Mugello used to be, for Valentino Rossi, what Phillip Island was for Casey Stoner. During his salad days, between 2002 and 2008, Rossi stood on the top step of the podium at his home track seven straight times, while Stoner won the Australian Grand Prix six times from 2007-2012. On race days, the two old priests at the Catholic church in Tavullia, Rossi’s home town, would watch the race, get a load on with the locals, and ring the church bells afterwards. The bells have been silent after the Italian Grand Prix for the past seven years.

Mugello in 2008 was peak Rossi-ness.

A number of factors have conspired to deprive Rossi of a home win during this time. In 2009,  Stoner was still enjoying success wrestling the Ducati Desmosedici until lactose intolerance sidelined him during the second half of the season. He won a three-way shootout at Mugello that year, beating sophomore sensation Jorge Lorenzo by a second and Rossi by two. 2010 was the year Rossi crashed hard in practice, resulting in the only serious injury of his career and a DNS at Mugello. 2011 and 2012 were The Lost Years at Ducati, during which he finished sixth and fifth in Italy, a complete non-factor.

Rejoining the factory Yamaha team in 2013, there was the Bautista incident described below. In 2014 Marquez and Lorenzo were faster. Last year it was Lorenzo again, with Andrea Iannone adding insult to injury by inserting himself into second place. Yes, he’s Italian, but he’s not Rossi.

Qualifying at Le Mans was stressful for Rossi as a combination of poor strategy and getting caught in traffic dropped him to the third row. Getting a good starting position would certainly help return Rossi to victory.

In short, since 2008 it’s been one thing or another. With the best bike on the grid and a shiny new contract in hand, with teammate and rival Lorenzo departing for greener (or redder) pastures at season’s end, and some good luck having come his way two weeks ago at Le Mans, Rossi appears to have his mojo back. The Magic Eight Ball says, “Signs point to yes” this week in Italy.

Recent history at Mugello

The 2013 Italian Grand Prix was not a Rossi classic. Far from it. Early in the race, the excitable Alvaro Bautista, starting ninth on the GO&FUN Gresini Honda, went into Turn 2 on the gas while all around him were braking, sending himself and Rossi into the hay bales. Rossi’s teammate and defending world champion Lorenzo had things his way all day, leading every lap while holding brash Repsol Honda rookie Marquez at bay.

Considering how banged up he was, Cal Crutchlow seemed glad to have finished the race in 2013, let alone on the podium.

Marquez, trying too hard to make something happen late in the day, crashed heavily on Lap 21, surrendering second place to series leader Dani Pedrosa and third to Tech 3 soccer hooligan Cal Crutchlow who, having crashed so many times in practice, was being held together with Bandaids and popsicle sticks. (Crutchlow seems to deliver his best results when seriously injured; I’ll resist the temptation to follow that observation to its logical extreme.) The crowd went home disappointed at Rossi’s customary bad luck, deriving little consolation from Andrea Dovizioso’s 5th place finish, with fellow paisans Michele Pirro wildcarding his way to 7th, followed by Danilo Petrucci in 12th and Andrea “The Rider Formerly Known as Crazy Joe” Iannone 13th.

In 2014, Lorenzo gave the crowd a replay of 2013. Unfortunately for him, 2014 was The Year of Marquez. The Yamaha icon, despite having led for 21 laps, was unable to fend off Marquez at the flag, getting pimped by 12/100ths, with Rossi third, at least finishing the race, if not winning it. The win put Marquez six-for-six in 2014, looking dynastic, while Team Yamaha, doing everything possible under massive pressure, put both riders on the podium but was unable to take the win at Rossi’s home crib. Marquez left Italy with a 53-point margin over Rossi, a lead which was able to withstand a great second half of the season from The Bruise Brothers.

Rossi was back on the Mugello podium last year but not on the step he used to own.

Last year was another Lorenzo-on-rails outing, a carbon copy of what we saw in France two weeks ago. Exciting for Jorge, numbing for the fans. Polesitter Iannone, aboard the rapidly-improving Ducati GP15, completed his career-best premier class outing in second place despite a list of injuries more commonly found at the foot of a set of concrete stairs. Rossi was able to take care of a healing Dani Pedrosa to claim the final spot on the podium, but 2006 it wasn’t. Marquez crashed out mid-race during the season of his discontent.

The Big Picture

Rossi sits in third place for the year, trailing the incandescent Lorenzo by 12 points and a troubled Marquez by only seven. Lorenzo is on a roll at present, and Mugello is one of his favorite layouts, very Yamaha friendly. For Rossi, it’s home. For Marquez it is enemy territory; after last season’s switchblades-in-a-phonebooth war with Rossi, the young Catalan can expect a rude welcome from the 90,000 locals wedged into the friendly confines on Sunday. With Marquez struggling with acceleration and rear grip, and Pedrosa winless for the year, times are tough in the Repsol Honda garage at present.

