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Madness at Mugello

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Matt Roberts | 17:01 UK time, Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Two-stroke engines screamed until they seized, souvenir-seekers dismantled pit-wall awnings and as far as the eye could see down the main straight of Mugello a sea of yellow and red bobbed and swayed to the rhythm of its own raucous chant: "Vale! Vale! Vale!"

It had been a good 20 minutes since Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Casey Stoner had stood on the podium to celebrate their top-three finishes in the Italian Grand Prix, but as time passed the crowd beneath it simply grew more voluminous and more vocal.

Eventually, like the Pope addressing his adoring followers from the Vatican balcony, Valentino Rossi emerged and the crowd erupted. As he waved and took a bow the home hero seemed embarrassed by the whole affair, but he knew as well as we did that if he didn't make an appearance the anarchic bonhomie could quickly turn into a full-scale riot.

Moments earlier the final minutes of our network broadcast on BBC Two had already been hijacked as our coveted vantage point on the race director's platform was invaded by pirate punters and over-zealous carabinieri, who were attempting to eject some of our crew and even official MotoGP security staff amidst the confusion.

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Jorge Lorenzo wins at Mugello (UK users only)

Having already realised that Steve Parrish would not be able make it through the throng to join me for our usual post-race analysis, I had asked former MotoGP rider Sylvain Guintoli to step in, as he will be doing for another veteran racer in Loris Capirossi at the next two rounds in Germany and the United States.

For his impromptu debut as a pundit I thought Sylvain did brilliantly, especially considering the melee we were surrounded by, which made for some of the most challenging live television I have worked on yet. Our floor manager was being pushed and pulled around while we tried to watch replays on the monitor and I had to step in to help wrestle it back into a position that Sylvain and I could see as the director cut back to us. It may not have made for a slick broadcast but hopefully it kept you entertained and transmitted the sense of chaos of that moment.

Sylvain provided great insight into the racing and into the scenes around us and it was worth having him on if only to hear his brilliant French-Leicestershire accent, which has evolved since meeting his lovely wife Caroline while convalescing at the home of family friends following an injury at Donington Park during his 250cc grand prix days. It's not every day you get to hear a Frenchman say something like "He couldn't do nuffing!"

I stood with him on the pit wall at the start of the race and it was great to see a professional rider get so excited by the buzz of the grid. "I jus' can't believe the noise," he beamed. "Ah miss it, ah really miss it!" 'Guinters', as he is also affectionately known, faded from the MotoGP scene after privateer teams felt the squeeze at the end of 2008. But since then he has fought his way back through the British and World Superbike scene, despite some horrific injuries on the way.

Having ridden the Pramac Ducati GP11 in an official test at Mugello he will now return to the MotoGP grid on the right side of the fence at two of his favourite tracks in the coming weeks. And with the likes of the Marc VDS team - who also rolled out their 1000cc 2012 prototype at the test with Mika Kallio on board - joining a new-look series next year, he is just the kind of experienced rider that new teams will be looking for. The same can be said of John Hopkins, another guest on our show last week at Assen, who will ride a second Suzuki as a wildcard at Brno in August.

As for the actual racing at Mugello, it was nice to have a dry day after the damp and drizzle of Silverstone and Assen and the action was every bit as hot as the 54ºC track temperatures.

Jorge Lorenzo's second victory of the season was a landmark one as it signalled a turnaround in the performance of his YZR-M1 and suggested that the traditionally sweet-handling Yamaha can be an even bigger force at two tight and twisty circuits coming up, in Sachsenring and Laguna Seca.

Lorenzo's ride was one of determination and concentration as he patiently reeled in and passed Stoner at the front with some relentlessly consistent lap times. From lap 15 to 23 he went on a charge, which he described in his online blog as "the return of the hammer" – a reference to his "hammer and butter" approach to riding. It was appropriate because, as I said at the time in my column right here on this website, last year he opted for butter and melted.

Lorenzo celebrates his victory. Photo: AFP

Mugello also proved once again the tiny margins MotoGP deals with - a 23ºC rise in track temperature between Saturday's dry free practice session and Sunday's race led to Stoner suddenly dropping crucial tenths of a second off his lap time as his tyre pressure increased, allowing Lorenzo the opportunity to swoop.

I am also pretty convinced that the world champion's confidence and motivation at Mugello had been given a boost by watching his team-mate Ben Spies take his first MotoGP victory at Assen just a week earlier. For any top-level rider or driver there can be no greater driving force than a successful team-mate and Spies' broken duck is great news for Yamaha, if only because it has proved to Lorenzo that he now has a winning package underneath him and no excuses for failure.

Ben's maiden win is not only a much-needed fillip for Yamaha but for the sport in general. Apart from wet weather wins for Dovizioso, Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi, no other rider has broken the stranglehold of the four "aliens" – Stoner, Lorenzo, Rossi and Dani Pedrosa – on the top step of the podium during the 800cc era, which started in 2007 and ends this year. In fact, the last other dry-race winner was Troy Bayliss at Valencia in a dramatic final round of the 2006 season.

In an extended interview with Ben for our programme in Italy he revealed that, one week on, the magnitude of his achievement had finally started to sink in. It was interesting to hear him say that breaking the mental barrier of defeating the MotoGP elite was more of a relief than the personal accomplishment of winning a premier-class race.

Ben is often portrayed as a very serious character and that is certainly the case when it comes to racing – it has to be. However, it is an image he is quite conscious about and away from the track he is good fun and self-deprecating.

