MotoGP 2011 Mugello Preview

Where Simoncelli is pretty sure he won't get booed


MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Mugello round of the 2011 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Italian Grand Prix.

MotoGP returns to Tuscany for Round 8 of the 2011 world championship this week, and unlike most years, not everyone’s Italian. No longer does Valentino Rossi rule the world from his Fiat Yamaha throne. The region’s signature work of art, the Ducati Desmosedici, has become so difficult to ride they’ve decided to re-build the factory entry in mid-season, a task comparable to changing a tire at 70 miles per hour. And the big news hog this year, San Carlo Gresini sophomore Marco Simoncelli, is on the verge of having a skull and crossbones stitched on the back of his leathers.

There is little joy in Mugello (Italian for Mudville) these days. Local racing fans remember the seven straight years that homeboy Rossi won here (2002 – 2008). That streak came to an end in 2009 when Casey Stoner dominated the action, but at least he did it on the Ducati. Last year things got even worse, with Rossi crashing in practice and breaking his leg, leaving the door wide open for his arch rival, teammate Jorge Lorenzo, to steal the 2010 championship from The Doctor. 2011 was to be the year that put the stars back in their rightful places in the firmament, with Rossi piloting the fabled Ducati to victory, glory and racing immortality.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Rossi is now faced with the task of getting what is essentially a brand new bike up and running at race-winning speeds while the season hums merrily along. Three races in the next four weeks, trailing Stoner by 55 points as the midway point of the season approaches. The Corse Development engineers must be frantic.

Speaking of which, there was a fascinating report on several websites this week describing what those engineers have been faced with in producing the GP11.1. In a nutshell, they discovered that they could not simply bolt the current 800cc engine to the new frame. Instead, they had to de-bore and de-stroke new 1000cc engines to reduce the displacement to 800cc – on the fly! Imagine the goings-on at the factory, blocks and heads being drilled, new pistons machined, etc. etc. in real time. I’m reminded of the recent TV commercial for Xerox, in which the Ducati rider in the wind tunnel is being asked to translate a 600 page tech manual into Portuguese. By tomorrow. Given the choice between designing and building a new engine in a week or doing the translation, some might choose to learn Portuguese.

Yamaha Bails on Mugello 2012 Testing

Okay, so I don’t really pay a lot of attention to all of the MotoGP testing that makes this a 12-months-a-year sport. A lot of media outlets do, and for good reason, I’m sure. But this week’s announcement that Yamaha would be joining Ducati and Honda in sitting out Monday’s post-race testing day at Mugello was something of a surprise to me. The announcement suggested that the suits in Japan wanted to do more development work on the bike before starting to burn their eight days of testing, as permitted by the FIM.

The Big Three are all passing on Mugello, but for different reasons. Ducati has already used five of their allotted eight days, and want to hold onto a few; I get that. The factory Honda riders have all enjoyed two fruitful days on their 2012 machines, and would rather spend Monday lying around playing video games and drinking Mojitos; I totally get that. Team Yamaha, on the other hand, has plenty of work to do, in terms of generating more power, and would seem to benefit by giving Lorenzo and Spies some bumtime on the next generation M1. The development people at Yamaha, therefore, are either way confident about where they stand for next year, or are sweating bullets. We won’t know which is the case until Brno in August.

Which Brings Us to the Suzuki Situation

The bosses at Suzuki gave Rizla team manager Paul Denning the disagreeable task of sharing with the press their intentions for 2012. Ahem. Denning announced this past week that the Rizla team, in a gesture aimed at moderating their total dominance of the premier class (wink wink), would continue to run their 800cc engines in 2012, while everyone else on earth is running 1000cc. Say that again, Paul? Yes, one GSV-R, presumably with Alvaro Bautista aboard. Um, Paul, we keep hearing that John Hopkins expects to join Bautista next year, which would make that a TWO bike team, right? Or not? Perhaps they might take turns – Bautista running the even numbered rounds, and Hopkins the odds? And 800cc – that’s what the factory is giving you to work with? Awesome.

If you believe all that, then you’ll have no trouble accepting their promise to field a two bike, 1000cc factory team in 2013. Will they be limited to six, or allowed twelve engines? And they say they’re participating in MotoGP in the first place in order to promote the Suzuki brand! I’m not sure I’d want MY brand identified as the poor relation of MotoGP, the factory that can’t afford two riders, and now can’t afford to field bikes that are even remotely competitive. Some serious re-thinking is in order here. And Bautista deserves better.

Pedrosa to Return – Too Little, Too Late

Repsol Honda’s Little Big Man, Dani Pedrosa, announced this week that he would be returning to action at Mugello. This despite the fact that his season sits in ruins, any hope of a world championship only a memory. We’re not here to pile on the “Deport Simoncelli to WSBK” bandwagon. We’ll only observe, as Pedrosa’s teammate Casey Stoner did, that it will be hard for the Spaniard to get his mojo back. Sure, he’s as competitive as anyone on the planet, and reacts to adrenaline the way the other riders do, by throwing the throttle wide open. Unlike some of his competitors, he’s not out there just to turn laps – he’s out there to win a title. But not this year.

Carlo Pernat, in an interview earlier this spring, suggested Pedrosa is just too small physically to stand up to the strain of wrestling a 240 hp motorcycle around the world’s most demanding road tracks. Even in a sport full of small men, Pedrosa (and Marco Melandri) are minute. Specks. Plus, Dani is not a quick healer, as are some of his rivals, notably Colin Edwards, Cal Crutchlow, and Randy de Puniet. There is a bit of an ongoing flap in the Spanish sports media having to do with Pedrosa being photographed in a bowling alley during his recent convalescence, and conjecture as to whether he may have re-injured his collarbone trying to convert a 7-10 split. We’ll just leave it to the Spanish websites to sort all that out.

Motegi is ON

Finally, as expected, Dorna this week announced that the Motegi round in October will be held as scheduled, despite the health issues surrounding the failed nuclear facility at Fukushima. The possibility still exists that a number of riders, notably Jorge Lorenzo, may attempt to organize a boycott of the round. That possibility is remote. The race will go on, and all the riders will attend.

Personally, I would be in favor of having MotoGP designate its own 12 mile “zone of exclusion” – around Marco Simoncelli. Any riders finding themselves within 12 miles of the toxic Italian would be awarded 15 championship points and immediately airlifted to the next venue.

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