“It comes as a key part of the season”
The sixth round of the MotoGP World Championship welcomes the Fiat Yamaha Team to their ‘home' circuit of Mugello this weekend and the mouth-watering prospect of another classic race at the legendary venue.
Already one of the
most eagerly anticipated dates on the calendar, this year's visit to Tuscany has the extra spice of an Italian manufacturer leading the World Championship whilst the homecoming of Valentino Rossi to his adoring fans always guarantees an electric atmosphere and a performance to match from the mercurial 28-year-old.
Rossi has satiated the partisan local crowd's appetite for entertainment and end-product for the past five seasons, putting together a run of victories previously unsurpassed by any one rider at their local track. ‘The Doctor' has not been beaten on Italian soil since 2001, when he crashed out in a wet race, and his past three victories for Yamaha are unequalled in measures of brilliance and bravery. Mike Hailwood, who won the Isle of Man TT for five consecutive seasons in the 1960s, is the only rider in history to have held such a firm stronghold over his home Grand Prix.
Colin Edwards' record at Mugello is somewhat less spectacular but the Texan has every reason to look forward to this weekend. After qualifying on the front row of the grid at four of the first five races Edwards has been denied a mammoth points haul merely through sheer bad luck - the latest chapter in a catalogue of misfortune coming in France, where the heavens opened as the grid formed on an otherwise dry circuit and denied him the chance to shoot for victory from pole position.
A continuation of his excellent practice form and another top performance in qualifying should finally bear fruit this Sunday.
The Mugello circuit is one of the fastest on the calendar, with the front straight almost certain to entice the new 800cc machines towards their highest top speed of the year. Measuring 1,141m, it is 61m shorter than the back straight of Shanghai, the longest in the championship, but the faster final turn and longer entry into the straight means the riders can get on the gas early, shift up through the gears and still have time to get the throttle wide open in sixth, potentially edging past the 337.5km/h set by Casey Stoner in China. Mugello differs from other fast circuits in its frequent changes of gradient and the speed of its chicanes. There is a mix of slower and high-speed corners, although even the slowest corners are wide, allowing several ‘ideal' lines and putting the emphasis on rider skill as well as chassis set-up precision.
Fiat Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio is eagerly anticipating a battle royale this weekend as his riders prepare to tackle Ducati at their home circuit. The Italian factory have won three of the first five races so far this season and are sure to make life difficult for Rossi and Edwards at Mugello. Brivio, however, is confident that the overall performance of the YZR-M1 will give his riders every chance of success.
"Of course Mugello is a very important race for us - firstly because it is in Italy and secondly because it comes at a key part of the season, at the start of six races in eight weeks", says Brivio. "Valentino has a great record there and at Yamaha we have been able to win with him for the past three seasons but this year it will be very difficult. We're working hard to i mprove the package available to both our riders and we'll see if that pays off here. I think we will be competitive but in racing you never know.”
"For Colin the challenge is to convert his obvious potential in practice into a top result in the race. We know Mugello is not his favourite track but we've worked hard in recent weeks to give him a package he is happy with everywhere so hopefully that proves to be the case once free practice starts on Friday morning. It is an exciting weekend for the team and especially for Valentino because it is in Italy but it is also the home of Ducati and they will be very motivated, I'm sure. It's a very interesting scenario."