MotoGP: 2009 Mugello Preview

Suddenly, everyone's Italian!

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Mugello round of the 2009 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Italian Grand Prix.

Each year, when March 17th rolls around, half the people I know suddenly become Irish. (They seem to need an excuse to drink themselves into oblivion on St. Patrick’s Day, though they’re happy to do so the rest of the year without any Irish connection, real or imagined.) It works much the same way when MotoGP’s high RPM crowd rolls into Tuscany. Suddenly, there are Italian connections everywhere you look. Capisce?

For starters, there are six riders of Italian heritage – signor Rossi, Andrea Dovizioso, Marco Melandri, Loris Capirossi, and Niccolo Canepa, plus Alex de Angelis, from the miniature Italian duchy of San Marino. Five riders drive that most Italian of motorcycles, the Ducati Desmosedici, including Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden, Mika Kallio, Sete Gibernau (who has a note from his mom excusing his absence this week) and Canepa. Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo (Fiat Yamaha), Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) and Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) are all on Italian-backed teams. All of which leaves only five riders with no alleged connection to Mugello – Dani Pedrosa, Colin Edwards, James Toseland, Chris Vermeulen and Yuki Takahashi. Disdetta!

Valentino Rossi has won every Italian Grand Prix since the introduction of the MotoGP class in 2002.

I was hoping that Takahashi might take a swing at establishing an Italian connection, but he kept his usual low profile again this week. And of the two riders with extra sauce – Rossi and Canepa – I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Valentino finishes ahead of Niccolo this week, unlike at Le Mans.

The Championship Standings – Tighter than Wallpaper

Thus far in the 2009 season, the championship is as wide open as it has been in years. A single point separates the leader Lorenzo from Rossi and Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo celebrated his victory at Le Mans with his Hulk Hogan impression.and Pedrosa is only nine points out of the lead. Each of the four has a win, and three of the four have three podiums apiece, with Stoner having given up his spot at Le Mans to his former Ducati Marlboro teammate the amazing Marco Melandri on the Hayate Kawasaki. Melandri and Dovizioso have 43 points each and trail Pedrosa by only 14 points. Che diavolo?

Of the four leaders, not one looks invincible. However, according to the odds makers, Rossi remains the favorite to repeat as champion.

  • Rossi 5 to 6
  • Stoner 10 to 3
  • Lorenzo 5 to 1
  • Pedrosa 8 to 1

If you held a gun to my head, I would have to pick Jorge Lorenzo to take it all this year. Rossi doesn’t look as dominant as he did last year, and when Lorenzo has his bike set up the way he likes it, he is assassinio.

Nicky Hayden on Auto-Cliché

Hayden’s ordeal continues, as he and his new crew chief teamed up to bring home a 12th place finish in France. I continue to be shocked at his poor performance on the track, which is now starting to spill over to his interviews.

Fielding some soft fly balls from a key sponsor this past week, some of his quotes included the following:

  • “Every part of the weekend is important, I think that first practice on a Friday sometimes really sets the tone…” Sometimes or really, but not sometimes really.
  • “Qualifying also on Saturday is really important…” Really? Or sometimes?
  • “…it’s all important – every lap, every session you’ve really got to focus on it and get the most out of everything.” Merda!
  • “Some weekends are a lot better than others…”  He’s still waiting for one of those.
  • “Every race is a big race.” Deficienté!
  • “I mean MotoGP in America is growing a lot and Indy is very close to my house.” Your penthouse or your outhouse?
  • “…but they’re all important – they all pay the same amount of points so you need to bring your ‘A’ game every week.” Points – there’s an idea!

A Little Added Pressure on Rossi and the Ducatis

Casey Stoner will try to earn Ducati Marlboro their first MotoGP win on their home circuit.Following his disastrous weekend at Le Mans, Valentino Rossi has a little extra motivation to continue his remarkable streak of seven straight wins at Mugello.

However, his teammate Jorge Lorenzo, Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, and Hayate Kawasaki’s Marco Melandri all want to put an end to that streak.

Not to mention Casey Stoner on the factory Ducati, whose corporate home is only about an hour away in Bologna, and which has their own Cleveland-esque Dog Pound in the 3000-seat Correntaio corner. Look for Rossi to find a way to take his eighth straight at Mugello on Sunday.

Dovizioso Needs Himself a Podium This Week

Andrea Dovizioso, in his first season on the factory Repsol Honda, is due for a podium, and Mugello would be a fine place to nail his first of the year. He had a single podium (at Sepang) in 2008, his rookie year in the premier class on the satellite Honda, finishing fifth in the world championship. Along with his promotion to the factory bike, nudging aside poor Nicky Hayden, have come raised expectations for what he might accomplish this season.

He started this season with a very respectable fifth in Qatar, followed by another fifth in Japan. At Jerez, he took a slight detour off the track, slipping to 16th place before tearing up the joint on his way to an eighth place finish. Two weeks ago he finished fourth in France, finally getting passed by teammate Dani Pedrosa on the last lap after a furious six lap chase.

Dovi grew up 40 miles from the Mugello track and is as Italian as you can get, WAY more Italian than, say, Casey Stoner. I, for one, would love to see him take his first podium of 2009 on his home circuit. Riuscire!

Red Bull Rookies’ Cup

The teenagers are at it again this week in Tuscany with the running of the third round of the Rookies’ Cup. Although Norway’s Sturla Fagerhaug and Briton Danny Kent lead the standings, there are plenty of other fast kids out there. The problem is that the rest of them tend to crash out more often, a common occurrence in the Rookies’ Cup. There’s plenty of great racing action and lots of laughs along the way. Visit the Red Bull website for the video feed. Pazzos!

Two more reasons to love Italy.

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