The setting may have been idyllic, but this morning's free practice session for the 125cc class turned into a hot-blooded affair, with four men battling for supremacy. Tuenti Derbi's Pol Espargaro ended up on top, but by the smallest of margins, edging out Bancaja Aspar's Nico Terol and Red Bull Ajo's Marc Marquez. Bradley Smith finished the session in 4th, just under half a second behind Espargaro.
Valentino Rossi put the fear of God into his rivals on the first day of practice at Mugello, leading the session almost from start to finish. He had spent Thursday explaining that his shoulder injury was worse than expected, and dampening expectations. There was no such thing on Friday afternoon, though, as Rossi smashed Casey Stoner's race lap record by over a quarter of a second.
The one question mark over that time was the fact that Rossi used a soft tire to set it, but Rossi thought the soft tires might actually last the entire race. Rossi intends to test that tomorrow, but even if the soft tires don't look like they'll last, the rest of the MotoGP field need to be worried, as the Fiat Yamaha rider was still faster than everyone else on the harder compound.
During the rider debrief, Rossi spent more time explaining about his shoulder injury. "The shoulder gives me pain, the condition is a little better than Le Mans. It's especially better while changing direction, and now I can stay behind the fairing, which was not possible in Le Mans and Jerez. But I have pain when I have to stop hard," Rossi told the assembled press.
Alex de Angelis took a determined lead in the first session of free practice for the Moto2 class, the RSM Team Scot rider dominating for much of the session, leading by over a second for a large part of practice. De Angelis made good use of the new Ohlins suspension fitted to his GP210, as well as a thinner fairing, improving the aerodynamics and saving a total of 5 kg on the total bike weight.
Where the differences at other tracks have been minimal, the gaps are much bigger here at Mugello. Sergio Gadea finished the session in 2nd, over two tenths behind De Angelis, with Mapfre Aspar's Julian Simon a few hundredths behind Gadea. Andrea Iannone rounded out the provisional front row, nearly half a second behind De Angelis.
That pattern is repeated all the way through the field, with a second covering just the top 10, rather than the top 25, as it did at Le Mans. Mugello's greater length, faster front straight and difficult changes of direction are making finding the right setup on the brand new Moto2 bikes much more difficult. At Mugello, the strengths of the different chassis are really starting to make a difference.
After spending Thursday complaining to the press at just how weak his shoulder is, Valentino Rossi came out swinging in FP1, dominating the session almost from start to finish. The Fiat Yamaha rider ended the day with a time of 1'49.751, over a quarter of a second under Casey Stoner's race record lap, set in 2008. Whether the complaints about his shoulder are genuine, or just sandbagging to keep his opponents off-guard, is hard to say until race day, when Rossi will have to do 23 laps of the Tuscan circuit, rather than just three or four in one go.
Rossi's main competition came, as ever, from his teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo came close to Rossi's times several times during the session, but never matched them, ending practice nearly four tenths behind the Italian. The man behind Lorenzo was a surprise, Loris Capirossi taking the Rizla Suzuki to a stunning 3rd place. Capirossi was clearly inspired at being back in Italy, pushing hard throughout the day. A little too hard, as it turned out, as the Italian crashed in the final minutes of practice, losing the front on the way into San Donato.
The first practice session of the day, run under sunny skies and in balmy conditions, kicked up most of the usual names at the top of the timesheets. As ever, it was Tuenti Derbi's Pol Espargaro who ended the day fastest, though he had to work for it, Bancaja Aspar's Nico Terol pushing his fellow Spaniard hard for the result. The two men finished just under six hundredths of a second apart.
The difference between 1st and 2nd underscored just how big the gaps are in the rest of the field. Bradley Smith finished practice in 3rd, over six tenths behind Espargaro, while Efren Vazquez was another two tenths behind Smith. Stipa Molenaar's Randy Krummenacher built on his strong start to the season by finishing in 5th, on exactly the same time as Vazquez. Marc Marquez in 6th was the last man inside a second of Espargaro, while Jonas Folger was the last of the riders less than two seconds behind Espargaro, in 10th place.
Mugello truly is a spectacular setting for motorcycle racing. Truth be told, Mugello is a spectacular setting for any kind of activity, from a leisurely picnic to a high-speed chase through the scenery. But it really is an amazing place for a motorcycle race. The track sits wedged in a valley between a couple of hills, and this generates a huge amount of elevation changes as it snakes its way up and around the valley. To try and give you an impression of the differences in elevation, I took a wander around the track on Thursday evening, and took a few photos to try to capture the circuit from the asphalt, rather than from trackside. You can follow the way around the circuit with this track map, or on Google maps.
