Mugello MotoGP Previews

From a press release issued by Honda:

Italian Grand Prix at Mugello
6/7/8 June 2003.

GIBERNAU TITLE CHALLENGE IN FULL FLOW

After his second breathtaking win of 2003 at Le Mans in France two weeks ago, Spanish rider Sete Gibernau's challenge to the reigning MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi is gaining momentum as the season unfolds at the glorious Mugello facility in Italy's Tuscan Hills this weekend. And a massive raceday crowd of up to 70,000 is expected to throng the circuit.


Rossi (Repsol Honda RC211V) leads the Championship after four of the 16 rounds with 90 points accumulated, while his fierce rival Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons RC211V) lies only 23 points behind on 67. Then it's Gibernau only four points behind the two Italians after his two wins this season. Rossi has also won twice so far.

Gibernau was forced to retire from last year's race when his Suzuki's brakes gave problems but now the experienced rider is getting to grips with his Telefonica MoviStar Honda RC211V and he knows he has a machine that is a consistent winner in the right hands.

The 5.245km Mugello track is set deep into a natural lie of rolling hills and has everything a track needs to promote close and spectacular racing: a long straight to allow slipstreaming and a wide variety of fast and slow turns with tricky cambers to test every area of both rider and machine performance.

The track is fast and flowing, and favours machines with a balance of power and poise under downhill braking and through the turns. And Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons RC211V) who finished third last year set the highest maximum speed at a blistering 322.2km/h and he and team-mate Biaggi are in a prime position to bag a first win of the season.

Last year's winner Rossi knows that he faces a stiff challenge from many fronts at his home Grand Prix. The two times MotoGP Champion is gunning for his third successive title and acknowledges the importance of a strong domestic result as well as the knowledge that a win represents another 25 points that will be crucial in what is shaping up to be a tight Championship.

"Mugello has extra importance because it is in Italy," he said. "But in another way it is just another 25 points - the same as any other race. Of course there is more pressure because of my family being local, because of the fans and all of those things. But I always have to think more in terms of the Championship than just one race."

Rossi currently holds the circuit record for the fastest ever lap of the undulating Tuscan track at 1m 51.258 seconds while Tohru Ukawa holds the race lap record at 1:52.601. Mugello's 1.14km uphill straight holds the key to part of those times while the tricky right turn at the end of that straight is also a large part of unlocking a quick lap here.

Max Biaggi who finished second to Rossi here last year has been devastatingly consistent so far this year and Mugello could be the springboard he needs to post a first victory of the year to close the gap on Rossi at the top of the table.

And as ever the Roman is relishing the challenge. "Racing at Mugello is fantastic," he said. "If I could, I would like to do two races there every season. Not just because the track is one of my favourites but because the atmosphere, my fans, the language - everything is familiar to me. You always feel an extra need to do well there. I forecast three Italians on the podium - but not the finishing order!"

Camel Pramac Pons team rider Tohru Ukawa knows he really needs to get into Championship contention here after finding it hard to get into a race rhythm in the rounds contested so far. But the determined Japanese knows what it takes to squeeze maximum speed from his Honda RC211V and will be giving it his all.

"I hope we'll get better weather than in Le Mans, which made things difficult, but I'm not here to wonder about the weather," he said. "I'm ready to make the most of this opportunity to make up ground and I know that if I can get settled with machine set-up early on then I will be in a strong position to make a challenge. As ever my determination will not be in any doubt."

But the man with the momentum at the minute is undoubtedly Gibernau who rolls into Mugello on a high after fending off a fierce Rossi challenge in a thrilling race in France. With two wins so far this year, he knows that he's in a strong position to take the initiative here this weekend.

