Last time out in France, the racing gods smiled upon Maverick Viñales and Dani Pedrosa while flipping off Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi. The enjoyable jam-packed top four took a beating, with Viñales now enjoying a 17-point lead over series #2 Pedrosa. Rossi is hurt. The Hondas are a pain to ride. There’s lots on the line heading to Mugello and Round 6 of the 2017 MotoGP season.

Before we start, I wanted to acknowledge, having met him several times, how much I respected Nicky Hayden as a person. His family must be shattered. Greatly respected in the paddock, I probably sold his racing skills short for years. He touched the lives of countless people and will be missed by many more. Kevin Duke’s tribute was just right.

Nicky Hayden finished third at Mugello in 2006 en route to winning the MotoGP World Championship.

“Nestled in the hills of Tuscany near the Italian jewel of Florence, the natural beauty of the Autodromo del Mugello is a stunning spectacle on its own. Packed to the rafters with fans when MotoGP™ – and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) – come to town, the circuit and event is one of the true wonders of the Championship. More than a race weekend, Mugello is almost a festival to celebrate of speed, competition and motorcycling.” MotoGP press release 5/29/2017

Bollocks. Mugello is a heavyweight brawl, staged in front of thousands of passionate, mostly Italian, fans of one rider/bike or other, in various stages of inebriation, celebrating speed, nationalism, camaraderie, and the unbridled joy that comes with winning what is, for them, the Super Bowl. People thumping their chests, proclaiming, “The EU is great. Whatever. WE’RE ITALIAN!!!”

The Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley is usually one of the most dramatic events of the MotoGP year. Home to Rossi and Ducati, Mugello is a MotoGP shrine; this is a week in which everyone’s Italian. Unfortunately, it has arrived at a moment when Ducati Corse is having a rough time – five mechanical retirements at Jerez – and local hero Rossi has hurt himself in a training accident just after crashing out of 20 certain points in France.

With three accomplished Aliens chasing him – something like a combined 175 years of racing experience – Viñales must take care of the knitting this weekend. Memo to #25: Riders coming to Mugello leading by 17 have left leading by 42. Or trailing by eight. This is one of the pivot points of the season; mistakes are not tolerated. Races like this are the reason Yamaha is giving you wheelbarrows full of euros. Places like Mugello are where you earn money and reputation. Keep your head down.

Recent History at Mugello

Marc Marquez edged out Jorge Lorenzo in 2014 in part of his historic win streak to start the season.

In 2014, Jorge Lorenzo, then a 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 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, the season reduced to a race for second.

2015 was another Lorenzo-on-rails outing, a carbon copy of what he had delivered in France two weeks earlier. Exciting for Jorge, numbing for the fans. Polesitter Andrea Iannone, aboard the rapidly-improving Ducati GP15, completed his career-best premier class outing in second place despite a long list of injuries. Rossi was able to dismiss a healing Pedrosa to claim the final spot on the podium. Marquez crashed out mid-race during his season of discontent. The locals went home happy with two paisans and a Ducati on the podium.

A blown engine at last year’s Mugello race was a key moment in the 2016 MotoGP season.

Last year featured the infamous blown engines for Lorenzo and Rossi, the second of which I judged to be the most important moment of the 2016 season. After chasing teammate Lorenzo madly with full fuel tanks, Rossi pulled off, white smoke pouring out of his M1 like the Sistine Chapel upon election of a new Pope. Marc Marquez picked up the baton and chased Lorenzo to the finish, but at the end it was Lorenzo by 1/100th over Marquez, with Iannone on the Ducati GP16 third. It was arguably one of Lorenzo’s best rides ever, one he is unlikely to repeat this year on the Ducati.

Tranche Time

Maverick Viñales returned to the top of the championship race (and Bruce’s tranches) after a win at Le Mans.

After Round 3:

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Rossi
Tranche 2: Pedrosa, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Zarco, Miller,
Tranche 3: Bautista, Iannone, Petrucci, Baz, Redding, Folger
Tranche 4: A. Espargaro, P. Espargaro, Barbera, Lorenzo, (Rins)
Tranche 5: Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham

After Round 5:

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa↑
Tranche 2: Zarco, Crutchlow, Lorenzo↑↑, Folger↑, Dovizioso
Tranche 3: Petrucci, Miller↓, Redding, Baz, A Espargaro↑, Iannone
Tranche 4: P Espargaro, Barbera, Bautista, Abraham↑, Smith↑
Tranche 5: Lowes, Rabat, (Rins)

Generally, when folks argue about the relative merits of one team or one rider versus another, the argument ends with one of them bellowing, “SCOREBOARD, baby!” In MotoGP, the bikes, anecdotally regarded as 20% of the package, allow the arbitrary and careless ranking of riders you see above without regard to the standings. It may also reflect current trends different from those extant in Qatar or after Round 3. Paging Jorge Lorenzo. One last observation: Danilo Petrucci is underperforming on the Ducati GP17. He needs some serious rain.

