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MotoGP Preview: ‘Mugello fans vital to The Doctor this weekend”




Round 6 of the 2017 MotoGP season plays host to the Italian Grand Prix and the start of a run that sees 4 races in 5 weeks, and that can only mean one thing… Mugello.

Quick disclosure: Mugello was my first real love in racing and it’s been my home race for years, so if you think I’m biased towards it, you’re absolutely right; I am.

The Autodromo del Mugello is settled in a breathtaking Tuscan valley just north-east of the equally beautiful Florence and in terms of aesthetics, only Phillip Island’s gorgeous coastline can come close. But Mugello is so much more than it’s surroundings.

A ribbon of asphalt that wraps itself around the hills, it has everything you could ask for from a circuit.

Fast sweeping corners? The Arrabbiatas at turns 8 and 9 have you covered.

A long, (very) fast straight with a blind braking point into turn 1? Mugello has the best in the world, although the wall is a little too close for my liking.

Off-camber, downhill corners or fast changes of direction? It has those too, with turns 6 and 7 of Casanova and Savelli, along with Scarperia and Palagio at 10 and 11 creating two of only three main overtaking opportunities around the track.

For bike setup, this weekend is often a case of compromise. Handling is key at Mugello, with the fast changes of direction main components of a good lap, so concentrating too much on the entry into turn 1 and it’s harder braking will cause problems later. In general, bikes will be set up longer for this Grand Prix and as Tom Jojic of KTM says they’ll be “calmer” to keep them stable, with stronger springs one of the options to achieve this.

“al Mugello non si dorme..”

The characteristics of Mugello bring fast, exciting racing (it has the lowest percentage of braking time on the calendar, just 26%), especially in front straight battles, but what really makes the Italian Grand Prix is the fans. Unsurprisingly, the majority tend to wear yellow at a track where Valentino Rossi has won 7 times in MotoGP. They’re loud and fairly partisan, but there’s nothing quite like the roar of a Mugello crowd. Although, word of warning; if you ever decide to camp at the track, don’t expect to sleep. They keep the noise up all night long, because “al Mugello non si dorme..”

Those fans could prove to vital to The Doctor this weekend, after a motocross accident last Thursday left him with bruising to his liver and kidneys. His condition has improved a lot in the last week, with breathing, in particular, a lot easier for the Italian but he’s still in a fair bit of pain. Valentino did try a couple of road bikes on Wednesday to evaluate how his injuries would affect him this weekend and found that he could move without too many problems, which did make him optimistic, although he acknowledged that “the stress is not comparable” to MotoGP.

“I think that after this crash my motocross career is maybe over” – Rossi

For Rossi, Mugello is a vital event on the calendar.

It’s his home Grand Prix and after the disappointment in Le Mans, it was where he needed to take back control. Now, he needs to first evaluate how his injuries will affect him on the M1, with the fast changes of direction and the harder breathing from exertion the main areas that could cause him issues. Valentino intends to start Friday as normal and then see if it will be necessary to maybe do fewer laps to save energy and recover for Sunday. The fans at Mugello could be just the boost he needs, plus a healthy dose of adrenaline always helps.

On motocross itself, the Italian admitted with a smile that “I think that after this crash my motocross career is maybe over” as he feels very lucky not to have broken something at this stage of the season. Motocross is undoubtedly brilliant training for MotoGP riders, both physically and mentally, with Dovi explaining it best; “we play with the limit every time (in MotoGP), you have to train in that way, you can’t stay at home and train in the gym and go racing.”

But ultimately, each rider has to weigh up the benefits of the training, with the risks of crashing. Perhaps one option is to follow Dani Pedrosa, who doesn’t use mx tracks with jumps.

But while Rossi is on the back foot physically, his team-mate Maverick Vinales comes to Mugello perfectly placed. Leading the championship, Maverick brings a lot of confidence into this weekend, although he admits “the next rounds will be decisive and it will be crucial to take the victory in Mugello”. MotoGP’s Top Gun has also won 3 of the first 5 races, making him only the fifth rider to do so after Rossi, Stoner, Lorenzo and Marquez. Interestingly in the seasons that those four achieved it, they all went on to win the title.

Despite his great start to 2017, there’s still room for Vinales to improve on the Yamaha, namely in braking. Maverick says that he still brakes too hard, which doesn’t always work with the M1 and for Mugello he’ll be trying to emulate Jorge Lorenzo’s riding style as much as possible, helped by the data Lorenzo left when he moved.

