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ITALIAN TRINITY VIES FOR HOME RULE The 2001 World Championship steps up another gear at Mugello this weekend as Italy welcomes the GP circus for round five of the fastest 500 series ever. Race records have been smashed at every GP so far this...

ITALIAN TRINITY VIES FOR HOME RULE

The 2001 World Championship steps up another gear at Mugello this weekend as Italy welcomes the GP circus for round five of the fastest 500 series ever. Race records have been smashed at every GP so far this year and Mugello should be no exception.

The men who've been destroying all the records are Italian heroes Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) and Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin). Rossi won the first three GPs in Japan, South Africa and Spain to comfortably lead the series but Biaggi fought back to win in France two weeks ago, setting the scene for an enticing all-Italian duel at Mugello.

Except Rossi and Biaggi won't be the only Italians vying for a vital victory on home tarmac. Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin) is the third member of Italy's speedy trinity of 500 stars and it was Capirossi who won at Mugello last year after an enthralling race-long skirmish with Rossi and Biaggi. The 2001 Italian GP has all the makings of a classic confrontation as the threesome does battle once again in front of the seething Mugello crowd.

Michelin will be right there in the thick of it, working with each of the Italians to give them the best tyres for Sunday's race. Rossi, Biaggi and Capirossi can be sure they'll have more grip than ever before at Mugello - the record-breaking pace of this year's 500 World Championship has been largely attributed to improved grip from Michelin's latest slicks.

THE RIDERS AND MUGELLO
All eyes will be on Italy's trio of 500 superstars this weekend. The three-way contest between Valentino Rossi, Loris Capirossi and Max Biaggi will captivate the GP paddock, the Mugello fans and most of Italy.

"Mugello is a great race for the Italians because there's me, Loris and Biaggi all going very fast on 500s," says Rossi, who tumbled out of last year's Italian GP just after taking the lead. "There's a lot of expectations on everyone and it's an amazing atmosphere because there are so many fans. I think it'll be even bigger this time, it's great, I love it. Last year was an incredible race. I'd overtaken Capirossi and was trying to raise my rhythm, so I could break away and win. Then I crashed - I was just pushing too hard!"

Despite his happy-go-lucky attitude, the hugely popular youngster insists he does feel the pressure of racing at home in front of an army of fans. "If you care about the result, it's never easy, you always feel the pressure," smiles Rossi who appreciates the Mugello layout and has won two GPs at the track, the 125 in 1997 and the 250 in 1999. He went on to secure the 125 and 250 crowns in '97 and '99, so victory this weekend would be a good omen.

"I like Mugello," he affirms. "The hardest thing is set-up, it's more difficult to get the bike right at Mugello than it is at most other tracks. It's very technical, and the most technical part of the circuit is the Casanova-Savelli chicane and the two Arrabbiata rights that follow. It's very fast there, so you can make the difference through that section of the track, though the bike needs to be just right. You need a lot of grip, especially from the front through Casanova, because it's downhill with so much adverse camber."

Last year at Mugello HRC general manager Mick Doohan opined that Rossi was still riding his NSR500 too much like a 250 - riding it too deep into turns - and that's why he fell. Since then Rossi has been working hard on his rear-end style because rear-end control is the sine qua non of 500 racing. With 190 horsepower available, the rider must learn to control wheelspin and use that to his advantage, helping him to steer the bike out of corners. "I've changed my style a lot," adds Rossi, who trains on a Honda dirt bike. "Now I can spin the rear and that's so important, and fun too - big fun!"

Capirossi, who won Mugello 2000 after Rossi and Biaggi fell in the frantic final laps, can't wait for a chance to repeat his famous home success. "It's a very special race for the three of us, and we all want to win more than ever!" he says. "To go fast at Mugello, the thing you really need is good front-end feeling. The front is always important but at Mugello it's especially so. There are a lot of fast corners that you go into really hard. I have a good front-end feeling with my NSR and Michelin tyres, so that makes me confident."

Biaggi comes to Mugello fresh from a storming win at the French GP and keen to take more points to move him closer to series leader Rossi and second overall Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin). The Italian's crew attributed Biaggi's Le Mans win to a change of tack on machine set-up and tyre choice. They are now focusing exclusively on Michelin's 16.5 rear and are also running a different Michelin front. "In the past Max sometimes tried 17s but we've worked to improve our range of settings with the 16.5, so we can react better if we encounter set-up difficulties," explains Biaggi's team director Hiroya Atsumi. "The different front has also helped. Our thanks to Michelin for their input."

Biaggi changed direction during recent tests at Mugello, which should help the Roman this weekend. "We changed our chassis configuration, so I'm getting better feel from the bike," says Biaggi. "It felt good when we tested at Mugello in mid-May and we hope it'll be the same at the GP. It's a very big race for me, I really want to win. I've won three 250 GPs there and twice got second in 500 race, now I want to go one better."

TYRES AND MUGELLO
Mugello is an ultra-challenging circuit that undulates along the sides of a picturesque Tuscan valley, rising and falling with each and every turn. No surprises then that many of the corners feature positive camber or negative camber. The Italian venue is well liked by riders because it's a fast, flowing circuit with lap speeds in excess of 160kmh/100mph and a 310kmh/190mph main straight. But it's also a highly technical circuit where machine set-up is complicated by bumps and frequent camber changes.

