all throughout practice. Iannone stalked the front group, waited his chance and then pounced, conserving tires for the part of the race he wanted them.

That is the kind of maturity which Iannone has often been missing, but he will need to show it more often if he is to make progress. Iannone’s problem is that although he is in with a shot of winning 10 races a year, he is often nowhere in the other 7, inexplicably finishing outside the Top 10. Whether Iannone’s maturity is permanent or temporary will be the key to the rest of his career.

Though Pol Espargaro’s injured ankle may have played a minor role in the outcome, he seemed pretty unaffected by it during the race. The foot was badly swollen on Saturday night, yet a bit of magic from the Clinica Mobile and a lot of courage and determination from Espargaro put the Spaniard on the podium, benefiting also from Marc Marquez, who struggled to stay in the Top 5. Espargaro got 9 points back at Mugello; the title fight is still very much open.

In the MotoGP class, there was plenty of action in the race, though the winner was obvious from the beginning. Jorge Lorenzo had dominated proceedings to such an extent that his teamboss Wilco Zeelenberg had tried to get him to relax a little. Lorenzo had done four race distances at race pace, Zeelenberg said, nearly exhausting himself in the practice. “There’s no need to do lots of 1’47s during qualifying,” Zeelenberg said. “Just one fast lap is more than enough.”

It was the style of his victor which most impressed, the Spaniard putting on a peerless display of fast, smooth riding, while keeping your concentration at 100% for 45 whole minutes. So far this season, barring the accident caused by Alvaro Bautista, Jorge Lorenzo’s worst finish is 2nd.

Behind Lorenzo, the racing was pretty good, with Dovizioso dicing first with Pedrosa, and then with Stefan Bradl for most of the race. Nicky Hayden, Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow joined the party too, but only right at the very end of the race. Places – and paint – was swapped in the effort to score a podium, providing decent spectacle for most of the race.

Paint swapping went on further back down the field, when a frustrated Casey Stoner made a tough pass on Alvaro Bautista, only for Bautista to close the line on the Australian. The two riders touched, Stoner’s front wheel painting Gresini’s leathers, and Bautista getting shoved off the line for his pains. Though Stoner expressed his apologies to Bautista for the pass after the race, Bautista was not inclined to listen, flipping Stoner the bird on the cooldown lap as the bikes headed back to the pits.

Naturally, incidents involving one of the most loved (Nicky Hayden) and least loved (Casey Stoner) was bound to generate debate, but what was surprising was the black-and-white opinions on both moves. The fans were mainly behind Hayden, yet attacked Stoner for putting a similar move on Bautista. The fact that no action was taken by Race Direction was seen by some as a sign of inconsistency and weakness, by others as a sensible decision, to ensure that riders don’t become too scared to pass.

Hayden’s move on Bradl on the last lap was very aggressive, but Bradl immediately gave it back as good as he got it. Stoner’s move on Bautista was not so much aggressive as overly optimistic, trying to outbrake Bautista on the inside at a corner where Bautista was coming back onto the line.

To me, all these moves were just race incidents, with riders taking an extra chance when it counts. The moves were hard and aggressive, but all the riders involved left the other party in the fight with enough room on the track to survive. There was room to pass, and room to avoid the pass, and nobody was run off the track. If any of these passes had been penalized by Race Direction, that would have been the thin end of a very slippery slope leading towards an era where top-flight riders are told when and where they can overtake.

The mood at Ducati was positive for once, though neither man was particularly well satisfied with their position. Nicky Hayden believed he had a shot at podium, which is why he tried the aggressive pass on Bradl. He came to his press debrief looking rather depressed, despite having had a good race.

Hayden had lost some time fiddling with his fuel maps, looking for the right one to prevent the rear tire from spinning quite so badly. He found one which he liked, and used that one to run down the fight for the podium. He was not going to settle 5th, however. Hayden kept his eyes on the prize of his first podium of the year, and failed while trying to achieve it.

The best news for Hayden, though, was the fact that he was 2 seconds a lap faster than his times from last year. There are real signs of progress at Ducati, though, the bike still needs help to make the engine more rideable, and something to cure the chronic understeer which the bike has suffered from its inception.

Rossi, too, believed he had the pace for the podium. His problem, however, is that he and his crew cannot get up to speed on the soft qualifying tire, leaving him struggling well down the grid. Race pace for the Italian was pretty strong, but the first few laps on fresh tires made it hard to follow the group leaving at the start. With new parts to be tested on Monday, things are starting to look up every so slightly for Ducati.

Seeing Andrea Dovizioso on the podium immediately raised the question of Ben Spies, and why Yamaha are still considering keeping him. That judgement should not be made on the grounds of Spies’ Mugello performance, for a quick glance at the timesheet tells you something was wrong. Spies had been suffering from food poisoning during the race, the Texan having dizzy spells and an inability to focus. Spies’ lapchart varies wildly, times dipping into the 1’48s one minute then dropping to 1’53s a few laps later. That is not the lapchart of a normal, healthy man, and it’s clear that Spies was anything but. One day, Spies’ luck will change; it is merely a question of when. He really needs it to happen as soon as possible.

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

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.