The MotoGP paddock is on the way to the Tuscan region of Italy for the fifth round of the 2009 MotoGP World Championship, to be held at the picturesque Mugello circuit. The same four protagonists that lead at Mugello last year find themselves separated by just nine points in a close championship chase. The Fiat Yamaha duo of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi lie first and second in the riders’ standings, separated by a single point.
Valentino Rossi – Fiat Yamaha – 2nd, 65 points
"Racing at Mugello is something incredible for me, but every year it gets more difficult to keep my record going and seven wins in a row is already a lot! I do feel pressure going there, but at the same time it is always amazing and the fans give me an extra motivation that helps me to perform in a different way there. I hope it’s the same again this year, because after Le Mans I really need a good result! It was disappointing but everyone has the occasional bad day and that was ours. Everything possible went wrong but hopefully that is all our bad luck for now and this time, at our home race, we will be back to our best. I always look forward to this race; it’s very busy for me but I have so many amazing memories. Let’s hope to create some more this weekend.”
Lorenzo redeemed himself from a disappointing crash in Spain with a stunning victory in the last round at Le Mans, reclaiming the Championship lead from his less fortunate Italian teammate. The Spaniard took the 250cc victory while at Mugello after starting from pole in 2006, yet he does have a score to settle after losing control of the front-end and sliding out on lap seven of his MotoGP debut last year. The 22-year-old will need all the confidence he can muster to prevail over the unrivaled master of Mugello, Valentino Rossi.
Rossi has an unmatched relationship with this Tuscan track, having won there an incredible nine times in thirteen years, the last seven consecutively. Last time out saw a rare error from Rossi when he fell at Le Mans, eventually finishing last. The mistake allowed his teammate to capture the championship lead and prevented Rossi from racing for his 100th career win at his home circuit. Helping him put all that behind him will be the tens of thousands of passionate Italian fans that fill the Mugello amphitheatre to cheer the 30-year-old toward his second win of the season. But the Yamaha rider won’t be the only favorite come race time.
Casey Stoner – Ducati Marlboro – 3rd, 65 points
“I can’t wait to race again Mugello – a circuit where I’ve had good results and some unforgettable moments, such as my first ever pole position in 2003 (125cc) and my first pole for Ducati in 2007, even though we just missed out on the podium in that race. Last year I finished second and considering the progress we’ve made since then, I’m sure we can be fighting for it again this time. It will be a tough race because the level of the competition is so high, as you can see from the championship standings, and all the home riders will be more determined than ever to do well, but I also like Mugello a lot – it is one of my favorite circuits. The fans are really passionate and even though they may get behind one rider more than others you can see that in general they have a passion for the sport above anything. Hopefully we can pick up a good result because this is Ducati’s home circuit and that always makes it extra special.”
Both Stoner and his team-mate Nicky Hayden will have plenty of support as they race the Ducati factory colors this weekend, cheered on by the Ducatisti who will once again pack into the Correntaio corner in Ducati red. The Tuscan venue has yet to be mastered by a Ducati Marlboro Team rider despite four podiums and two fourth places out of six visits there in the premier class, with the Australian rider being runner-up to Rossi last year. Stoner has nine more points than he did at the same stage last season, but has not managed to replicate his season-opening victory amidst stronger competition from the Yamaha and Honda riders. Hayden will be hoping the weather stops playing games long enough to prepare his Desmosedici GP9 for a top-ten run - the American looking to improve on his 13th-place at Mugello in 2008 and 12th in the last round at Le Mans.
The last three races Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa has capitalized on the lost momentum and mistakes of Rossi, Stoner, and Lorenzo to claim a hat-trick of podiums and position himself within nine points of the championship lead. A preseason injury may have played a part in hampering his performance at Qatar, but the Honda RC212V rider is now clearly capable of challenging the best for the victory at Mugello. The Spainiard won the 2005 250cc Grand Prix at the Italian track and finished on the podium during his last two visits on MotoGP machinery.
