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Valentino Rossi still rules MotoGP at Mugello


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By Dan Moakes
June 3 2007

Italy is one of the strongholds of motorcycle racing, with their riders having secured 72 Grand Prix world championships over the years, and marques such as MV Agusta and Ducati with plenty of success in a variety of road racing categories. Mugello hosts the Italian Grand Prix, and fans this year had the prospect of a home win for rider, bike, or maybe both.

The favourites had to include Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), with seven GP wins at the circuit, including the last five in MotoGP; and Ducati’s championship leading Casey Stoner. The second Marlboro Ducati of local hero Loris Capirossi, the 2000 GP500 winner, would be another likely to feature; and the other Italian, Gresini Honda’s Marco Melandri, was down in the records as the 2002 GP250 winner here.

In Tuscany, Mugello is a fast and attractive circuit, with the long start-finish Rettilineo straight seeing speeds of up to 200mph. However, conditions for practice and qualifying were extremely changeable, and the vital grid positions were decided in a wet but drying session. Rossi was one man to fall off, but his best lap time was set as the surface was most dry towards the end. This meant third for ‘the Doctor’, with the watery conditions playing to the strength of Australia’s two riders.

Stoner secured his first pole position of the season, and the tenth for Ducati in MotoGP competition. Second went to the field’s latest race winner, Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen, the rain master in France. Also aided by the conditions was returning Kawasaki pilot Olivier Jacque, whose best top class GP result had also come in the rain, and he qualified fourth - his best since 2003.

Capirossi and Melandri completed the second row, with the third headed by the other French Kawasaki rider, Randy de Puniet. This marked the best joint performance for the green bikes so far in 2007, although de Puniet was riding with a broken collarbone after crashing out of the lead at home. Behind Melandri, Dani Pedrosa therefore got the second of the Hondas only as high as eighth, but the Repsol rider had notably been fastest in all the dry weather sessions up to the race.

John Hopkins was ninth on the second Suzuki, and then came the Pramac d’Antín Ducatis of Alex Barros and Alex Hofmann, heading the Konica Minolta Honda of Shin’ya Nakano. Indeed, four of the RCV bikes were grouped together, with Nicky Hayden next in P13, then Carlos Checa and Toní Elías. Colin Edwards also lost out to the conditions on the second works Fiat Yamaha, in P16. Like Hayden and Elías, he found himself starting in his worst position of the year.

The last four grid slots went to the Dunlop-shod Yamahas, and the expanded two-man Team KR. Sylvain Guintoli was in P17 and Makoto Tamada in P20 with the other yellow Tech 3 bike, in between came Roberts. Make that Roberts and Roberts, with the Roberts-Honda and the Roberts-Honda. Team KR had brought back former Proton rider Kurtis to partner older brother Kenny Jr, who would start ahead.

Rossi wore a heart on his crash helmet as the grid formed up with dark clouds lurking overhead. But the race went ahead in bright and fully dry conditions, and it was Stoner and Vermeulen who held the advantage away from the lights. Capirossi surged into third, with Barros right up to fourth until Melandri pushed him back one, from Pedrosa. Hopkins and Rossi tussled over seventh, which swapped between them on the opening lap. Hayden, Elías, Hofmann, Jacque, Nakano, de Puniet, Edwards, Guintoli, Checa, Tamada, Kenny and Kurtis Roberts followed.

Stoner’s Ducati had the advantage over Vermeulen’s Suzuki on the first lap, opening a handy gap in no time. Capirossi also had the benefit of the rapid Desmosedici GP7, and he went into second using superior acceleration the first time back along Rettilineo. Melandri also passed Chris, on the inside through a right-hander, whilst Hopkins finally got the better of Rossi. This made it Stoner, Capirossi, Melandri, Vermeulen, Pedrosa, Hopkins, Barros and Rossi, and meanwhile de Puniet crashed at this early stage.

Ducati were looking good as Capirossi set the fastest lap in behind his leading team-mate, but Pedrosa’s dry weather practice form continued as he went to the inside of Vermeulen to pass him over the start-finish line. Ducati were now one-two, from a Honda three-four, and a Suzuki five-six. Melandri and Pedrosa led the light blue machines, which changed places as Hopkins took over fifth. Rossi, Barros, Elías and Hayden followed in a close lead group.

Capirossi was not going to continue being the Ducati number two, this time out using a different engine specification which seemed to suit him more, and he took the lead on the right-hand inside groove across the line, whilst Pedrosa attacked Melandri on the outside for the first heavy braking right-hander, San Donato. The shuffling continued as Rossi passed Vermeulen, and then Hopkins at the downhill right Casanova. Just before this, Melandri had attacked on the outside of Stoner at San Donato, going by on the inside for the following Luco left-hander.

