If you’re into motorcycle racing – and why else would you be here reading this drivel? – today’s Italian Grand Prix was a work of art. 28-year old Danilo Petrucci, who six years ago was flogging something called an Ioda, fought off Honda wonderkid Marc Marquez and factory Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso for his maiden MotoGP win. The 83,000 frenzied fans saw 23 laps of knife fighting at close quarters in what must be the feel good moment of the 2019 MotoGP season.

Embed from Getty Images

How could you not root for this guy?

Petrucci, one of the most likable guys in the paddock, has waited his entire life for today’s checkered flag. Born in Terni, some 200 miles south, he has fought for years to make a career for himself in this sport, starting in the European Superstock 600 Championships back in 2007. He gradually moved up and through Italian Superstock 1000s and the FIM Superstock 1000 Championship before landing the first of several third-rate rides in MotoGP in 2012. Despite finishing 20th in the 2014 season, Ducati saw something they liked in the burly ex-policeman and saw him signed to a Pramac satellite contract in 2015 where he was, in my acidic words at the time, just another rider, filling the grid, getting pounded by the Lorenzos and Marquezes of the world week in and week out.

With every reason to give up on motorcycle racing and return to the beat, Petrucci hung in, worked on his skills and, during the last two years, dropped 10 kilos. The poaching of Gigi D’alligna from Aprilia a few years ago signaled a rise in Pramac’s fortunes, as the year-old bikes they were getting from Ducati became more potent and more competitive. From finishing 14th in 2016, Petrux climbed up to eighth in 2017. In 2018, he out-dueled teammate Jack Miller to win a one-year contract on the factory team following the departure of Jorge Lorenzo to Honda, alongside Andrea Dovizioso, for this season. Still, he remained winless in the premier class. Until today. For an Italian speed freak, it doesn’t get any better than winning your first race on a Ducati at Mugello. Especially when it takes, like, 13 years to get there.

Embed from Getty Images

Danillo Petrucci edged out Marc Marquez by just 0.043 seconds.

Practice and Qualifying

Once again, the Sunday fortunes of a number of riders were decided on Saturday or, arguably, on Friday. We’re talking about Valentino Rossi, who was terrible on Friday, and who was reduced to a desperate last lap lunge at the flag during the waning moments of FP3. An issue with his front brake caused him to go walkabout on that lap and consigned him, along with names like Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Alex Rins and Johann Zarco, to the rabble in Q1, where he had nothing. Many of the usual suspects went directly through to Q2, along with Pol Espargaro on the KTM, Fabio Quartararo, Franco Morbidelli, rookie Pecco Bagnaia, and the overachieving Takaa Nakagami on Marquez’ sled from 2018.

Embed from Getty Images

Michele Pirro only gets a few wild card opportunities each year, but he always seems to make the most of them.

Q1 was a hoot, as Rins and Ducati wildcard Michele Pirro plugged themselves in at the top of the sheet early in the gathering. Dovizioso bumped Rins out of his promotion late in the session, at which point both Rins and Rossi set their sights on trying to produce one last flying lap at the tail end, in the hope of escaping row five or worse on Sunday. Neither would succeed in this effort, as both got caught out, Rossi after a frightening moment, and each failed to cross the finish line before the checkered flag flew. The shameful result found Rins starting 16th and Rossi, dead in the water, at the back of row six.

Embed from Getty Images

The early favorite for Rookie-of-the-Year, Fabio (FLNLN) had another excellent Q2 session.

Q2 was a record-breaking duel between Fabio (last name no longer necessary) and Marquez, with both riders breaking Petrucci’s hours-old track record on their way to the front row, Marquez on pole, Fabio in the middle, and Petrucci, fire in the belly, in third. (Marquez now owns track records at nine [9] of the circuits on the 2019 calendar.) Franco put his satellite Yamaha in P4, while Rossi’s factory teammate, the formerly formidable Maverick Viñales, started from P7 on his way to a sixth-place finish facilitated by offs from Rossi, Morbidelli and Jack Miller. I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Race

Embed from Getty Images

Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Danillo Petrucci, Jack Miller and Alex Rins were a closely-grouped lead five for most of the race.