Who would have been audacious enough to bet that Marco Melandri and his make-shift Hayate Racing would be sitting in fifth-place at this juncture of the MotoGP season? Following a horrendous year racing for factory Ducati, the Italian didn’t begin to register on anyone’s radar until a very solid sixth-place finish in Round 2. Good fortune could possibly account for his top-five run in Spain, but an unfathomable second in France has left his doubters speechless. Kawasaki will soon be regretting its decision to fold its factory MotoGP Team if Melandri continues to achieve the same level of success as the only Ninja ZX-RR privateer in the paddock.
Andrea Dovizioso - Repsol Honda – 6th, 43 points
“I really look forward to the GP of Italy. Mugello is a unique place in terms of atmosphere and, although it’s part of the World Championship, for me it’s an event that stands alone. It’s like a kind of ritual with so many memories from previous years: Tuscany, the colors and smell, the people, the food and the passion of the fans. Mugello itself is a track that requires a lot of respect. It’s important to get into the right rhythm from the very beginning of the lap, but that’s not easy. You need to find the correct flow from chicane to chicane and then you’re faced with the most demanding part of the circuit: the three turns Casanova Savelli, Arrabbiata One and Two. Although I’m Italian I don’t actually ride much at this track because we don’t test here, so we come back after a full year away. We know the key places where we have to get the set-up right but it always takes a while to master the track again. There are a lot of fast changes of direction and that means riding here requires a lot of physical energy. It’s bumpy too which complicates things further. As an Italian rider, the support of the fans gives me an extra drive, and the hour before the race is really special. It’s important to use that boost to lift your performance and that’s what I’ll be aiming to do on Sunday.”
This is a big weekend for Italian star Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) who is looking forward to his first home GP as a factory Honda rider. After finishing a strong fourth at Le Mans two weeks ago, Dovizioso couldn’t think of a better place than Mugello to score his first podium of 2009. The former 125 World Champion has only once made the top three at his home race, finishing third in the 2006 250cc GP.
Colin Edwards took fifth last year at Mugello for the Yamaha Tech 3 team. After a disappointing 12th in Japan the American began to return to form with a pair of sevenths in Spain and France. He will be looking to capture his first podium for the year as he regains his status at a top-five contender.
Chris Vermeulen had his best ride of the season at the last round in Le Mans when he took sixth for the Rizla Suzuki Team. He fought his way back from 17th to 10th in a hard earned affair at Mugello last year. We could see a circuit best from the Australian if can carry his momentum coming out of France.
Loris Capirossi will certainly be aiming to impress as he returns home for the Italian GP. The veteran racer qualified his Rizla Suzuki GSV-R on the front row at Mugello last year, but was unable to make that advantage tell in the race, something that he is planning to put right this year as he goes in search of the team's first podium of the season.
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) had a difficult home race at Le Mans that was confounded by his early decision to switch to slick tires on the rainy circuit. The Frenchman is determined to return to his strong fourth-place form that he showed at Jerez. Like most riders, Mugello is one of de Puniet’s favorite racetracks.
San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Alex De Angelis enjoyed a brilliant MotoGP race at Mugello last summer, charging through the pack to claim a fourth-place finish aboard his RC212V. A top ten finish would shake off the rut that Italian has found himself in the last three races.
San Carlo Honda Gresini team-mate Toni Elias is another fan of Mugello and will be hoping that his right arm will be nearing full strength following intense physiotherapy treatment. Elias underwent an operation following the Spanish GP to fix arm-pump problems in his right arm, taking a respectable tenth in the following race at Le Mans.
Yuki Takahashi (Scot Honda) continues to improve during his rookie MotoGP season and is keen to tackle his team’s home race with the new base set-up which his crew developed at the recent French GP.
Other MotoGP Rider Quotes
Dani Pedrosa - Repsol Honda – 4th, 57 points
“The race at Mugello is always a special one because the circuit is really challenging and the fans are so passionate about racing. I’m going there in a good frame of mind. We’re heading into the busy part of the season and our position in the championship standings, considering the problems I had over the winter, really isn’t too bad. Plus I was pleased with my pace in France, which proved to me that my physical condition is improving and I can go fast right to the end of the race. That’s an important point for Mugello because it’s a physically demanding track to ride, especially in the fast direction changes, and you want to be at full strength to be able to ride aggressively there – which you have to do in some parts of the track. I think it will be a tough race because it’s the home event for my team-mate and for many of our rivals – plus some teams have tested here quite a lot. But I’m looking forward to the challenge. We must continue to work on our machine package and get the maximum possible result.”