But not nearly so tough as things down the block at the factory Ducati digs. The factory team, The Dueling Andreas, have been screwed, blued and tattooed thus far in 2016. A season in which many folks, myself included, thought either could pose a genuine threat to Lorenzo Rossi Associates finds them mired in 10th and 11th places, any chance for a credible season spoken of only in the past tense. The suits in Bologna are issuing team orders. Gigi Dall’Igna has chewed his fingernails to the quick. A win on Sunday at their home track would do little to wash away the wretched memories of 2016.

Yamaha hasn’t announced a deal with Maverick Vinales yet but we expect the news to become official this weekend.

For the Suzuki Ecstar team, it has been a good news, bad news fortnight. The good news, obviously, was that Maverick Vinales earned his first premier class podium at Le Mans and the first for the factory team since 2009. The bad news was that he is expected to follow up the Veuve Clicquot and Cohíbas Espléndidos by finally signing a contract (which included an application for membership in The Alien Club) with Yamaha for 2017-18, thereby ruining everyone’s mood and producing a vacuum on the #1 saddle. Listen carefully and you can hear this vacuum sucking Andrea Iannone inexorably toward a two-year deal with Suzuki.

Better a Devil You Know than a Devil You Don’t

Honda rewarded Dani Pedrosa’s loyalty with another contract extension that will carry him through 2018.

Honda lived up to its longstanding reputation for being cautious, conservative and respectful by signing the aging Pedrosa for another two-year, no-championship stint with the Repsol factory team. The new contract says more about Pedrosa’s ability to give useful feedback to the engineers than it does about his competitiveness on track. Some will point out that he had a fairly strong start to the 2014 season and a strong finish to the 2015 campaign. But he’s never won a MotoGP title and he never will. Too many injuries, too many other great riders, too much bad luck. You name it, and there’s been too much of it. Plus, there’s still that lunatic fringe of fans who will never forgive him for the Nicky Hayden incident at Estoril in 2006, and who should get a life.

Andrea Dovizioso also isn’t going anywhere, signing a new contract with Ducati.

As for the news on Tuesday that Ducati would be keeping Dovizioso and disposing of Iannone, the thinking apparently was that Dovizioso’s poor results are due mainly to bad luck, while Iannone’s are his own fault. Probably a wise decision, as Lorenzo and Dovi will present a formidable front next year, presuming the GP16’s maneuverability continues to improve. Lorenzo probably had concerns, too, about having The Maniac as his wingman. Who wouldn’t?

I can think of a few tracks where Lorenzo is going to get some major wood blowing Vale away in the main straights.

Your Weekend Forecast

His 13th place result at Le Mans was the furthest back Marc Marquez crossed the finish in 28 races.

Rain should vacate the greater Scarperia area by Friday afternoon, giving way to blue skies and temps in the upper 70’s. Rossi weather. No reason to think The Bruise Brothers won’t both end up on the podium on Sunday afternoon. If I had to pick a dark horse to join them, I’d go with Iannone, against my better judgment. And there is no truth to the rumor Rossi is shopping for a used DeLorean sporting an aftermarket flux capacitor. Just sayin’.

We’ll have results and analysis right here later on Sunday.

  • Old MOron

    Magic 8-ball is no screwball.

    “Rossi’s customary bad luck,” it does seem to swing to the extremes of the spectrum.

    Your take on Ducati’s 2016 is fantastic. Speaking of it in the past tense already really drives the point home. And speaking of team orders, we know those don’t apply to the Maniac Joe anymore. I hope he kills it this weekend.

    “Lorenzo probably had concerns, too, about having The Maniac as his wingman.”
    The Maniac and Valentino are pretty good buds. Others have suggested that Lorenzo didn’t want a friend of Valentino for a teammate. All speculation, of course, but it makes sense to me.

    Everyone is saying that Maverick-at-Yamaha is a done deal, but I’m holding out hope that the Maniac will land in Lorenzo’s vacated saddle.

    Bring on the weekend! I can’t wait to see the practice times, the race pace, the tire selection, the silly season announcements, and of course the race, itself!

    • Bruce Allen

      I kinda want to see what The Maverick can do on the M-1. He’s only 21, and has Alien written all over him. But will there ever be a fifth Alien? Doesn’t ever seem to work out. 🙁

      • but can he do a “lorenzo style” that superb unique riding style that brings out all of the m1’s potential, many have tried and failed.

        spies,crutchlow,smith,dovisio and rossi have failed to replicate lorenzo riding style. rossi was close but not close enough.

        mavericks time in moto2 should have shed light on whether he can perform on the m1.

