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Sunday at magnificent Mugello was that rarest of days, when one gets to hear the Italian national anthem played three separate times. Italians placed 1-2 in a mind-bending Moto3 tilt. Italian heartthrob Franco Morbidelli didn’t win in Moto2 today, but beloved countryman Mattia Pasini did. In the main event, homeboys on Ducatis took the top and third steps on the podium.

Mattia Pasini demonstrates that crashing on a podium is much better than crashing out of a podium.

National idol Valentino Rossi, trying to fight through injury on his Yamaha, kept it interesting, but was beaten to the podium by teammate Maverick Viñales and the Ducati GP17s ridden by Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci, looking hungry and lean himself.

A good day to be Italian, i.e., any day ending in the letter Y. If only Vale could have…you know…

It was a good day for Italy (and Ducati), indeed.

Ducati placed five bikes in the top nine today, buttressing the argument that speed is of the essence here, and the Ducati Desmosedici is built for nothing if not speed. Crutchlow had been quoted early in the weekend saying the race was Dovizioso’s for the taking. Personally, it is my favorite circuit on the calendar, none of that stop-and-go drag racing, holds 100,000 unapologetic, raving, nationalistic fans, and their favorite son, Valentino Rossi. It is impolitic to observe that Rossi hasn’t won at Mugello since 2008.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday’s practices in ideal conditions produced some strange-looking timesheets.

FP1 was Ducati Day at Mugello, with red bikes led by Andrea Dovizioso occupying five of the first seven spots, punctuated by the factory Yamahas. FP2 was held Through the Looking Glass, with Aliens (or recovering Aliens) at 11th (Jorge Lorenzo), 12th (the injured Rossi), 13th (Viñales) and 14th (Marc Marquez), Cal Crutchlow sitting astride the lot. On Saturday, FP3 ended with Rossi, looking good, in P1 followed by Marquez and Lorenzo. Fine. But Alvaro Bautista in 4th? And Tito “One Fast Lap” Rabat, a Tranche Five stalwart, sitting 6th? The Usual Suspects, the factory Yamahas, Hondas and Ducatis, made it into Q2 joined by Rabat on the Marc VDS Honda, Aleix Espargaro on the factory Aprilia, and the satellite Ducati delegation of Bautista and test rider Michele Pirro.

Michele Pirro doesn’t often get to race, but he does make the most of his opportunities. Pirro was fast all weekend, qualifying fourth and finishing ninth as a wildcard.

Q1 saw a very casual Johann Zarco, who waited until the session was more than half over, stroll out on the track and easily pass through to Q2 along with a slightly more frenetic Petrucci, who was making hay while the sun shines for once. Q2 was the usual last-minute cluster, ending with the factory Yamahas up front (Viñales on pole) joined on the first row by a dangerous looking Dovizioso, with the second row consisting of Pirro followed by the two Repsol Hondas, Dani Pedrosa in 5th ahead of Marquez. Three Italians in the front four; the locals be habbin’ dat.

Lorenzo could manage only P7, while Zarco, perhaps a little too relaxed, started the race Sunday 11th, not what he had in mind when he left France. Tech 3 Yamaha teammate and fellow rookie sensation Jonas Folger crashed out of Q1 and started the race 15th. Crutchlow, bad karma having tagged him, missed out moving on to Q2 by 8/100ths, started in the 13 hole today, deep in the weeds. He would get collected by Pedrosa late in the day and was seen shoving the diminutive Spaniard while Pedrosa was trying to apologize. As if Cal hadn’t been running 11th at the time, in hot pursuit of five points.

Cal Crutchlow was furious with Dani Pedrosa after they both crashed out on the final lap. Pedrosa took full blame and apologized. Crutchlow, who reported dislocated his shoulder in the crash, accepted the apology after he cooled down.

What About the Race?

Maverick Viñales, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi and Danilo Petuccio – a Spaniard and three Italians – established themselves in the lead pack of the Italian Grand Prix.