Of course, another rider who will hope to bring some of the Spartan’s style this weekend is Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Johann Zarco, who took over ownership of Lorenzo’s 2016 M1.

The Frenchman is obviously motivated after his first podium last time out and is looking forward to experiencing Mugello on a MotoGP bike. If he can continue his form from the French Grand Prix, he has every chance of making it back to back podiums in Italy.

The Italian Grand Prix is unsurprisingly a big weekend for the Ducati team that Lorenzo moved to. Along with his team-mate Andrea Dovizioso and test-rider wildcard Michele Pirro, the three men in red will be wanting to put on a good show for the home fans. The team tested at Mugello before Le Mans and the general feeling is that it was mostly positive, while the test at Barcelona last week also helped Lorenzo find some “good solutions” with the front tyre. The Spaniard’s record at Mugello is incredible; he has finished 1st or 2nd for the last 8 years in Tuscany, with 5 wins in the last 6 attempts. I don’t expect to see him on the top step on Sunday; realistically Ducati aren’t there yet, with Dovizioso’s target of a podium finish holding a better chance.

But if Ducati are hoping for a podium at Mugello, they’ll have strong opposition from the Hondas on Sunday.

Dani Pedrosa is second in the championship after his brilliant podium in Le Mans and with better weather conditions expected, the extra setup time and higher tyre temperature make him a strong contender this weekend. On the other side of the box, Marc Marquez has work to do. His 58 points are his lowest amount after 5 races since he moved into MotoGP, with Pedrosa ahead of him in the championship for the first time since Assen 2013 (Dani broke his collarbone at the next race in Germany).

Marquez might just see a turnaround this weekend though, and it comes in the shape of a new Michelin front tyre after riders voted to swap to a stiffer construction. The “70”, as it’s designated, brings more support under braking for the riders which Marc says gives him less movement and therefore, more confidence. His fellow Honda rider Cal Crutchlow is also likely to reap the benefits of the new construction, along with Valentino Rossi who was one of the first riders to ask for it.

For the other factories of Suzuki, Aprilia and KTM, Mugello will be an important opportunity to take another step forward. Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone is still struggling with braking, and while he waits for new parts from Japan, a good run at his home race could prove a vital confidence boost. Aprilia had an important test at Barcelona, running a new evolution of their seamless gearbox, alongside the usual electronics work and Aleix trying out the aero-fairing for the RS-GP. KTM can continue building on a good double points scoring performance in Le Mans and put their new engine to the ultimate test.

Mugello demands nothing short of perfection.

The satellite Ducati teams will be hoping to join their factory family in a good race weekend, with Aspar’s Alvaro Bautista hoping his luck will change at Mugello and that they’ll find a comfortable setup early on Friday in order to improve qualifying. Avintia’s Hector Barbera had a positive test in Barcelona so has new confidence to get his season back on track. The satellite Hondas of Jack Miller and Tito Rabat will look to negate what they lose on the straight with what they gain in the fast changes of direction; luckily Miller has recovered well from his horrendous crash in Le Mans and has improved his confidence with the front, while Rabat’s aim is to improve qualifying.

Mugello demands nothing short of perfection from the riders who take it on, but perfection in MotoGP is hard to find, making compromise key. But if there’s one thing the entire paddock won’t be lacking this weekend it’s emotion. The loss of Nicky Hayden last week will take a long time to fully sink in, as well as Saturday being the one year anniversary of the death of Luis Salom in Barcelona in 2016. Both of them gave everything they had every single day, in every area of their life. They were both fiercely devoted to their families and to racing.

Mugello feeds off the exhilaration of the chase and the sheer, unadulterated joy of winning, in that way it is the perfect reflection of MotoGP itself. This weekend, Nicky and Luis, along with Marco and the others we’ve lost like Shoya and Daijiro, will be in everyone’s thoughts and it’s the fierce love that MotoGP permeates that will make everyone race just that little bit harder on Sunday.

As Nicky would say.. Let’s get it.

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MotoGP 2018 Preview: Marquez is the rider to beat! But don’t bet against Dovizioso!




It’s finally time.

Winter is over (unless you live in the Southern hemisphere, then summer is nearly over for you… sorry about that), testing is finished and it’s time to go racing in 2018.