Stoner has also been showing a different side to his public persona on our shows in recent weeks, winding up our pit-lane reporter Azi Farni by deliberately calling her the wrong name in interviews.

After his win at Assen he called her Izzy but, worried that people might have thought it was his Australian accent, this time he made sure there were no misinterpretations and went for Lucy! Casey can also come across as a serious character who fans struggle to warm to, so it was nice to see him drop a little gag into his interview at a moment when he was clearly frustrated and disappointed with the race result.

Mugello was our fourth race in five weeks and after a few days off this coming weekend, we have two more back-to-back races at Sachsenring and Laguna Seca. It is a crucial period of a season that is quickly gathering pace. Thankfully for the championship, so are the Yamahas.


  • Comment number 1.

    Thought it was a fairly good Motogp race, certainly the best one for quite a while.
    Lorenzo had a great ride, but i do not think he would have won `if` Stoner did not have tyre issues, there again no `if` has ever won a race!
    With Hopkins getting a wild card ride for Brno, hope this a start for more commitment
    from Suzuki, we certainly need more prototypes on the grid.
    Not sure about these CRTs bikes on the grid next year, just can`t see them being competitive with the prototypes.

  • Comment number 2.

    I wouldn't worry much about the competition gap being TOO big, Scamax. Production WSBK machines can, on occasion, lap almost quick as a MotoGP machine. Look at the 2010 pole times in both series for the circuits they both visit. The differences are Assen 0.5s, Silverstone 0.7, Philip Island 1.1s, Valencia 1.9s. That's on control tyres, and tricked up street bikes. The engines in these things are phenomenal, and dropped into a custom made prototype chassis (as will happen in GP class), the deficit should exist more in the frame and rider, and financial clout, than due to the power train. Don't forget that around mid-decade WCM competed with an engine featuring an R1 crank and because it ran decent pace, Yamaha complained and had them barred.
    As for frame manufacturers, smaller outfits can make decent machines. The Kenny Roberts team for example, running the Honda V5 in their own frame, ran at the front a handful of times.
    So the future is potentially bright, while ever these teams can find enough funding to run, pay riders, and develop their machines. I would expect them to be as quick as the satellite teams and Suzuki, out of the box.

  • Comment number 3.

    Arrived home monday from spending my 1st weekend in Mugello and have can say to anyone who is interested in any form of motorsport has to take in this gp at some point in there lives, preferably with Rossi still racing as it really is the most mental motorsport event you will EVER see. The itailians are nuts! He might be the goat to most people but he is god over there and that was him finishing 6th. Rossi fan or not get over there you wont regret it.

  • Comment number 4.

    Matt, am a huge MotoGP fan here in the states and an even bigger devotee of the superlative BBC Coverage. Thanks to the miracle of the Internet I'm able to view the proper BBC feed albeit a day or so after the race. Think you, Charlie, Steve, and Arni (Lucy!) do a fabulous job and wish your broadcast would be seen worldwide. Really loved the quick glimpse of Suzi on the Silverstone grid a few weeks back. She looks as gorgeous as ever.

    While we did see the throng of Italian fans converge on the podium post-race, I had no idea you were literally besieged by the masses. It now explains why Steve wasn't there and why you had to rely on Sylvain Guintoli who did a bangup job. You guys made it all look seamless indeed.

    As for the race, it was entertaining as ever. Being a Ducati fan I was pulling for Vale and Nicky but the magic was not to be. Hats off to Jorge for reeling in Casey. And nice to see Super Sic cross the finish line and not be involved in any controversy for a change. He'll be on the podium at some point this year, without a doubt.

    From all of the MotoGP fans in Texas we send the BBC crew all the best. Thanks for broadcasting the penultimate coverage bar none!

  • Comment number 5.

    Doh! My apologies to Ms. Farni. Clearly it's Azi and not Arni. I'm as bad as Casey...

  • Comment number 6.

    Paul--hope you are right about the gap between Prototypes and CRTs not being too
    great, but do not forget the pole position times you mention are done in WSB on one lap special qualifying rear tyres, when in Motogp it is achieved with the softer option race tyre.
    Going back to Assen it was good to see Matt having a quick chat to Phil Read. Back in the 70s Read was my hero when he was racing his Yamahas and the MVs, so it was good to see him looking and sounding well.

  • Comment number 7.

    The MVDS suter/bmw bike tested on Monday at Mugello and this was the 1st timed lap by a CRT bike and it was 5.5 seconds off stoner, and that was stoner still on the 800.

    CRT will be the biggest waste of time since the decision to go to 800s.
    Dorna slowly but surely is screwing up this series more and more.

  • Comment number 8.

    A thoroughly enjoyable race with stuff happening all the way through!
    Allow me to echo the sentiments on the excellence of the coverage (bout the only thing worth watching most of the time).
    I must say I'm getting a little bored of the Casey hero-worship around here. Sure, he's a superlative rider, and I have a lot of respect for that. It's the whole rest of his demeanour that riles me somewhat.
    On the other side, what does Dovi have to do to receive a mention on here???
    The bloke's just had three podiums in a row, has only been out of the top four once this season and is third in the championship! I agree with Steve Parrish that he's very unlikely to win the thing but come on, he's only one of three riders to have finished every race (the others being Vale and Nicky). If he was Jorge or Casey everyone would be drooling about how consistent he is.


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