The MotoGP paddock looks forward to arguably its greatest event of the year in Italy this weekend. Magnificent Mugello has it all -- an undulating ribbon of a racetrack that wends its way up and down a picturesque Tuscan valley, presenting a ...
The MotoGP paddock looks forward to arguably its greatest event of the year in Italy this weekend.
Magnificent Mugello has it all -- an undulating ribbon of a racetrack that wends its way up and down a picturesque Tuscan valley, presenting a unique challenge to both riders and engineers who must use all their talent and know-how to unlock the track's secrets. With good reason Mugello attracts one of the best crowds of the year, the venue a natural amphitheatre filled by a noisy army of fans who bring something of a football-style atmosphere with them.
This year's event also has a special historic significance because it marks Honda's 50th anniversary in World Championship competition. Exactly half a century ago Honda's pioneer Grand Prix riders Naomi Taniguchi, Junzo Suzuki, Giichi Suzuki, Teisuke Tanaka and Bill Hunt were on the Isle of Man, readying themselves for Honda's first Grand Prix event, the 1959 Ultra-Lightweight TT, the opening round of that year's 125 World Championship. Although Honda were absolute newcomers and not expected to feature strongly in the race (staged on June 3), Taniguchi won the final World Championship point and the Honda squad won the coveted team's prize, proving that Honda machinery was already fast and reliable.
The 2009 Italian GP is the fifth race of a season that's already shaping to be a classic with four riders currently separated by just nine points at the top of the MotoGP points table. Going into Mugello, Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) is fourth on points, having made an astonishing start to 2009, bravely shrugging off the effects of preseason injury to score podium finishes in three of the first four races. A second-place finish at Jerez and third-place results at Motegi and Le Mans have thrust the Spaniard into the championship battle. Pedrosa can't wait to get to Mugello where he has winning form; he won the 2005 250 GP at the track and has finished on the podium during his last two visits on MotoGP machinery.
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 250 GP, riding his Scot Honda RS250RW.
Frenchman Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) had a difficult home race at Le Mans and is determined to the brilliant form he showed at Jerez, where he finished a strong fourth. Like most riders, Mugello is one of de Puniet's favourite racetracks.
September's San Marino GP may be the official home GP of San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Alex De Angelis, but this weekend's event is nonetheless a home race for the up-and-coming star who enjoyed a brilliant MotoGP race at Mugello last summer, charging through the pack to claim a superb fourth-place finish aboard his RC212V. 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.
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.
In the Italian 250 GP Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda) will be hoping the sweet handling of his RS250RW will put him in with a chance of another podium finish. The Spanish GP winner has never made the top three at Mugello, but this year he needs all the points he can get to keep him in the title fight. Aoyama currently lies second overall in the 250 chase, just one point behind Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia).
Aoyama's Scot Honda team-mate Raffaele De Rosa is flying high in his rookie 250 season, currently fifth on points, so the Italian will be aiming for a best-ever performance in front of his home crowd at Mugello, where last year he scored pole position for the 125 race.
Team-mates Hector Faubel (Valencia CF -- Honda SAG) and Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT-SAG) are both building moment following brilliant results at Le Mans where Faubel took his first 250 podium finish and Wilairot his first top-five GP finish.
Mugello will be another step on the World Championship ladder for teenage GP rookie Shoya Tomizawa (Team CIP Honda), who has so far impressed the paddock with his fighting spirit, scoring points at three of 2009's first four GPs.
Mugello has a reputation as a tough venue to master, both for riders and their engineers. Its first few hundred metres alone contain more excitement than many lesser racetracks: an ultra-fast main straight, scene of many a hair-raising slipstreaming battle, and an awesome 300kp/h first turn. This left kink isn't even officially numbered as one of Mugello's 15 corners because a decade and a half ago, when machines were significantly slower, it wasn't even considered a corner. Nowadays, aboard a 330km/h MotoGP bike it most certainly is a corner! The remainder of the track features some epic turns that sweep and undulate across the valley, putting the emphasis on fine handling, artful riding and maintaining momentum. Mugello's many negative-camber corner entries demand perfect machine set-up and front-tyre grip. Finally, the track's bumpy surface presents another conundrum.
Mugello has hosted Italy's round of the motorcycling World Championships on and off since 1976, becoming a regular feature on the calendar in 1992. It also hosted four San Marino GPs from 1982 to 1993. The track has staged a total of 23 elite-class GPs, 14 of them won by riders using Honda machinery. American legend Freddie Spencer won Honda's first success at the track with his NS500 in 1982, Mick Doohan won five Italian GPs on his NSR500 from 1993 to 1998 and Valentino Rossi won his first two Mugello MotoGP victories with his RC211V.
HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) says: "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."
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) says: "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 colours 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."
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) says: "The Mugello racetrack is one of my favourites 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) says: "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) says: "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."
Yuki Takahashi (Scot Honda) says: "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."
HONDA 250cc RIDER QUOTES
Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda) says: "Mugello is one of the most difficult tracks scheduled for the championship. Anyway I like it, and every time I race there I do better and better. About the season as a whole, not much has changed -- I led the championship after Jerez and now I'm just one point behind the leader. The game is wide open, but I will continue to focus on each race, not thinking too much to the championship. Having said that, it is clear that when I can be one point ahead of Bautista instead of one point behind, I would prefer it that way!"
Raffaele De Rosa (Scot Honda) says: "Mugello, at last... it is my favourite track. And I'm not the only one to love it. At the same time, it is very demanding, because it isn't easy to set up your bike properly for this track. I got pole position at Mugello last season when I was racing 125s. Now I'm really looking forward to racing there on a 250. I'm going to drive my camper van from Naples to Mugello, and a few friends of mine will come and enjoy the race."
Hector Faubel (Valencia CF-Honda SAG) says: "I like so much the circuit of Mugello because I've scored a lot of podiums there in 125s. I know that this circuit is Aprilia's home track, however, I know that I will get a very good result. There is a lot of things that I like about Mugello but my favourite section is the two Arrabbiata curves because they are fast and technical."
Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT-SAG) says: "After my fifth position at Le Mans I had to leave very quickly for the airport because the next morning I had to fly home to Thailand to do my tests for military service! While at home I also had some time to relax with my family and friends. I should be 100 per cent fit for Mugello because my ankle is fine after the Jerez crash and have had the stitches removed from my right hand. I have a very good feeling about Mugello and I want to see some big results for the team in Italy."
Shoya Tomizawa (Team CIP Honda) says: "It was disappointing not to score points at Le Mans, having scored points at all the first three races. But I am fully fit for Mugello and very much looking forward to this racetrack, which I know so well from the TV. My team have told me many great things about the circuit and I cannot wait to try it out for myself."
Bastien Chesaux (Racing Team Germany Honda) says: "Every race we keep learning more and that's the most important thing at this stage. We got the bike working really well at Le Mans, which means that I can travel to Mugello in a positive frame of mind. I can't wait for the weekend -- Mugello is one of the legendary GP tracks."