Chris Vermeulen – Rizla Suzuki – 8th, 31 points
"The result at Le Mans last time out was a bit better, but it is still not what we are looking for. We need to keep working hard and try to get the full potential from the GSV-R. I really enjoy racing in Mugello - it is such a unique atmosphere and the track is amazing. It's always a tough race in Mugello but we will be doing all we can to keep improving and we'll certainly be aiming for our best result of the season so far!"
Loris Capirossi – Rizla Suzuki – 9th, 27 points
"Mugello is always a special place for me and I was not happy with last year's result so I am planning to put things right this time around. I managed a seventh after starting on the front row and I struggled a bit in the race. This year's GSV-R is certainly better than the 2008 bike and I really believe if we can get the set-up right and have a couple of good day's testing we can be pushing at the front. We need to work out why we don't seem able to get the most from the tires at the moment; our competitors certainly seem to be getting a lot more out of their rubber, so it is something we really have to focus on and keep pushing to the maximum."
Randy de Puniet - LCR Honda – 10th, 26 points
“The Mugello racetrack is one of my favorites and I usually have fun riding there. There’s the longest straight of the season and you need to have a really good bike set-up to exit the last corner because otherwise during the race you can easily get passed by other riders. For us it will be really important to have a good engine management set-up and a good chassis set-up. There are many high-speed corners at Mugello that I like very much. Our engine is better than last year and I feel confident ahead of the Italian GP. After our bad weekend at Le Mans I must focus and go ahead trying to finish in the top ten.”
Toni Elias - San Carlo Honda Gresini – 11th, 21 points
“I’ll be in much better physical shape at Mugello. Since Le Mans I’ve been undergoing physiotherapy twice a day so the arm feels much better. Hopefully my strength is back too because I need to be riding this bike on the limit in order for us to make the necessary progress with the set-up. We have made gradual progress since the start of the season and have taken positive lessons out of every race, so I really hope this weekend we can make that definitive step in quality that will propel us into the battle at the front. This is the team’s home race so it is important we put on a good show in front of the Italian fans and it would be fitting if this was the turning point for our season.”
Alex De Angelis - San Carlo Honda Gresini – 12th, 20 points
“Things haven’t gone our way recently but the Grand Prix of Italy is a special occasion for us and I am determined to turn things around. The new setting we gambled with in the second half of the race at Le Mans worked well, so hopefully we can take some positives to Mugello and start out with a good base setting on Friday afternoon, which is what we really need. I was on the podium at this circuit for three seasons in a row in the 250cc class before moving up to MotoGP and I had the best race of my rookie season last year, when I finished fourth. It would be great to put on a show like that again because even though my real ‘home race’ is in San Marino I have a lot of fans at Mugello too and I want to do well for them. I’m sure their presence will give me a little extra motivation to produce my absolute maximum.”
Nicky Hayden - Ducati Marlboro – 15th, 9 points
“It is going to be really nice for me to race at Mugello as a Ducati rider because I can remember from past seasons seeing all the fans dressed in red and cheering on their riders from the grandstand. It is an honour and a privilege for me to now be a part of this team and this tradition. I hope with all my heart that I can be competitive because those fans don’t deserve to see a Ducati at the back. The track is awesome – there are maybe a few too many bumps but the layout is incredible and in general it is one of the best GPs of the whole championship. I’d really like to have some better results on the board and be going into the factory’s home race with some more experience under our belts but we are making progress and now I hope we can make a good step on Friday so that we can build on it over the rest of the weekend.”
Yuki Takahashi - Scot Honda – 17th, 8 points
“I loved this circuit when I was a 250 rider. It has everything you want to enjoy when riding: uphill and downhill sections, fast corners and a flowing layout. Last season I crashed with four laps to go when I was in fourth position. I have never ridden Mugello on a MotoGP bike; nevertheless, I think it should suit our Honda better than Le Mans. I would really like to get a good result, next Sunday, as Mugello is our team's home race.”