"We go to Mugello now where a hard race awaits me, the Italians will give everything at their home race. Maybe my target has to be a little lower but a place on the podium is my aim. After the race at Le Mans we stayed on for a Michelin tyre test and we did a good job. We go to Mugello in good shape ready to wrestle with the 'Owners' (Rossi-Biaggi-Capirossi)," he said

Rossi's team-mate Nicky Hayden's rollercoaster baptism into the world of MotoGP continues apace with his initiation into the rolling gradients and tough off-cambers of Mugello, but as ever the American's optimism, willingness to listen and learn, and his utter determination to succeed are likely to pay off here.

"Man, I've never even been to Italy before," he said. "But I've heard some really nice things about the place. The track sound really awesome and I've heard the crowd is massive and really into its racing. Like every race this year, I'm really looking forward to it. I've just got to get out there and learn it. I've also got some family coming over and they'll be staying until Barcelona, so that'll be good, too."

Makoto Tamada (Pramac Honda RC211V) is making huge progress with Bridgestone tyres and will be hoping to repeat his Jerez result of last month when he stormed to sixth in only his third ever MotoGP race. "I said before Le Mans we shouldn't get too carried away," said the Japanese. "But Mugello gives us another chance to measure our progress as a team and I'm really looking forward to riding here."

Rookie Ryuichi Kiyonari (Telefonica MoviStar Honda RC211V) is another rider on a steep learning curve after joining the team at Jerez and riding his first MotoGP race at Le Mans.

Kiyonari said of his new career in MotoGP. "Little by little I'm adapting to the new circumstances I'm living in right now. Europe, the championship, the tracks, food, everything is new to me. I'm lucky to have a place in a great team where everyone is helping me, making me feel at home. In France I earned my first MotoGP points but I know I have to do many, many kilometers to learn all about the RCV too. In Mugello I will carry on learning, and I hope to score points in the race."

The 250cc category is typically tight and Honda hotshot Roberto Rolfo (Fortuna Honda RS250RW) will be going all out for his first win in the class at his home Grand Prix. The Italian currently lies fourth in the World Championship standings a mere seven points behind the leader. A win could easily catapult him to the top of the standings and his determination is measured but intense.

"First we have to do the groundwork in set-up," he said. "And we are learning more all the time and also finding solutions that we maybe struggled with earlier in the season. This is a big opportunity for the team to make another big step forward and I don't have to tell you how important it is being at Mugello and knowing we have a really good opportunity to do well."

Sebastian Porto Sebastian Porto (Telefonica MoviStar Honda Junior Team RS250RW) is eager to make up the points difference on the title leaders. Porto was the innocent victim of a Le Mans collision with Manuel Poggiali but will arrive at Mugello refreshed following a break at home in Argentina.

"After the race at Le Mans I went back to Argentina to recuperate from the two crashes I've had recently. Spending some time with my friends and family and relaxing. I'm looking forward to the race. The bike is getting better with each race, it steers really well but we need a little more power off the corners." Commented Porto.

The 125cc category is headed by Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica MoviStar Honda Junior Team RS125R) and the Spanish rider is ready to try and extend his five-point lead over second-placed Lucio Cecchinello (Aprilia) in the Italian factory's backyard.

Pedrosa said. "Mugello is a complicated track. The slipstream is very important at that circuit, as there will be many riders in the lead group. I'm very motivated, even if it's a circuit I have never loved. I'm in good form now so I'm ready to change my mind about how I feel about the track."

The other Honda contenders in the quarter-litre category share either vast experience of the track in the shape of Masao Azuma (Ajo Motorsports Honda RS125R) who visits the track for the eighth time or are raw first-timers here like Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R).

Luthi is perfectly open about the challenge he faces, "I have never been to Mugello, not even for a test," he said. "I have studied it on Play Station, and watched many videos of previous races. I think I will like it, it looks very exciting."

While the wily contender Azuma knows all the challenges he faces. "Mugello is a circuit that is sometimes good for me, and sometimes like last year, bad," he said. "It's a high speed track and you need to have good acceleration in all six gears. Right now we need a little more help with third-to-sixth-gear acceleration. But we have to wait until practice to see what it holds for me this year."
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George Obradovich
George Obradovich

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