MotoGP: 2010 Mugello Preview

Lorenzo is clean and green, while Rossi is seeing red

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Mugello round of the 2010 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Gran Premio d’Italia.

Round Four of the 2010 MotoGP championship season marks the annual pilgrimage to Tuscany, where the storied Mugello circuit once again hosts the Gran Premio d’Italia. Last year, Ducati Marlboro mullah Casey Stoner interrupted Valentino Rossi’s string of seven straight wins at Mugello in a thriller that saw the top five finishers separated by a mere three seconds. This year, Stoner is an afterthought, and people’s attentions are focused on whether Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo can continue his white-hot 2010 campaign at teammate Rossi’s home track.

Tuscany, it turns out, was Ground Zero for the Renaissance way back when, home to guys like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Galileo, not to mention chianti and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Rossi grew up in Urbino, which, although just down the road, is technically in the province of Marche. Whatever. Mugello is Rossi’s home track, despite the assertions of virtually every rider not named Aoyama that they are ALMOST as Italian as The Doctor.

Authorities quickly stepped in and stopped Vale from cracking Jorge in the head with a bottle of Monster Energy Drink.

Teammates Turning Tables

Dr. Rossi would be well advised to make a statement this week after a few days of home cooking. Arch-rival Lorenzo has clearly been the superior rider thus far this year, and Rossi needs to stay glued to his backside now that the season is in full gear. Having The Doctor planted in his rearview every week could easily cause Lorenzo to feel the pressure that has undone him over the past two seasons. Without that pressure, it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that Lorenzo will simply hunker down and ride away with the 2010 title in his smooth, seemingly effortless style. Despite trailing his teammate by only nine points, Rossi needs a stopper at Mugello. Tempo grande!

Nicky Hayden will try to break his string of fourth-place finishes with a podium in Mugello.

The times they are a changin’ at the two other factory garages, too. Andrea Dovizioso has laid claim to the top spot on the Repsol Honda team as teammate Dani Pedrosa faded badly in his last two outings. Dovi must be considered a favorite to podium this week, especially given his, y’know, Italian heritage. And the MotoGP beat writers are now leading their Ducati Marlboro blurbs talking about Nicky Hayden, swingin’ in fifth place, and all but ignoring Casey Stoner, languishing in the land of the lost with the likes of Rizla Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi and Alvaro Bautista. Mio Dio!

Elsewhere on the Grid

The satellite teams are having their own issues. The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha duo of Colin Edwards and rookie Ben Spies has collectively accumulated 27 points; Randy de Puniet has 26 all by himself, without having come close to a podium. The Dueling Marcos, Melandri and Simoncelli, replaced Alex de Angelis and Toni Elias at San Carlo Gresini Honda during the offseason. After three rounds, the Marcos have aggregated 37 points, compared to the 30 points de Angelis and Elias had at the same point last year. (Meanwhile, Elias leads the entire Sioux nation over at Moto2 and seems to be having a great time doing it.)

Hector Barbera and Hiroshi Aoyama have shown flashes of ability, but aren’t making anything like the rookie noise Lorenzo and Pedrosa made when they first came up to the big leagues. And of course, there’s Stoner, wallowing in 13th place, by far the biggest disappointment of the season.

What a Difference a Year Makes

To think it was only a year ago that Stoner led the championship standings and Hayden was flirting with disaster every time out. At Mugello, Stoner won and Hayden finished a distant 12th. Assuming Stoner finishes on Sunday, not a foregone conclusion, I expect Hayden to beat him. Last year, Loris Capirossi finished fifth, just ahead of Colin Edwards; neither has been at all competitive this year.

Alvaro Bautista may be all winks and smiles but he's racing with a broken collarbone.The 250cc class at Mugello last year found Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista on the podium, with Hector Barbera and Hiroshi Aoyama finishing fifth and sixth, respectively. Having graduated to the premier class, none of the four is a threat to podium this year. Bautista, especially, pedaling his Suzuki with a broken collarbone, is my pick to finish dead last, although Aleix Espargaro may give him a run for his money. One thing is for certain – Randy de Puniet will qualify higher than he finishes. Si può prendere che alla banca!

Last year at Mugello, Dovizioso finished fourth, missing the podium by 5/100ths of a second, while Pedrosa crashed midway through the race. Mugello marked the beginning of Dovi’s ascendance as a force at Repsol Honda. A year later, he is well on his way to becoming The Man on the factory Honda team.

Sunday’s forecast is perfect – sunny and warm, with good weather expected for Friday and Saturday, too. Nothing like last year, which is probably bad news for Marco Melandri, the only certified mudder left in the field, now that Chris Vermeulen has moved on.

Meanwhile, Moto2 Rocks On

Mugello is one of those layouts where the first turn on the first lap is likely to remove 20% of the Moto2 field. I can’t wait to see forty-some adrenaline-charged riders screaming down that long main straight into the sharp downhill right-hander. 41 bikes will go into the turn; no telling how many will come out. Porca troia!

Watch out for that first corner after the starting straight in the Moto2 race.

Toni Elias leads Shoya Tomizawa and Simone Corsi at the top of the Moto2 leader board heading into Mugello, but he’s never had much luck in Tuscany. Neither has Tomizawa for that matter, but Corsi, who trails Tomizawa by 10 points in the standings, won the 125cc tilt there last year and therefore may have an advantage this week. (The advantage, of course, is that he’s Italian.) Meanwhile, my boy, Hard Luck Alex de Angelis, will be happening almost next door to his home in San Marino. This, I predict, is the week poor Alex registers the first Moto2 points of his young life. You can’t say he’s not due, and he’s usually raced well there. Resista, Alex!

Post Script

Just a quick reminder – we predicted last October after Estoril that the domino effect initiated by the Moto2 class would bring about 1) the return of 1000cc machines to the premier class, and 2) the eventual replacement of the 125 class with 250cc bikes. Although the new 250’s, as reported this week, are expected to be powered by 4-cylinder engines from various manufacturers, this move will leave the MotoGP universe in perfect alignment – 1000cc, 600cc and 250cc for the senior riders, and 125’s for the Rookies. Dorna’s and FIM’s sensitivity to the costs being borne by team owners will result in crowded grids and thrilling races in all three divisions beginning in 2012. Complimenti!

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