Capirossi led Melandri, Stoner, Pedrosa, Rossi, Hopkins and Vermeulen, with Barros latching on for an eight-man group. Youngsters Casey and Dani overtook Marco at the line, just before Loris went wide at San Donato, which let his scrapping rivals get past, including John and Valentino. Pedrosa took Stoner’s lead in a right-hander, and Casanova again saw Rossi resume in front of Hopkins. Capirossi now headed Barros and Vermeulen.

The looping final left-handed Bucine corner saw Rossi move into third on the inside of Melandri. Pedrosa again passed Stoner at Luco, to be followed by Rossi at Materassi, the turn four left-hander. Hopkins was also on a roll, passing Melandri at San Donato, with Barros attacking the Honda on the outside. He made the move happen going to Marco’s left and ahead along Rettilineo. The race was on between Pedrosa and Rossi, with Stoner, Hopkins and Barros making it a five-way race as the next three fell back - Melandri from Capirossi and Elías.

With 15 of 23 laps still to run, Rossi made his pass for the lead at the Casanova corner, on the inside. Pedrosa tried to reply on the outside for San Donato, but Valentino was soon edging out to a lead of a few tenths. Stoner, Hopkins and Barros were starting to get slightly spaced apart behind the first two. They raced on with the gap between Rossi and Pedrosa usually somewhere under half a second, but closer still when Dani attacked along Rettilineo and at San Donato, where went wide.

By this time they were more than halfway through the race, and the gap back from second to third now exceeded 1.5s. This was up to three seconds with seven laps remaining, at which stage Rossi started to stretch out a larger advantage over Pedrosa, between 1s and 1.5s. It was still a two horse race, so to speak, but in the last couple of laps Rossi had the better pace, so that these two were spaced out by the flag. Rossi made it six in a row at Mugello, with Pedrosa showing a resurgence for Honda.

Third had been between Stoner, Hopkins and Barros, who were already a couple of seconds clear of the rest by half-distance. Casey was running harder compound Bridgestone front tyres than Hopkins, although this made no obvious difference for a long enough time, as the trio sped on in the same order. However, in the later stages, Barros overtook the Suzuki across the line, chasing after Stoner as the two Ducatis left John on his own.

With four laps to go, Barros was on the attack along Rettilineo, and he passed his works rival on the brakes for San Donato. The pair remained in close contention, but Stoner was never quite in a position to regain his third place, possibly having overworked his rear tyre. Hopkins arrived home in a secure fifth. Meanwhile, Melandri had faded after losing out to Capirossi and Elías, and the younger Honda man took sixth ahead of the experienced Ducati rider.

Vermeulen had got the better of Hayden a couple of times for ninth, and had also relegated Melandri by the finish. Marco and Nicky were next, making the champion the fourth Honda man home, in tenth. Hofmann, Edwards, Nakano, Guintoli, Tamada, Jacque and Kenny Roberts completed the list of finishers, with Kurtis Roberts and Checa joining de Puniet on the non-finishers list.

Valentino Rossi’s win put him back on track for a championship challenge, especially with Casey Stoner off the podium. Rossi took victory number sixty in the top Grand Prix class, and matched Mick Doohan’s record with his 95th class podium. Dani Pedrosa equalled his best finish of the season, and also reignited his own title hopes, and indeed those of Honda. A great performance from 270 GP veteran Alex Barros saw the Brazilian beat the works Marlboro Ducati of Stoner, earning his 32nd podium - his last year without one was 1995.

Barros passed the 2000-point milestone on the day, and his result was the first podium for d’Antín Ducati since October 2004, and Rubén Xaus in Qatar. 2004 was also the last season that a Pramac rider made the top three, when the Pramac Honda Pons team were front runners. Pramac and d’Antín merged in 2005. Meanwhile, Michelin overturned the results of the previous three races, taking one-two and pushing Bridgestone’s lead men into positions three to nine. It’s all shaping up well for another great championship contest.

Standings after six races: Stoner 115; Rossi 106; Pedrosa 82; Melandri 68; Vermeulen 63; Hopkins 59; Capirossi 47; Elías 45; Barros 43; Edwards 39; Hayden 36; Hofmann 35
Ducati 118; Honda 109; Yamaha 106; Suzuki 82; Kawasaki 28; Team KR 4; Ilmor 0


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