Rossi’s Injury

Valentino Rossi remains a question mark as he awaits medical clearance to race this weekend.

Our crack research team has contacted Vale’s doctor and convinced him that Italy has no HIPPA regs to violate, in order to further convince him to provide us, complete strangers, with exclusive information on the rider’s current sitch. As it turns out, his condition has been upgraded to “sore as hell.” He has a list of internal injuries in which the word “kidneys” was included, which is never good. But he is currently in the hot tub with a bevy team of qualified young nurses receiving intensive massage and should be somewhat recovered, if completely drained, as it were, come Friday. MotoGP riders have great health insurance. And high pain tolerance. Strong cores, too.

Look, they wouldn’t have released him from the hospital if he was bleeding internally. The shame of it is that it comes at this time, when he desperately wants and needs to do well in front of his homeys. The priests at his old country parish in Tavullia are praying for him. This may turn out to be his last best chance to insert himself back into title contention this year. He needs to cinch it up.

Aspar, Danny Kent in the News

Aspar has re-upped with Ducati for 2018, suggesting there will be eight Desmosedici’s on the grid again next season. With Dorna’s stated intent of having four bikes for each manufacturer, and Suzuki probably ready to field a satellite team, this is a surprising development. There is also talk that Audi is interested in selling the Ducati business. The Aspar team is typically short of cash; perhaps the three newer OEMs were reluctant to sign up with a financially shaky operation like Martinez’s. The 2018 deal could be adversely affected by a sale at the corporate level as well.

Danny Kent finished 10th in his return to Moto3 last time out in France.

2015 Moto3 World Champion Danny Kent will be back on the Moto2 grid at Mugello as he replaces Iker Lecuona at Garage Plus Interwetten while the Spaniard recovers from a broken collarbone. This, after a decent guest appearance in France in Moto3. This after he walked out of his contract with Kiefer Racing in Moto2 earlier in the year. And this after titling in Moto3 in 2016. Guy’s getting passed around the MotoGP mosh pit. One suspects he may have to do a year’s perdition in Moto3 before finding a new full time ride in Moto2 for the following season. He must still have plenty of sponsor money. Memo to Danny: Fix, or swallow, your problems – don’t walk away from them.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long-term weekend weather forecast is for sunny and hot, conditions once favorable to the Hondas. Since it’s hard to predict tomorrow’s weather, we’ll ignore it for now, but rain is always possible. As for results, it’s hard not to see both factory Yamahas and Marc Marquez on the podium. One from the factory Ducati team if the weather holds. Dani Pedrosa. Cal Crutchlow. Jack Miller in the rain. The mind reels.

After a slow start, Dani Pedrosa rebounded and now sits second in the championship. Honda teammate Marc Marquez is not far away, just 10 points back in fourth.

Before some readers get wound up, let me acknowledge the likelihood that the Moto2 and Moto3 races will be breathtaking thrillers. I’ll do what I can. The MotoGP race goes off early Sunday morning in the U.S. We will, as always, have results and analysis here as soon as possible. The editors and censors love working weekends.

  • JMDGT

    I am tempted to predict a winner here. I’ll keep it to myself. If the track is dry all bets are off. In my opinion. Well said about the pivot point. I wish Rossi was healthy. Has it really been 11 years since Nicky won the championship? Best racing on the planet.

    • spiff

      Keeping predictions to yourself isn’t fair. I open my big mouth on the regular, and I’m rarely correct. It’s like playing pool. The more outrageous the shot, the more you have to call it. If you make it no one will believe you meant it.

      • JMDGT

        Viñales. There I said it.

        • spiff

          My tiger agrees.

  • BDan75

    The bike, 20% of the package!? I think you’ve got that one backwards…more like 80%

    • I would like to hear more about this. In 2010 I don’t think you would have received much argument with this 80%rider/20%bike theory. This may have reversed itself since then. Hard to untangle, as the the best riders generally end up on the best bikes. The rich usually get richer, the way it’s always been.

      • Starmag

        I’m sure a rider would tell you the bike is only 20%, but Mav only scrapes out one win last year and does nothing more than swap bikes and may win the championship this year. To say nothing of Rossi’s Duc/Yam experience. 80% sounds about right for the bike to me.

      • BDan75

        There are definitely different ways of looking at it, but consider Suzuki’s sudden change in fortunes this year in MotoAmerica. Same riders; new bikes. Or look at Nicky Hayden’s results in WSBK this year–problems with the new bike. He didn’t suddenly change from a 5th-place-average rider capable of occasional podiums to a 10th-place-average rider over the winter.