        • Old MOron

          Maverick is young enough that he should still be adaptable and able to learn the Yamaha. Will he ride it was well as Lorenzo and Rossi? That’s what everyone wants to know: is he an alien?

  • spiff

    I would have liked to see Pedrosa on the Suzuki, and Iannone at Repsol. I know it wouldn’t happen, but it would be cool to see how they performed on those bikes.

    • Bruce Allen

      Dani would have helped Suzuki with feedback, but I wonder how happy MM would have been teaming up with Iannone, with whom he’s had some hellified battles, most of which were in Moto2. Whatever, it’s done. It will be fun to watch #99 on those long straights.

      • I’m afraid with with #99 on a duc. the duc hates corner speed and is the most opposite of the m1.

  • William Marvin Parker

    Jlo may get wood passing Rossi on the straight, however Rossi will likely be laughing in his helmet when he passes him in one of the corners. Thats the problem with Ducati, they always had top speed. Problem is, there are 15 corners and only one straight. You do the math..

    • Bruce Allen

      I think Lorenzo and Dall’Igna may make some beautiful music together. The bike Rossi failed on in 2011-12 was vastly inferior to the one Lorenzo will mount next season. One should not be so quick to dismiss #99 in red. I’m more interested in seeing where Rins ends up.

      • Old MOron

        I read somewhere that Jorge and Gigi got on very well while they both worked for Aprilia in lower classes.

        Where would you put Rins?

        • Bruce Allen

          I don’t see him getting a factory ride next year. If I were him, I’d sign with Tech 3 and try to set up to be Rossi’s successor in 2019.

          • Old MOron

            Yes, he could roll the dice with Aprilia or KTM, or he could poach Aleix’s Suzuki spot, or he could go with Tech3.

            Herve seems to run an excellent team. And since he doesn’t get along with Marquez, Yamaha seems like a natural choice. The only thing is that Tech3 has not been a natural path to the Factory Yamaha. Dovi rode for Tech3 and didn’t get to the factory squad. Same for Cruthlow, Smith, and so far, Pol Espargaro. I can think of only two guys who went from Tech3 to the factory squad, Colin Edwards and Ben Spies, both a long time ago.

            Maybe the door between Tech3 and Factory Yamaha will be open for Rins in 2019. But by that time, the likes of Fenati, Bulega, Navarro, Antonelli, Bastianini, et al might be competing for that seat.

            Oh well, you don’t get to pick your situation. You play the hand you have.

          • spiff

            Texh 3 seems content with Pol. There has to be some value to the top guy who won’t win (satellite).

  • Vrooom

    Suzuki can’t be thought to have traded up. Though Iannone has more speed than Dovi it consistently appears, he can’t seem to keep it rubber side down. Meanwhile Vinales is still improving and is already competitive. Vinales and Rossi will make a great team, I suspect Espargo and Iannone will have curtain separating them in the garage.

  • Old MOron

    Okay, I’ve seen the official announcement. Yamaha have signed Maverick. I’ll be very interested to see how he goes next year. But I was hoping Iannone would land the Yamaha ride.

    I suppose it’s possible he could still land on a Tech3 Yamaha. Herve likes to bring up promising young riders, and he’s already signed one in Folger. Will he go for another, or will he opt for some experience, too. He has stated that he would like to keep Pol, but Pol is looking for a factory seat. If Pol buggers off to Suzuki, I hope the Maniac Joe gets the call – though he’s more likely to take a factory ride with Aprilia or KTM.

    • Gruf Rude

      I’m not a fan of Iannone, but maybe it’s just that awful haircut he sports . . .

  • spiff

    So Aleix to KTM?

    • Old MOron

      I read a quote wherein he said he was disappointed with the way Iannone’s signing was handled. He could a an asset to KTM. He did his time on a crappy ART bike. He scored a podium on the Forward Yamaha, and he has done a creditable development work at Suzuki. KTM already have a good development rider in Smith. I wonder if they’ll want another one, or if they’ll go for a wild-eyed pistol waver.

      • spiff

        I think KTM would do well with both. They would get relevant info from two different bikes, and both can have positive input on development. If they have a nice “Suzuki” learning curve then in two years they can fight it out to see who stays, and who gets replaced by the new gun slinger.

        • spiff

          Ifbthey bring a new guy now then they may get hijacked like Suzuki did.

          • Old MOron

            That’s good reasoning, Spiff. On the other hand, they already have Kalio and DePuniet for development riders. Those guys are no slouches.

