MotoGP fans across the globe, especially those based in Italy, have been waiting five years for this weekend’s Grand Prix. Even since breaking his leg here on June 5th 2010, Valentino Rossi hasn’t been able to race in front of his adoring compatriots as a genuine championship contender. Until now, that is.
We saw an upturn in form and fortune for Valentino after returning to Yamaha with a tremendously popular win at Assen but the moment that truly marked a return to his best came on Italian soil at Misano where Rossi beat Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo fair and square, triggering scenes of jubilation in the grandstands.
By this point though, Marquez had the 2014 title in his pocket and although the resurgent Rossi finished runner-up, a tenth world crown still seemed a distant pipe dream. But fast forward to May 2015 and Rossi arrives on home soil as championship leader for the first time in seven years and Yamaha have wrestled the competitive advantage away from Honda with four victories out of five.
The two most recent successes have come from the no.99 camp though with Jorge Lorenzo bouncing back to his best form after a dreadful start to the season. Problems with his crash helmet in Qatar and illness in Texas saw him miss out on the podium and after finishing an uncompetitive fifth in Argentina, the Spaniard was already playing catch-up.
The home comforts of Jerez saw the tide turn as Lorenzo dominated from the first moment on Friday morning to the final lap on Sunday afternoon, setting a pace that Marquez and Rossi couldn’t get near, and as the Hondas wilted in the heat of Le Mans, Jorge followed it up with another lights-to-flag victory in France with Rossi recovering to finish second.
There is no question that Lorenzo has been in a class of his own since MotoGP returned to Europe with his championship lead now down to fifteen points, Rossi will be mindful that he can’t let his teammate build up a head of steam before he is the one doing the chasing. What better place to strike back than the Tuscan hills of Mugello.
In his heyday, Rossi was virtually unbeatable here, taking seven straight victories between 2002 and 2008 but since then, Lorenzo has taking over as the new master of Mugello, winning three of the last four. With the fast sweeping bends likely to favour the YZR-M1, the stage is set for two of the titans of MotoGP to do battle at one of the sport’s finest settings. The atmosphere is sure to be electric.
Aiming to spoil the Yamaha party will be defending champion Marc Marquez whose grip on his crown is already starting to look a little loose. The Spaniard was simply sensational in qualifying at Le Mans but a rise in temperature for race day saw the Hondas suffer from a lack of front-end grip, leaving Marc to scrape fourth ahead of Andrea Iannone and Bradley Smith. Another issue creeping into the RC213V is an overly aggressive engine on corner entries and exits but with very few big stops at Mugello, Marc may not suffer as much here.
Given their recent testing in Tuscany, Ducati could well be the team to watch out for this weekend with Andrea Dovizioso looking to turn a consistent run of podiums into that elusive victory. The straight-line speed of the GP15 has already shown itself to be a serious weapon already this season and if there is one place where it might prove the ultimate difference maker, this could be it. With Iannone riding with yet another injury, Dovizioso is the likely contender for the Bologna squad but Michele Pirro will bolster their ranks as a wildcard this weekend.
The British battle for satellite honours resumes this weekend with Cal Crutchlow aiming to put the disappointment of Le Mans behind him when the LCR rider was struck by the Honda front-end problems. His demise allowed Bradley Smith to close to within a point in the championship and the Tech 3 rider has high hopes at what should be a Yamaha-friendly circuit.
Four riders have tasted victory in the opening five Moto2 races but Johann Zarco leads the title chase by 21 points despite missing out on home glory at Le Mans. Thomas Luthi took the honours to lift himself up to second overall but the man making progress in recent races has been Tito Rabat, and the defending champion is surely within touching distance of a first win in 2015. Sam Lowes shone here in his debut Moto2 campaign and will be flying the flag for the Italian Speed Up squad while Franco Morbidelli is the likely home challenger.
Italian supporters will be spoilt for choice in the Moto3 class after their riders monopolised the podium at Le Mans. Romano Fenati held his nerve to take victory and will go in search of back-to-back Mugello wins while the riders that joined him on the rostrum, Enea Bastianini and Francesco Bagnaia are still chasing their maiden Grand Prix victories. The man they all have to beat remains Danny Kent who proved he could challenge for the lead, wherever he starts, at Le Mans.
But all eyes will be on the scrap for supremacy in the premier class. With Rossi back at the peak of his powers and Lorenzo riding like the double champion he is, we may now finally get the race we were all so desperate to see before injury struck The Doctor five years ago. Who prevails in the end is anyone’s guess.
2015 GRAN PREMIO D’ITALIA TIM SCHEDULE (UK TIME)
|Moto3 FP1||08:00||MotoGP FP1||08:55||Moto2 FP1||09:55|
|Moto3 FP2||12:10||MotoGP FP2||13:05||Moto2 FP2||14:05|
|Moto3 FP3||08:00||MotoGP FP3||08:55||Moto2 FP3||09:55|
|Moto3 QP||11:35||MotoGP FP4||12:30||MotoGP Q1||13:10|
|MotoGP Q2||13:35||Moto2 QP||14:05|
|Moto3 WUP||07:40||Moto2 WUP||08:10||MotoGP WUP||08:40|
|Moto3 RACE||10:00||Moto2 RACE||11:20||MotoGP RACE||13:00|