Lorenzo looked fast and smooth during the weekend’s practice sessions, other than a brief loss of power at the end of qualifying that may have kept him from the pole. Pedrosa, who spent the entire weekend inhaling Lorenzo’s exhaust fumes, looked geared up to attempt a reprise of his win a week earlier in Germany, and snatched the pole late in the QP. That Round 9 would hold a few surprises was made clear on Saturday, when Pramac Racing’s ”Hectic” Hector Barbera qualified third, thus becoming the first satellite Ducati rider ever to start a MotoGP race from the front row. In the process, Mugello 2012 became the first premier class race ever to feature an all-Spanish front row, a fact I find incomprehensible, due to the recent domination of Spanish and Italian riders, both in quantity and ability.
We may have just broken another MotoGP record, by failing to mention Repsol Honda lame duck Casey Stoner until the third paragraph of the story. The Australian, who just two weeks ago was tied for the lead in the 2012 race, qualified a dismal 5th, blaming, in order, the Bridgestone tires, his bike’s setup, the slow WiFi in his hotel room, and the wacky arrangement of gates at the Bologna airport. At the start, he got caught in traffic, falling to 8th place. Furiously working his way back from those unfamiliar reaches into 5th on Lap 10, he went hot into the Correntaio corner, known to most of us as Turn 12, went walkabout, fell back to 10th place, and finished a nondescript 8th.
Fine. What About the Race?
Once the riders had put some heat in the tires, the first group consisted of Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Dovizioso, rookie interloper Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda, and a determined Nicky Hayden, The Other Guy on the factory Ducati team. Dovizioso spent a few laps running second, and the surprising German Bradl a good number in third, appearing to be on headed for his first premier class podium. Pedrosa went through on the Italian on Lap 5, and Bradl, incredibly, followed suit on Lap 10. But Dovizioso eventually tracked the rookie down on Lap 21 to secure the final podium spot. In the process, he again delivered for his Tech 3 team, and added to the mounting pressure on the factory Yamaha team to pull the plug on Ben Spies. Spies qualified 9th and finished 11th, the last prototype to take the flag, some 57 seconds behind teammate Lorenzo.
Once Stoner left the building, the second group, which would end the day fighting for 4th place, included Hayden, who had given up some ground, Ducati teammate Valentino Rossi, Barbera and Tech 3 Yamaha’s Cal Crutchlow. This group traded shots with one another for much of the afternoon. By Lap 14, Barbera had dropped back, apparently with tire issues. On Lap 20, Crutchlow and the Ducatis had climbed back within sight of Dovizioso and Bradl, setting up the best competition of the day. By Lap 22, Hayden had clawed his way back to within tenths of both Dovizioso and Bradl, running flat out, trying to achieve his first podium since last year at Jerez. Rossi and Crutchlow were hovering less than a second behind Hayden. Five riders entered the last lap in contention for the final spot on the rostrum, with the crowd, as they say, going crazy.
With Dovizioso in third refusing to concede anything, Hayden attempted to go through on Bradl into fourth, and the two made contact, causing the American to run wide, the rookie somehow holding onto his line. Rossi and Crutchlow went all carpe diem and sailed past the luckless Hayden into fifth and sixth, respectively. At the flag, Rossi had his best dry race finish of the year, and Hayden could only grind his teeth, having outraced his fair-haired teammate all day, only to falter at the end.
The Big Picture
Midway through the 2012 season, Jorge Lorenzo has stretched his lead in the standings over Pedrosa to 29 points, with Stoner, his swan song in ashes, another 18 points behind. The ascendant Dovizioso, campaigning hard for some respect and a seat alongside Lorenzo next year, sits in fourth place, 13 points on top of teammate Crutchlow, who is apparently playing hard to get with the brass at Ducati. Rossi leads the next group comprising the top nine, just ahead of Alvaro Bautista, Bradl and Hayden. Bradl’s 13 points today put him a single point ahead of the American for the season.
On the Lighter Side
As the riders lined up on the grid for the customary Pre-Race Sitting Around Period, the photo of the day was in the eight spot, where Bradl sat, surrounded by his team and the sycophants that clog the grid immediately before the start. The breathtaking young woman attending his umbrella obviously works for sponsor Playboy, as she wore the tiny, trademarked company costume. Bradl’s Brolly Bunny will hopefully be featured in this week’s Grid Girls segment on the MotoGP website. If you’re into that kind of thing, make sure to watch the video. Worth the price of admission all by herself.
Apropos of nothing in particular, I couldn’t post this article without noting my favorite moment of the day. It occurred on the last lap of the race, up front, where Jorge Lorenzo was sailing in clean air, footloose and fancy-free, as he passed in front of The Ducati Grandstand. This is the section reserved for the most rabid and delusional of the Ducati/Rossi fans, where the attendees are given posters to wave in unison, creating pictures of their heroes, the Ducati logo, etc., etc. Back in the day when Rossi was winning at Mugello every year, this section was the epicenter of MotoGP fandom. Anyway, as Lorenzo rolled by, he lifted his left arm and gave an extended, friendly wave to the seats where he is Public Enemy #1. Had he not been concerned about a possible post-race assault, he might have blown a few kisses their way. Hilarious.
Valentino Rossi’s Helmet
Why we’re discussing Rossi’s headgear at this juncture is somewhat beyond me. Regardless of what anyone says, The Doctor has lost a step. Nonetheless, he is still a Big Deal in MotoGP, and especially so in Italy. One of his traditions is to bust out a special helmet for the Italian Grand Prix, which he did again today. It featured a tribute to Gianni Morandi, the Tony Bennett of Italy. Bennett’s signature song is, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, and Morandi’s is called “Let’s Stay Together.” The inference from the media-savvy Rossi is that the marriage with Ducati is not yet over, and that he will return next year. Hope springs eternal.
It might have been more, um, suitable had Rossi saluted the band Citizen King, whose 1999 hit “Better Days” contained the following lyrics, repeated endlessly from beginning to end:
“I’ve seen better days, I’ve been the star of many plays.
I’ve seen better days, and the bottom drops out.”
Next stop, Monterey. If you see Kevin Duke there, please tell him I said hello.
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