Three pre-season tests saw three different riders at the top of the combined timesheets, with Jorge Lorenzo ruling the roost in Sepang before Dani Pedrosa rose to the top in Thailand and Johann Zarco brought testing to a close in Qatar as the number one.

But testing only tells us so much. Yes, it can give a basic idea of what the pace is like and how competitive the grid will be, but with each team and rider running their own schedules and battling their own issues, it’s not until we get down to racing that we really know what this season has in store for us.

2017 was an incredible year that taught us to forget almost everything we thought we knew. It followed a season with 9 different winners that we all thought would be hard to beat in terms of a spectacle. But over 18 races we saw some of the greatest battles in Grand Prix history, last lap and last corner challenges that left us wondering what the hell had just happened, saves that should never have been possible (yes Señor Marquez, I’m talking about you), team orders that had us questioning the strategies we thought we knew and a championship fight that went down to the final race.

2016 was supposed to be hard to beat, then 2017 took our breath away. What does 2018 have in store? Undoubtedly more of the same and probably more than a few surprises that will leave us all stunned. The bikes are new, there’s some new rubber, a new track, even new riders with 5 rookies joining the grid. It’s going to be fast, it’s going to be fierce, and it’s going to be 19 weekends of glorious racing.

There really is no point in making predictions, they’ll probably be wrong and even if I could say with certainty what would happen where would the fun be in that?

Marc Marquez is the rider to beat, of that there’s no doubt. He has a big target on his back, as he has done since he arrived in the class. If you want to win in MotoGP then you have to beat the man who has dominated and revolutionised it first. I do hope he falls off less this season though; his saves are spectacular but a bit less gravel bouncing would probably be a good idea.

Last year it was Andrea Dovizioso that pushed Marquez to Valencia and I fully expect him to be putting in a repeat performance in 2018. Last season was a big milestone in terms of his own development as a rider and a person, he might’ve have turned to the “dark horse” mentality in 2017, but he’s firmly in the spotlight as a title contender this year.

Marquez’s team-mate Dani Pedrosa is almost certain to return to the top step in 2018, and if he can get the tyres to work well for him across more tracks he’ll still be right in the mix once again.

For Dovizioso’s garage companion Jorge Lorenzo, 2017 was a longer learning curve than he had expected and pre-season testing had a few tricky moments as well. But I do believe he will win a race this year and once he finds that winning space everyone else should probably watch out.

At Yamaha, last year started so well for Maverick Vinales, who joined the team and dominated testing before winning 3 of the first 5 races, but then it all burned up with the M1’s rear tyre. Both Vinales and Valentino Rossi have already renewed their contracts with Yamaha for another 2 years and testing has seen a few sparks of optimism. But they do still have issues to work on, particularly with electronics and in certain conditions. If they can find a consistency then both riders have every chance of fighting at the front throughout the year and challenging for the championship.

Their fellow Yamaha rider Johann Zarco was the surprise of 2017, starting when he led a few golden laps at the season opener before crashing. He secured pole positions, swapped paint on more than one occasion (not everyone was pleased) and stood on the podium. Could we see him win this year? Absolutely. Could he potentially be fighting for the title? It’s possible; if any independent rider can do it, then it’s Johann because that Frenchman is fearless.

Joining Zarco at Tech 3 this year will be the first Malaysian in MotoGP, Hafizh Syahrin, who comes in to replace Jonas Folger due to illness. Syahrin wouldn’t necessarily have been the first choice of riders to move into MotoGP based on his Moto2 performances, but in a difficult situation, he’s already proven that he’s a good choice after performing strongly in testing and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he develops over the year.

The other rookies to keep your eyes on in 2018 are Takaaki Nakagami at LCR, Franco Morbidelli and Tom Luthi at Marc VDS and Xavier Simeon at Avintia. Through testing, they’ve all been focussed on just finding their way in the premier class, so as the season progresses they should all make very visible steps forward and put in some good results.

Across the rest of the grid there’s Cal Crutchlow who again takes on the role of the third factory Honda rider, Danilo Petrucci who’s hunting for a factory ride for 2019, Jack Miller who joins Petrucci at Pramac and already looks so much more comfortable on the Ducati, Tito Rabat at Avintia who like Miller seems to prefer being on Italian machinery and Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham both return at the renamed Angel Nieto team.

