Mugello Grand Prix Preview: MotoGP, Moto2 & 125cc
The second wave of back-to-back rounds will be completed this weekend as the eighth instalment of the 2011 MotoGP World Championship takes place at the Mugello circuit. The Gran Premio d’Italia TIM takes place immediately after the Assen outing, as the campaign maintains its intense pace.
Having stretched his Championship lead to 28 points after seven rounds, Casey Stoner’s position at the head of the standings continues to look ever stronger and the Repsol Honda rider will aim to continue his impressive form in Italy. Second place at Assen was Stoner’s 49th premier class podium, and the Australian will become only the 12th rider of all time to make 50 the next time he steps onto the rostrum.
The man in pursuit of Stoner is Jorge Lorenzo, and the Yamaha Factory Racing rider is already contemplating a sizeable gap to his rival. The reigning World Champion managed to salvage sixth place in Assen having crashed on the opening lap through no fault of his own, and a timely first premier class win at Mugello would boost Lorenzo’s challenge. Aiming to impress a home crowd however will be Andrea Dovizioso, and the Repsol Honda rider has finished the last two rounds on the podium to close the gap to Lorenzo in second to just nine points.
Sharp focus will fall on Valentino Rossi and his Ducati Team this weekend as the Borgo Panigale factory and Italian rider approach a hugely significant home race together. Having finished 30 seconds off race winner at Assen Ben Spies, there is still plenty of work to do, but Mugello is a track at which Rossi has an unparalleled record – between 2002 and 2008 he won for seven successive years. Last year’s Mugello GP was the site of the leg injury which brought to an end Rossi’s 230-race starting run, and the scene is set for a special weekend for the Italian.
Another major point of interest at Mugello will be the return to action of Dani Pedrosa. The Repsol Honda rider, who fractured a collarbone at Le Mans and who has subsequently missed the previous three rounds, confirmed on Monday that he would ride in Italy and Mugello was the scene of the first of his four wins in 2010 as he took a flag-to-flag victory from pole position.
Ben Spies arrives in Italy fresh from celebrating his first MotoGP win at Assen, a victory which marked a number of milestones, one of them being that he became the first American to win a race since Nicky Hayden did so at Laguna Seca in 2006. The Yamaha Factory Racing rider also became the first rider to take a maiden MotoGP win since Dovizioso (Donington, 2009).
Spies’ compatriot Nicky Hayden will aim for a strong home display for Ducati, whilst Hiroshi Aoyama returns to the San Carlo Honda Gresini garage after filling in for Pedrosa at Repsol Honda in Assen. Aoyama’s team-mate Marco Simoncelli will be desperate for a first premier class podium in front of a fervent home crowd (for both rider and team), a result that has so far eluded him despite having started from the front row for the past five races (including poles at Catalunya and Assen).
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 pair Colin Edwards and Cal Crutchlow have both been in impressive form, the latter will be riding at Mugello for the first time in his rookie season, whilst Toni Elías’ LCR Honda team are preparing for their home race. Héctor Barberá (Mapfre Aspar), Álvaro Bautista (Rizla Suzuki) and rookie Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Motoracing) will all seek improvements in fortunes and results after Assen, whilst for Pramac Racing pair Loris Capirossi and Randy de Puniet the emphasis will be on a strong home result for their team – Capirossi’s participation is awaiting confirmation after he missed the Assen race following a heavy fall in qualifying.
Stefan Bradl remains the man to catch in Moto2 as the intermediate category prepares for the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM this weekend, despite the German’s first DNF of the season at Assen in the previous round.
A crash with four laps remaining at the Cathedral registered the first non-scoring round of the 2011 campaign for the Viessmann Kiefer Racing rider, who nevertheless holds a 57-point lead at the top of the standings going into Round 8 this weekend. His closest pursuant is Marc Márquez (Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol), race winner at Assen and leader of the closely-bunched chasing pack.
One of a plethora of Italian riders in the class hoping for a strong home result (and still in search of his first Moto2 win) will be Simone Corsi, the Ioda Racing rider who sits just three points behind Márquez and who won the 125 Mugello race in 2008, whilst Bradley Smith (Tech 3) is a man in form. With third place at Assen – his second successive podium – Smith became the first British rider to take back-to-back podiums in the intermediate class since Tom Herron in 1978.
Level on points in fifth and sixth positions respectively are Yuki Takahashi (Gresini Racing) and Thomas Lüthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2), with Italians Andrea Iannone (Speed Master) and Michele Pirro (Gresini Racing) and San Marinese Alex de Angelis (JiR Moto2) all inside the top ten and hoping to capitalise on strong support this weekend. Kenan Sofuoglu (Technomag-CIP) became the first Turkish rider to stand on a Grand Prix podium at Assen and will expect the result to have laid the way for more of the same.
Julián Simón (Mapfre Aspar) continues to be an absentee as he recovers from a broken leg with Jordi Torres lined up as a potential substitute for the Spaniard, as was the case at Silverstone.
There will also be a wild card addition to the field in the shape of Italian rider Mattia Tarozzi (Faenza Racing), who will be on a Suter machine.
What appeared to be an ever-increasing gulf between Nico Terol and the rest of the 125cc field has been narrowed down considerably in the past two rounds of the 2011 campaign, with the Championship leader having finished eighth at Silverstone and having missed the Assen race due to injury. After the Catalunya round Terol had held a substantial 48-point lead at the summit of the standings – that now stands at 27 points.
A crash in the qualifying session at Assen resulted in a damaged tendon in the right hand for Terol, an injury that required surgery and which forced him to miss the race. The successful operation means that the Spaniard will be back in action this weekend at Mugello, where the opening free practice session will give a clearer indication of his level of fitness. He has finished second in the 125cc race at Mugello for the past two years.
In his absence second-placed Jonas Folger (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) was unable to capitalise greatly on the opportunity, placing eighth in the shortened Assen race, with Sandro Cortese (Intact Racing Team Germany) and Johann Zarco (Avant-AirAsia-Ajo) now level on 94 points each in the standings having finished fourth and fifth respectively in the Netherlands.
Moving up to fifth place in the Championship after victory at Assen, rookie Maverick Viñales continues to be the sensation of the category in his debut season. The Blusens by Paris Hilton Racing rider, aged just 16, took his second GP win in only his seventh race, becoming the youngest rider ever to complete the clean sweep of pole position, race win and fastest lap.
Luis Salom (RW Racing) took his first GP podium in his 35th start at Assen, moving up the Championship in the process, and Efrén Vázquez (Avant-AirAsia-Ajo) and Héctor Faubel (Bankia Aspar) will both want to add to the solitary podium finishes they have each achieved this year. Sergio Gadea (Blusens by Paris Hilton Racing) stood on the podium at Mugello in the Moto2 class last season, and comes into this round off the back of a rostrum finish at Assen – his second of the season. Danny Kent meanwhile continues his impressive debut campaign for the Red Bull Ajo Motorsport team.
Portuguese rider Miguel Oliveira (Team Andalucía Banca Cívica) is set to make his return from injury after missing the last two rounds through injury, whilst Norwegian rider Sturla Fagerhaug continues in place of the injured Sarath Kumar on the WTR-Ten10 Racing Team.
There will also be three wild card riders; Italian duo Kevin Calia (MGP Racing) and Massimo Parziani (Faenza Racing) and Czech youngster Miroslav Popov (Ellegi Racing).
The Gran Premio d’Italia TIM gets underway at 9.15am local time on Friday morning, when the 125cc category commences its first free practice session.