Exiting Turn 1 of Lap 1, it was Rossi and Viñales, with Lorenzo (!), Dovizioso and Marquez chasing. The high point of Jorge Lorenzo’s day was Lap 2, as he briefly took the lead before being passed, excruciatingly, one at a time, by at least seven other riders, finishing 8th with few visible excuses. The top six coalesced, by Lap 7, as , Dovizioso, Rossi, Petrucci on the Octo Pramac Ducati GP17, a struggling Marquez and a gripless Lorenzo. Marquez spent much of the last half of the race jousting with Bautista and his GP16, and was unable to close the deal, finishing sixth, staying in the 2017 game but not helping himself.

Dovizioso went through on Viñales on Lap 14 for keeps, but was unable to get to far away. Viñales and Petrucci gave valiant chase, but didn’t have it, not even at Slipstream City, the front straight at Mugello that is a racing wonder. (In the Moto3 race you could be leading crossing the line and enter Turn 1 in eighth place.) Rossi, the crowd-generated clouds of yellow smoke serving as incense in the cathedral of Italian racing, was unable to compete at the end, one assumes, due to injury. The Italian press will call him a hero for simply showing up. Just sayin’.

Valentino Rossi missed out on a Mugello podium but the hometown crowd was still happy to see him finish fourth after his injury last week.

Pedrosa on the #2 Repsol Honda lost his grits late on Lap 23, performed an awesome low slider, and took the pins right out from under Crutchlow. In the process, Dani took himself out of second place, replaced there by Dovizioso and his shiny new 25 points. The rest of the top nine, in addition to the Ducs, consisted of three Yamahas – Johann Zarco making something of a late charge after a poor start from 11th – and Marquez’s lonely Honda. The second Honda to cross the line? Tito Rabat on the Marc VDS wreck.

The MotoGP tranches took a beating today. We will look closely at them this coming week, as Catalunya is the second of back-to-back weekends.

Marc Marquez looked less than extraordinary this weekend, finishing sixth behind Alvaro Bautista, of all people.

The Big Picture

Viñales finished second and extended his championship points lead to 26 over Dovizioso. Rossi sits at 75, Marquez and Pedrosa tied for fourth with 68 points, and Zarco sixth with 64. Lorenzo, Petrucci, Jonas Folger and Crutchlow complete the top ten. So, a third of the way through the season, young Maverick leads the entire Sioux nation by more than a full race’s margin.

Andrea Iannone managed a 10th-place finish but was the last of the Italians, finishing just behind Michele Pirro.

Zarco and the remaining Aliens are fighting for second place, hoping #25 would be kind enough to crash out in Catalunya next week. Until he does crash – and, statistically, he will at some point – the world is his oyster. The Repsol Honda team is in relative disarray. The Ducs are only competitive at places like here, Brno, Austria, Phillip Island and Sepang if it don’t rain. Suzuki is not a good fit for Andrea Iannone. The Aprilias and KTMs will probably do better at the tighter, slower tracks yet to come.

Maverick Viñales is calmly, methodically working toward his first MotoGP championship.

Quick Notes

#RideOnKentuckyKid

The continuing tributes to Nicky Hayden in all three classes and the circuit itself fail to make it easier to accept that he is really gone. Another serious blow to American bike racing. So many kids have grown up wanting to be like Nicky Hayden. Not so many, I expect, are coming along wanting to be like Ben Spies.

Regarding Michele Pirro’s wildcard on the Ducati GP17, reporting elsewhere, refers to his becoming the third full factory GP17 on the grid, which, in turn, suggests Petrucci may not be on a full factory 17. Which could help explain his relative lack of success until today, as I accused him of underachieving last week. My acknowledged non-golden touch at work.

Having extended Johann Zarco’s contract last month, Tech3 did the same with Jonas Folger, keeping the two in the fold for the 2018 season.

Tech3’s Herve Poncharal has already re-signed his two rookie wonderkids, Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, to contracts for 2018. The world expects Zarco to get scooped up by a factory team for the two years following. Jury is still out on Folger, whom Poncharal describes as “careful,” citing the amount of data he produces. That’s what known around here as a backhanded compliment.

Back at y’all on Wednesday.