At the other factories, Aleix Espargaro has a new team-mate at Aprilia as he’s joined by Scott Redding who seems to have adapted quite well as the Italian team continue to develop their package. Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro line-up together again at KTM, with the Spaniard still recovering from a hernia operation but feeling much better than at the last pre-season test. Suzuki is once again made up of Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins with both riders showing good promise in testing. Rins, in particular, could bring out a few surprises in 2018 and if Iannone can keep his level of motivation high hopefully we’ll see The Maniac back in full force (just without the crashes and seagull murder please).

The track is fast, particularly once you’ve reached the more open areas of sectors two and three, before tearing onto the front straight. Turn 1 is one of the most challenging on the calendar as riders brake from 350km/h down to 99km/h over 289 metres in 5.1 seconds. Only Jerez sees riders use the brakes more times over race distance. It brings close, fast racing despite overtaking being tricky with only four main areas; turn 1 at the end of the straight, the tight left of turn 6, turn 12 and turn 16 onto the back straight, but watch out for the slipstream!

When the riders hit the track for the first time on Friday afternoon we’ll start to get some idea of who could be standing on the top step come Sunday, but we won’t really know until they’re racing under the floodlights.

The Losail International Circuit in Doha has played host to the season opener of MotoGP since 2007 and as the city has grown around it, the racing it hosts has itself been evolving.

This year will actually bring something a little different with Moto3 racing in daylight, Moto2 at sunset (which should look amazing) and MotoGP getting underway once it’s dark.

But one thing that’ll remain the same is that we are guaranteed three amazing races for the next 19 races, and personally, I can’t wait to get started.

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WSBK Phillip Island: Double Ducati delight for Melandri in drag race finish




After the addition of a flag-to-flag format caused by rapidly declining tyre issues, yesterday we ended with an intense hope for something interesting to happen in race two.

Well, today did not disappoint, because Race two threw up several intense, race long battles and an incredible  photo finish.

Continuing the form shown in qualifying, it was Eugene Laverty who had an incredible start off the line to pull a considerate lead over his rivals. sadly, it wasn’t meant to be for the Irishman whoever, who crashed out on lap three; re-joining at the back of the field.

As anticipated, it was to be the pit-lane changes that were to be the root of most of the action and first into the pits came Xavi Fores, Jonathan Rea and Michael van der Mark on lap ten – with Fores the quickest out the blocks.

One lap later, and Chaz Davies, Marco Melandri, Ales Lowes, Tom Sykes and Leon Camier all came in, with Camier winning the coming out race.

However, all riders held back on the pit exit in order to avoid a ride through penalty for leaving pit lane before the mandatory one minute and three second time, so it was Davies who led the pack back onto the track; only to see him crash on lap 13 and to hand the lead to Fores.

And from there it was close. Nobody could create a gap, and the lead tossed between Fores and Rea.

Just as it looked as if Rea would taste victory for the first time this season, Race One winner Melandri passed Fores and by the last lap, he was all over the back of Rea.

Melandri leapt almost immediately for the lead, but Rea fought straight back, with the two now locked into an intense last lap battle.

It was a drag race out of the final corner to the line, but Melandri it was who was declared victorious from the photo finish.

Say what you like about the rest of the bike, but that Ducati has some serious straight line speed.

Xavi Fores bought it home in third as the top independent rider. After a seriously impressive race where he was constantly fighting in the top five, it was well deserved for the Spaniard, who has only ever had one podium in the Superbike class.

A personal standout for me was Leon Camier on the Honda SP2, a bike that so desperately struggled during the last season. The Brit was always up there, fighting with the Yamaha’s and never losing time which cements the fact that last season, he was the driving force for the MV Agusta’s success.

World Superbike next heads to Buriram, Thailand in a month’s time. So there is a long wait until the next battle.

So, a long delay, but long may this close racing continue.

World Superbike race two:
1. Marco Melandri – Racing Ducati – 34.42.633
2. Jonathan Rea – Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK + 0.021
3. Xavi Fores – BARNI Racing Team + 0.304 (top independent)
4. Tom Sykes – Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK + 1.488
5. Alex Lowes – Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team + 2.474
6. Leon Camier – Red Bull Honda WorldSBK Team + 2.745
7. Michael van der Mark – Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team + 3.098
8. Jordi Torres – MV Agusta Reparto Corse + 14.301
9. Loris Baz – Gulf Althea BMW Racing Team + 14.361
10. Toprak Razgatlioglu – Kawasaki Puccetti Racing + 19.785

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