Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa (#26) is expected to return to the paddock at Mugello after missing the last three rounds.
With hardly enough time to reflect on the occurrences in the past round at Assen, the 2011 MotoGP Championship marches onward to Italy’s Mugello circuit. One of the fastest circuits in Grand Prix, Mugello gets a freshly repaved surface for 2011, as MotoGP points leader Casey Stoner and company look to snatch an Italian victory.
The top news of Round 8 is the return of Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa. Missing the last three races after breaking his collarbone at Le Mans, the Spaniard rejoins the paddock 75 points down in the championship.
“Mugello is a difficult circuit, very technical and demanding, and I know it will not be easy for us,” said Pedrosa. “But last year we scored our first win of the season there and we would like to get a good result. During this period I’ve been very focused on my recovery and after the second operation I have improved a lot. I’m really looking forward to riding the bike, getting into the groove again and to be as competitive as I was before the injury.”
Meanwhile, in Pedrosa’s absence his teammates, Andrea Dovizioso and especially Stoner, have been keeping Repsol Honda in strong form by taking podium finishes in the last two rounds. In fact, since Le Mans, Stoner has won every event except the last round, pushing his lead in the series to 28 points ahead of Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo. So far the Aussie has amassed a total of six podiums this season – more than any other rider.
Casey Stoner (above) and Andrea Dovizioso (below) have been holding down the fort at Honda by each taking podiums in the last two rounds.
“I’m really looking forward to Mugello especially after a difficult weekend in Assen where I was extremely happy to have finished second in a very difficult race,” Stoner said. “Last year we didn’t get the best result but I’ve always enjoyed this circuit and I think this year we can expect to be quite competitive.”
But that’s not to say Honda is without competition. Yamaha’s Ben Spies proved he too is capable of dominating, as the American recently became the fourth different race winner in just seven rounds after claiming victory at Assen. Can Spies ride the momentum and put an America on top of the box again for the second week in a row?
“These few days off seem to have taken forever,” said Spies. “When you finish a race like Assen you just want to get straight back in and try to do it again. My first GP victory still hasn’t sunk in properly; it was pretty special for me to be able to do it at such a legendary circuit and at this unique time in Yamaha’s history. The red and white livery definitely bought me luck! I’m looking forward to Mugello, the track has apparently got a new surface with lots of grip so it should be pretty good for the bike and pretty exciting for the fans.”
Lorenzo has also shown good pace in nearly every race this season. His record at Mugello consists of a win in the 250cc class and two premier class podiums in 2009 and 2010, making him another formidable obstacle at the upcoming round. The defending champ would almost certainly been battling for the podium and win with his teammate had he not fallen prey to another racing incident involving GP’s wild child Marco Simoncelli.
“We are going to Mugello, no time to rest and think about what happened last Saturday,” said Lorenzo. “The team did a great job and I believe the bike now can be better, making a step ahead. We have to be positive after all! Mugello is a track I like so much, maybe one of the most beautiful around the world, my favorite with Phillip Island.”
Italian Marco Simoncelli heads to his home circuit in search of a win after a bad weekend in the Netherlands.
Perhaps the greatest unknown variable of the season comes from the San Carlo Honda Gresini team. Simoncelli has repeatedly been on pace to take wins and podiums this season, all of which have eluded him thus far. Now, the 24-year-old will have no better chance to claim his first MotoGP victory than at his home circuit of Mugello. The Italian’s home race also comes at a crucial point in the series after another major blunder resulted in tempers being stirred throughout the paddock.
Speaking about his performance in the last round, in which his high-side took out rival and critic Lorenzo, Super Sic said: “I had thrown away a big opportunity. It was probably my biggest mistake of the season, I have reflected a lot on it and it will help me to grow. Now I just want to look ahead to Mugello with calmness and motivation. Everybody is expecting big things from me and I have to repay that faith with a positive result that will put recent history firmly behind us.”
It will also be a very important round at Ducati’s home venue as fellow Italian Valentino Rossi attempts to get his race pace at a GP-winning level. At Assen he was more than 30 seconds behind Spies despite coming in fourth – his second highest finish of the season so far. Armed with a record at the Mugello circuit that is by far the strongest of any
competitor after winning for seven consecutive years between 2002-2008, Rossi also returns to the site of where he broke his leg in the 2010 championship.
“The track is one of my favorites, and I’ve always done pretty well there,” notes The Doctor. “Returning after last year’s accident is no problem for me, because I enjoyed riding there during the recent tests, as I always do. I hope there will be a big crowd and that I’ll be able to do better than we’ve managed until now, because this is a very important race.”
The Italian will contest Mugello with a notable absence, as long-standing crew chief Jeremy Burgess returns to Australia for family medical reasons. Instead Pramac Racing’s Faviano Sterlacchini will aid Rossi, as his usual rider, Loris Capirossi, will miss the upcoming Italian GP following his crash at Assen.
Rossi’s teammate, Nicky Hayden, is still wishing it was him putting America on the top step of the podium at Assen instead of Spies. Hayden’s best result of the year so far was in Round 2 after he made it to the podium, and recently the Kentucky Kid has landed top-five finishes in the last two rounds. Currently fifth overall in the standings, Hayden is just 10 points behind Rossi.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards and Cal Crutchlow may still be getting over their recent injuries, but it hasn’t kept them from performing strong in the past two rounds. Though Crutchlow finished dead last at Assen, the Brit was on pace to secure his best finish in MotoGP before tire issues slowed him down. Likewise, Edwards has overcome tremendous pain from muscle damage to his ribcage to finish in the top-seven in the past two rounds.
“My ribs are still sore from Assen and I’m expecting them to cause me a few problems this weekend because Mugello has a lot of fast changes of direction,” said Edwards. “That’s the point where I suffer the most because I don’t have 100% strength in my upper body. I am looking forward to getting to Italy and seeing all the Italian fans. I’ve loved racing in Italy right from my World Superbike career and the atmosphere at Mugello is always special.”
“I was disappointed last weekend in Assen because I’m sure I could have got my best MotoGP result,” said Crutchlow, “but I’m determined to make up for it with a strong performance in Mugello. After all, the effort I put in to ride, it was a pity not to finish where I should have done last weekend but I can’t change what happened an d now my focus is solely on doing the best job I can in Mugello.”