With more passing than a 420 party, it was difficult in the extreme to determine who was leading the race DURING the race. The main straight at Mugello, itself a thing of beauty, promotes the fine art of slipstreaming, in which a rider leading the pack coming out of the last turn can find himself in eighth place entering Turn 1. A lead group of five – Marquez, Dovi and Petrucci, Rins and Miller – put on an amazing show all day. Rins was blistering the field early, on cold tires and with a full tank, climbing from 16th at the start to P4 at the end of Lap 3. I’m pretty sure all five riders led the race at one point or another. Miller, on the Pramac Ducati, really had it going on, and turned in, at the time, the fastest lap of the race on Lap 15. Sadly, he folded the front on Lap 16, leaving the remaining four to slug it out for the last seven laps.

Embed from Getty Images

Andrea Dovizioso was captured going 356.7 kph, surpassing the previous MotoGP top speed record he set in last year’s race by 0.2 kph.

And what a seven laps it was. Rins started losing ground in the straights after a gritty fight to keep up with the blazing Honda and Ducatis (Dovi set a new MotoGP land speed record of 221.6 mph on Saturday, exceeding what the Federal Aviation Administration calls “lift-off speed.” Why watch four-wheeled vehicles race when the two-wheelers, riders with stones the size of hubcaps, are doing the same speeds? F1 machines would have to be hitting 400 mph to be as impressive. IMO.)

Nobody was getting away today. Marquez, sandwiched between the two red machines, went through on both Italians at Turn 1 on the last lap, and I was thinking, “All that meat and no potatoes,” meaning it appeared the Ducs, having thrown their weight around all day, would end up getting spanked by the re-Marc-able Catalan. Not today. And not Dovizioso, either, who won here in 2017 and looked fully capable of a repeat.

Today was Danilo Petrucci’s day. Today was a day he has dreamed about since he was in short pants, a day he had worked for since he was in his teens. Today was the day he would stand on the top step of the Mugello podium, the Italian national anthem blaring, fountains of prosecco filling the air, all of the sweat and tears and injuries forgotten. Even if he never wins another race, which appears unlikely, he will have had his One Shining Moment. Bravo, Danilo!

Embed from Getty Images

Bravo, Danilo!

While this was going on, one imagines the scene in the factory Yamaha garage, an old, tired Rossi, having crashed out of last place on Lap 8, sitting in leathers looking like they had been chained and dragged behind a truck, pondering a glittering past and an uncertain future, one certain to be filled with exciting moments, but of the vicarious variety.

Embed from Getty Images

It was a home race to forget for Valentino Rossi, as everything seemed to go wrong all weekend.

The Big Picture

Marquez, despite “only” scoring 20 points today, extended his tenuous lead over Dovizioso in the championship to 12 points, with Rins and, suddenly, Petrucci locked in a battle for third. There appears to be a slow-motion changing of the guard taking place in the premier class, with young riders like Miller, Rins, Quartararo, and Nakagami poised to take over from familiar veterans like Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, and the pitiable Lorenzo. Several other youngsters – Joan Mir, Bagnaia, perhaps Miguel Oliveira if he can get away from KTM – will be along soon, as they are busy paying union dues and getting hazed by the vets. One suspects their day will come sooner rather than later.

Embed from Getty Images

Marc Marquez leads Andrea Dovizioso by 12 points heading to Catalunya.

Tranches

After Le Mans:

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins
Tranche 2: Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro
Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales
Tranche 4: Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia
Tranche 5: Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Mugello:

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins
Tranche 2: Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Fabio Quartararo
Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Maverick Viñales, Pol Espargaro
Tranche 4: Joan Mir, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia
Tranche 5: Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat, Andrea Iannone

See as how I’ve missed my deadline today by about 10 hours, I will have more to say about today’s events – the cat fight in Moto3, Alex Marquez’ sudden resurrection in Moto2 – at my blog, MotoGPforDummies.com. Two weeks to Catalunya.

Embed from Getty Images