        Starmag rightly points to Vinales and Rossi, moving in opposite directions. Jonathan Rea moving to Kawasaki is another good example.

        I think what it boils down to is that there’s only so much a rider can do to overcome a non-competitive bike. And once you’re in MotoGP, the talent level is so high that it’s more often the machinery that’s limiting…so even if it’s not 80/20, I still think it’s well over 50/50 machine/man. Of course, just one random internet dude’s opinion.

      • elgar

        My $ 0.02: I think it’s 50 rider and 50 team’s ability to set up the bike for the specific conditions on race day. If the team can nail the set up of the bike to perfectly match the rider’s preferences they get 50 points, and the rest is up to the rider.
        If the bike presented on race day to the rider is not perfectly matched, then the rider has to perfectly adapt his riding style so as to extract the best performance from the bike. In this case, the rider is awarded more % points, and the team less…to a max of 80/20 as suggested. This is assuming of course that the rider gets a good result.
        (Forza Rossi!)

    • Mahatma

      Isn’t placing the figure at even 20% or 80% just guestimation?

  • Old MOron

    Your Memo to #25 is spot-on. Well done, Brucey.

    Your assessment of Lorenzo as a Yamaha icon in 2014 couldn’t be more wrong. An iconic narcissist, perhaps. Having said that, I agree with your two-tranche jump for him.

    Nice coverage of Ducati and Kent. Very interested to see how his substitute ride goes this weekend.

    I hope Vale is like Philo Beddoe in “Any Which Way You Can”: even more dangerous when he’s injured.
    https://youtu.be/QZ6Tlh9XA0U?t=1m59s

    • He was relatively young in 2014, a double world champion in the premier class. Marquez ruined it all for him, as Vinales appears to be doing to Marquez as we speak.

      • Old MOron

        He was even more self-aggrandizing when he was younger. There is an old joke about when Marco Simoncelli brought his huge coif into Moto GP. How would the sponsors find a cap big enough to cover his head? The joke was that they gave him one of Lorenzo’s old hats, and it was way too big.

  • Kos

    A win by 46 this weekend would be so great, on so many levels, so

    GO ROSSI!

    • spiff

      Go Rossi!!! End transmission.

  • Vrooom

    I’m waiting to see on Lorenzo’s two tranche jump, though it’s hard to argue given his sudden resurgence, otherwise excellent tranching I’d say. Not liking Marquez much, I’m thinking Vinales, Rossi, Zarco, Marquez or something like that.

    • A layout like Mugello favors the Duc and Lorenzo loves it here. He could podium this weekend if the weather holds, He would probably enjoy sticking one in Rossi’s eye in front of his hometown fans. Immensely.

      • Old MOron

        Yes, this must be a mouth-watering weekend both for Ducati and for Lorenzo. As you point out, Jorge’s recent results include two wins and a second place here. And with the Maniac Joe taking the GP15 and GP16 to the podium, Gigi must have high hopes, indeed, for Jorge on the GP17.

        If the weather holds, and if he doesn’t psyche himself out over the Michelin 70, Jorge could be in for his best result of the season. Of course that’s what his fan was saying at Le Mans – okay, you weren’t.

      • spiff

        I think it depends on the front tire. If Michelin shows up with softer carcass Lorenzo is a threat to podium.

  • Old MOron

    Based on the morning times, I’d say the race pace is right around 1:48, or maybe in the high 1:47 range.
    Vinny, Zarco, and Dovi have the best pace:
    http://resources.motogp.com/files/results/2017/ITA/MotoGP/FP1/Analysis.pdf

    But the afternoon times are usually more accurate because the race takes place in the afternoon. Based on today’s afternoon practice, I still think the race pace will be in the high 1:47 range, but the players might different than the usual fast guys. The Ducatis really seem to like this track.
    http://resources.motogp.com/files/results/2017/ITA/MotoGP/FP2/Analysis.pdf

    Of course this is just the first day of testing. The usual suspects will probably speed up tomorrow. I hope Vale gets better. Based on his lap times, it looks like he’s in a lot of pain today.

    • Marquez and Rossi appear to be sucking canal water.

      • Old MOron

        Yup, each one a fair way behind his teammate.

        • Then FP3 happened. Your boy is leading the Q2 pack. Jeesh.

          • Old MOron

            Yeah, not bad for the old dodderer. He didn’t get pole position, but he has the fastest lap of the weekend courtesy of FP3.

            How about Pirro at the head of the 2nd row?!

            Normally I look at FP4 times to see who has the race pace, but they all seemed really slow today. Not sure how that bodes for tomorrow.