            Alex Rins has been insisting an a factory ride. The big, established factory rides are all gone. What if KTM could snag him? Would he be more desirable than Aleix?

          • spiff

            I think he goes to Suzuki. In the end, I would want all the feedback from all those who can not only develope a bike , but those who have ridden different ones. Also Aleix has fresh experience of a successful Suzuki effort. I would want that.

          • Bruce Allen

            He would certainly be more of a pain in the ass than Aleix. Guy seems pretty high maintenance. Rins and Marquez don’t like one another, could set up a nice new rivalry, which always gets my juices flowing.

  • JMDonald

    The MotoGP train keeps rolling. A Rossi win would be OK with me.

  • spiff

    It’s been a while, so I need to throw this out there.

    Go Rossi!!! End transmission.

  • Old MOron

    The weekend begins well! Maniac Joe is pissed off. Four OEM’s in the top five positions. The top ten are covered by 3/4 of a second. So far the race pace looks to be about 1’48.4, and there are at least five guys who can manage it.

    Io sto con Vale!

    • spiff

      I hope your right about the number of guys that can hang on race day.

  • Ozzy Mick

    Guess who took the top 3 podiums in Race 1 of the latest SBK race in Sepang, Malaysia? Sykes, Rea, Davis – bl**dy Brits!
    Guess who won Race 2, albeit in the wet? One N. Hayden…yeeeaahh!!!

    Hope this isn’t spoiling your Motogp party…:)

    • Old MOron

      Welcome back, Mick! Just in time to enjoy Rossi’s pole position.

      I think Nicky’s doing it about right in WSBK. I hope Honda deliver the bike they said they will next year.

      • Ozzy Mick

        Good to be back Old MO, albeit quite irrelevantly, or, as Messrs Allen or Burns may say, irreverently. My problem is that Motogp is not free to air in Oz whereas SBK is.
        Thanks for your earlier post – if they can all keep a similar pace, it should make for close, exciting racing.

        • Bruce Allen

          Wish the bl**dy Brits in MotoGP would do something besides falling over. But welcome back. It is a shame about the TV rights, as most of my US friends who would watch MotoGP for free haven’t seen a race all year.

          • Ozzy Mick

            Haha, yes, and also Spiller Miller. Your US friends – all 3 of them? :). Any Aussie ones? Will u be coming to Phillip Island this year? If u r, fly into the Gold Coast a week before, rent a bike and we can ride down along some fantastic roads twisting and turning over the Great Dividing Range! Old MO is invited to join us. Heck, why don’t u and/or Mr. Burns organise a Motogp Tour Down Under! C’mon Old MO and all you readers, with the strength of the US dollar, u will be able to save enough in a coupla months! We can all ride down on maxi scooters. Let’s start a petition.

          • Old MOron

            Hmm, saving up the money might be possible. Getting time off will be more difficult. Seppo corporate culture doesn’t recognize the value of holiday like the rest of world does. Just the same, would you recommend flying into BNE or OOL?

            I don’t know if I could ride on the left side of the road and live to tell about it.

          • Ozzy Mick

            If you are working for a boss, tell him a sob or celebratory story about a mate in Oz who is a descendant of your paternal great great grandFounding Father who is blah blah blah – fill in the blahs.
            BNE or OOL doesn’t make much difference – about an hour and a half on a (boring) highway if we leave from BNE. Good for getting used to our mad drivers.
            Riding on the left – no worries mate! Just follow the leader – moi. By all means stick a fluoro coloured sticker with ‘LEFT’ and an arrow writ boldly and stick it where u will see it.
            See you in October!

          • Old MOron

            Hey Mick, I checked the time lines for deliverables at work. We have some stuff due in October, and I have to be around to make sure they get done. I can try to get someone to cover for me, but we’re a small team and it’s not likely. I’ll keep you posted.

        • Old MOron

          Irrelevantly? C’mon, put a 43 sticker on your scooter and feel the matter. Do some searching. Ask around. I bet you can find a video feed.

  • spiff

    If someone said choose a front row, this would be mine.

    • Bruce Allen

      Not a bad second row, either, with Aleix’s feeling being hurt. He’ll be looking to make a point on Sunday.

      • spiff

        Yeah. I don’t know how Suzuki did it, but they did. The Ducatis have good days then bad. Suzuki just seems to improve. Iannone may be pretty happy next year. I think Suzuki should give Aleix the chance to race what he helped develop.

  • spiff

    It is interesting that the sector times are all over the place. Some are fast here, others there.

    • Old MOron

      I saw that, too. I think it’s great. It means different riders are strong in different sectors. Gives me reason to hope for lots of passing.