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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.