How many times since 2013 have we heard a Nick Harris say, “Marquez appears to be getting away at the front?” Plenty. And I have a hard time remembering the last time he crashed out of the lead in one of those. This season is getting away from us. Mugello, with its rich history, is home base to the Rossi and Iannone delegations, as well as Ducati’s home crib. Armed with his new contract, it is step-up time for an Italian rider on Italian equipment with an Italian crew performing in an Italian shrine.

It is Andrea Dovizioso’s time. He is the #1 rider for Ducati Corse. This is his best opportunity to slow down the runaway freight train with the number 93. The Desmosedici has been designed to perform well here. He won last year’s race.

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Andrea Iannone has tasted success at Mugello, taking podiums in 2015 and 2016 while riding for Ducati.

We could say much the same thing about Andrea Iannone, who has done well here of late, except that he now rides for Ecstar Suzuki. He’s posted a second and a third here in the last three years and must be considered a bona fide challenger on Sunday. How well the GSX-RR holds up on the long Strait of Mugello will determine whether he can take a shot at Marc Marquez. Or Dovizioso.

Sunday’s Contestants in The Main Event

(Channeling Michael Buffer at this moment.) “The challengers in this year’s Rumble in Tuscany include, next to Andrea and Andrea, wearing #9 in red, from Terni, Italy, on the Praaaaaaamac Ducati, ladies and gentlemen, (as the crowd goes wild)

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Danilo Petrucci currently sits fifth in the standings, just two points behind Valentino Rossi.

DanEEEEEElo PetrrrUUUUUUUUUcci!” Danilo Petrucci seems to have taken the bit in his teeth of late, understanding that his main rival for a factory Ducati next year is no longer a triple world champion. It is the suddenly fast Jack Miller, on a GP17 who, given everything we know about him, could win Sunday’s race. Petrucci finished on the podium last year and is at the top of his game right now. Winning at Mugello is something he could tell his grandkids about one day.

“Ladies and gentlemen, in this corner, wearing #99 in red, from Mallorca, Spain, on the factory Ducati, triple MotoGP world champion and heavy underdog, please welcome

Horrrrrrrrhay LoooooooooRENzo!” OK, so Jorge Lorenzo is 0-for-Ducati. He is getting even worse results this year than last year. And 2017 was a dumpster fire. But he loves Mugello, winning here five times between 2011 and 2016, when he edged out Marquez by 1/100th in one of his best races ever. Ever, I say. Plus, he has a lot riding on this one, having received “l’embarrassment du choix” from the suits at Ducati Corse, in the person of Gigi Dall’Igna. Win on Sunday or seek employment elsewhere next year.

Jorge needs it not to rain.

Jorge Lorenzo doesn’t like riding in the wet, but he didn’t seem to mind taking his Desmosedici on a gondola ride in Venice.

“Here’s a man who needs no introduction. Wearing #46 in blue and yellow, from Tavullia, Italy, just down the road, ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Il Dottore,

VaLLLentino Rrrooooooooosi!!!” True, it’s been awhile for Valentino Rossi in his home crib. Nonetheless, this venue offers the venerable Italian an opportunity for two podia in a row, after finishing third last time out in France. As crummy as the Yamaha YZR-M1 has been this year, it has always been well-suited to this track. His teammate, Maverick Viñales, took second last year, and somehow sits in second place for 2018 despite being winless after five rounds. His 57 points compare to 85 (and three wins) in 2017. This, then, is a fairly graphic illustration of how far off the pace the 2018 M1 is. A win by Yamaha on Sunday would require much bad juju on the Honda and Ducati teams.

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We haven’t talked much about Maverick Viñales this season, yet somehow he’s second in the championship despite just a single podium finish. There are two race winners and three racers with more podium appearances behind him.

Almost done bashing Yamaha. They do have the electric Johann Zarco riding what is becoming a vintage M1. It’s entirely likely that any Yamaha win on Sunday would arrive wearing #5. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, in my opinion. I believe he will tone down his aggressive riding style in the years to come, that much of what we saw last year and occasionally this year is intentional, the intent being to gain respect, a reputation that you will not be pushed around in the turns. Having accomplished that, he can go about trying to win a championship with KTM.

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It’s not hard to guess who the fans at Mugello are rooting for.

Personally, Mugello is my favorite circuit on the calendar; bucket list material. None of this stop-and-go stuff, holds a bunch of yellow smoke and 100,000 unapologetic, raving, nationalistic fans without much else to cheer about, and features the #1 sports idol in the whole country, Valentino Rossi. As we remarked last year, it is impolitic to observe that Rossi hasn’t won here since 2008. Which makes no difference whatsoever to his fans, who have short memories. Unless it comes to telling you all about Laguna Seca 2008, when Rossi put Stoner in the dirt on the next-to-last lap (I refuse to use the term penultimate) on his way to the win and the world championship.

Who’s Under Contract for 2019

Repsol Honda: Marc Marquez
Movistar Yamaha: Valentino Rossi, Maverick Viñales
Factory Ducati: Andrea Dovizioso
Ecstar Suzuki: Alex Rins
Factory Aprilia: Aleix Espargaro
Red Bull KTM: Pol Espargaro, Johann Zarco
Tech 3 KTM: Miguel Oliveira
Pramac Ducati: Pecco Bagnaia
LCR Honda: Cal Crutchlow
Avintia Ducati: Xavier Simeon
Marc VDS: Franco Morbidelli

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Jack Miller and teammate Danilo Petrucci are among those gunning for a factory ride next season.

This leaves half the grid signed, the other half scrambling. It appears Scott Redding and Bradley Smith will not be in MotoGP next year. High-profile riders like Lorenzo and Iannone, Petrucci and Miller are waging their own wars in the midst of the races, trying to build arguments for factory rides next year. There will always be the Karel Abrahams of the world, riders with more sponsor money than talent. Without big backers, the riders at the bottom of the food chain will be scrambling for one-year deals somewhere. As one of our readers observes, this is life among the yachting set.

Your Weekend Forecast

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Marc Marquez leads the championship by a commanding 36 points. He could theoretically sit out this weekend and still be in first place.

From a week out, the weather looks reasonably good for metropolitan Scarperia this weekend. Chance of rain both Friday and Saturday, but clear and warm conditions are expected for race day. Something – the weather, food poisoning, a flood in the garage from a plugged commode – needs to intervene in the metronomic consistency of Marc Marquez and his Honda. Two years ago both Lorenzo and Rossi blew engines after bottoming out at the end of the main straight, bouncing, and over-revving. Rossi’s misfortune was that it happened in the race, where he had the pace to win.

Interesting to observe that of the top seven riders in the standings, only Zarco and Iannone have failed to finish every race, both having crashed out at Le Mans. This tells me that some of the other five – Marquez, Viñales, Rossi, Petrucci and Miller – are possibly overdue for a DNF. Given the fact that no one seems to understand how it is that Viñales sits in second place for the year, and that he will be pushing hard, he would be my guess to record a DNF on Sunday. Surely one of the top guys will. Dovizioso, who has failed to finish his last two races, will NOT crash out again this week. Gazing into my Magic 8 Ball, conditions appear favorable for Dovizioso, Marquez and Petrucci.

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Andrea Dovizioso will try to make it two in a row at Mugello. Dovizioso’s win in last year’s race was the first win by an Italian in Mugello since Valentino Rossi in 2008.

The race goes off early Sunday morning in the states, and we’ll have results and analysis right here as soon as the editorial staff sobers up after their usual Saturday night bacchanal. Ciao!