"I think Mugello is the hardest circuit for front tyres and we have to work hard to find a compromise between compound and construction," explains Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli. "The off-camber downhill corners place particularly serious pressure on the tyre. Braking and turning into the downhill corners require a harder than usual front construction but riders also need maximum grip, so they also want their fronts to be soft as possible. If a rider chooses the wrong front at Mugello he can't carry enough speed through the downhill turns and that will hurt his laps times. So we work very closely with riders to make sure they have the best compromise."

But high lap speeds also guarantee plenty of heat build-up in the rear tyre , so rear choice is also crucial at Mugello. "Last year Capirossi won at Mugello with a 17in rear and Rossi raced a 17 rear too, Biaggi was the only one of the leading guys running a 16.5," says Jacques Morelli. "But this year is different, of course. We expect everyone to run 16.5s because this tyre allows riders to go faster for longer. The 17 offers easier handling, especially at the start of a race when riders are running full tanks. But later on the 16.5 has a definite advantage and riders who want to win races always look for maximum race-long performance."

<pre> MUGELLO DATA Lap record Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 1m 53.342s (1998) Pole position 2000 Alex Barros (Emerson Honda Pons-Michelin), 1m 52.811s Recent winners of the Italian GP 2000 Loris Capirossi (Emerson Honda Pons-Michelin), 44m 04.220s 1999 Alex CrivillÈ (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 44m 05.522s 1998 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 43m 55.307s 1997 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 44m 06.442s 1996 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 44m 04.252s Provisional standings 2001

    Rider                   Nat     Points  JPN    SFA    JER    FRA
 1  ROSSI VALENTINO         ITA       91     25     25     25     16
 2  ABE NORICK              JPN       57     13     11     20     13
 3  BIAGGI MAX              ITA       54     16     8      5      25
 4  CAPIROSSI LORIS         ITA       45     8      20     8      9
 5  CRIVILLE ALEX           SPA       44     7      10     16     11
 6  NAKANO SHINYA           JPN       42     11     13     13     5
 7  ROBERTS KENNY           USA       37     9      9      9      10
 8  BARROS ALEX             BRA       35     10     7      10     8
 9  CHECA CARLOS            SPA       28     6             2      20
10  McCOY GARRY             AUS       27     20            7
11  UKAWA TOHRU             JPN       27            16     11
12  GIBERNAU SETE           SPA       19            6      6      7
13  GOORBERGH J VD          NED       19     5      5      3      6
14  AOKI HARUCHIKA          JPN       8      4      4
15  CARDOSO JOSE LUIS       SPA       6             3             3
16  WALKER CHRIS            GBR       5             1             4
17  HAGA NORIYUKI           JPN       4                    4
18  HASLAM LEON             GBR       3      3
19  WEST ANTHONY            AUS       3             2      1
20  VENEMAN BARRY           NED       2                           2
21  JANSSEN JARNO           NED       1                           1
22  JACQUE OLIVIER          FRA       0
23  RYO AKIRA               JPN       0
24  STIGEFELT JOHAN         SWE       0
25  VINCENT JASON           GBR       0
26  WILLIS MARK             AUS       0

Michelinís Partners - 500cc class

No.       Rider                              Nation     Bike           Team
1         Kenny Roberts                      USA        Suzuki         Telefonica Movistar Suzuki
3         Max Biaggi                         ITA        Yamaha         Marlboro Yamaha Team
4         Alex Barros                        BRA        Honda          West Honda Pons
5         Garry Mccoy                        AUS        Yamaha         Red Bull Yamaha WCM
6         Norick Abe                         JPN        Yamaha         Antena Tre Yamaha díAntin
7         Carlos Checa                       SPA        Yamaha         Marlboro Yamaha Team
8         Chris Walker                       GBR        Honda          Shell Advance Honda
9         Leon Haslam                        GBR        Honda          Shell Advance Honda
10        Jose Luis Cardoso                  SPA        Yamaha         Antena Tre Yamaha díAntin
11        Tohru Ukawa                        JPN        Honda          Repsol-YPF Honda Team
12        Haruchika Aoki                     JPN        Honda          Arie Molenaar Racing
14        Anthony West                       AUS        Honda          Dee Cee Jeans Racing Team
15        Sete Gibernau                      SPA        Suzuki         Telefonica Movistar Suzuki
16        Johan Stigefelt                    SWE        Sabre V4       Sabre Sport
17        Jurgen Vd Goorbergh                NED        Proton KR3     Proton Team KR
19        Olivier Jacque                     FRA        Yamaha         Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3
21        Barry Veneman                      NED        Honda          Dee Cee Jeans Racing Team
24        Jay Vincent                        GBR        Pulse          Pulse GP
26        Vladirmir Catska                   SVK        Paton          Paton
28        Alex Criville                      SPA        Honda          Repsol-YPF Honda Team
41        Noriyuki Haga                      JPN        Yamaha         Red Bull Yamaha WCM
46        Valentino Rossi                    ITA        Honda          Nastro Azzurro Honda
56        Shinya Nakano                      JPN        Yamaha         Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3
65        Loris Capirossi                    ITA        Honda          West Honda Pons
68        Mark Willis                        AUS        Pulse          Pulse GP

-Michelin

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