With the MotoGP paddock reconvened at Mugello - and it really is a stunning setting for a motorcycle race - the atmosphere is hectic and frenzied, and it's only just Thursday. There are many reasons for that atmosphere, but mostly, it comes down to two key facts: 1) We're in Italy, and 2) We're at Mugello.
Being in Italy means that some riders are on double duty, with Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso doing their usual press debriefs in addition to appearing at the press conference. The usual Thursday pre-event press conference was positively heaving, the room packed to the rafters and all seats taken, a change from most other Thursday conferences. It's not just that every Italian newspaper has sent extra journalists to the round, but journalists from around the world are seizing the opportunity to attend one of the most spectacular races of the year, and follow it up with a few days in Tuscany.
It's not just journalists either: the teams are in the same position. One team representative said they had ten times the number of guests here that they have at other races, sponsors grabbing their chance to spend a long weekend in Tuscany, and enjoying the food and wine the region is rightly famous for.
Thirty four years after the Continental Circus abandoned the TT, fully-fledged Grand Prix machinery has returned to the Isle of Man. FTR has provided the up-and-coming roads racer Olie Linsdell with one of their M210 Moto2 bikes to compete in this year's Senior TT race, to be held on Friday, June 11th. The young Englishman will be riding the FTR bike of a similar spec to the one campaigned by Kev Coghlan. The FTR Moto2 chassis houses a CBR600RR engine prepared to Supersport spec by the Joe Darcey Team, as the spec Moto2 engine prepared by GEO for the Moto2 Grand Prix series is not available to riders outside the series.
So far, the FTR Moto2 bike is performing remarkably well. Linsdell has already recorded a lap of 121.281 mph, almost a minute faster than his fastest lap on his 1000cc Yamaha R1 Superbike. Linsdell's flying Moto2 lap was just 7 seconds than his fastest ever lap on a Superbike, which is fairly remarkable for a machine using a 600cc engine, and given that a lap of the TT course is some eighteen and a half minutes.
It is no secret that the atmosphere among the riders in the Repsol Honda garage is, to say the least, a little strained. The wall which divides the garages of Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa is, more than any other garage dividing wall, a symbol of the problems which wrack the team. The wall divides the riders, but also the technicians and the data, with virtually nothing shared between the two sides of the garage.
The blame for this split has mainly been put on Dani Pedrosa's side of the garage, but that belies the history of problems that the Repsol team has had. Ever since Valentino Rossi took himself and his crew to Yamaha, the team has struggled, and often been riven by strife. Alex Barros was the first replacement for Rossi, but neither the Brazilian nor his teammate Nicky Hayden won a single race in 2004, something that non-factory riders Sete Gibernau, Max Biaggi and Makoto Tamada managed to do repeatedly.
Lucio Cecchinello, the team boss behind the LCR Honda, is renowned for his ingenious approach to raising sponsorship for his team, as he explained to us in an interview last year. But as innovative as Cecchinello is, MotoMatters.com reader Chris Hough felt he was missing a trick. After all, if you are sponsored by motorcycle luggage manufacturer GIVI, why not do it properly?
There's just something odd about having a race on Monday. Perhaps it's just habit formed from over thirty years of following motorcycle racing, but Sunday just seems to this commentator like the natural day to worship the gods (small G) of speed. Not that there weren't excellent rationalizations for having this year's US round of the World Superbike series on a Monday. May 31st is Memorial Day in the US -- a "Monday holiday", which is a peculiarly American way of making sure that we have a long weekend every now and then. The race is held in Utah, which has a high percentage of "religiously active" (PC speak for Mormon) folks and the promoters thought that having the race on a Monday would boost attendance (rightly so, apparently, attendance was the highest ever in the event's 3 year history). Infront, the organization that holds the rights to the series, supported the Monday running because they thought that European telecast viewership might increase due to the lack of competition by other sporting events.
It took only a few hours after the announcement of the introduction of the Moto2 class for speculation to begin about the future of the 125s. With the demise of the 250s, the MotoGP paddock had at a stroke become an overwhelmingly four-stroke paddock, and it seemed only logical that the 125s would quickly follow. Whenever either Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta or FIM president Vito Ippolito was asked about this, however, they denied there were any plans to change. Their arguments were that the 125s were cheap to run, they had plenty of national series to support fresh young talent, and bikes and parts were in plentiful supply. There was no need to change, in their view.
And yet change is coming. According to MCN's Matthew Birt, the 125s are to be replaced by a new four stroke class beginning in 2012, at the same time as the new rules in MotoGP come into effect. The class will be composed of 250cc four-stroke single cylinder machines, MCN reports, replacing the 125cc two-strokes currently being used. The decision has been made in response to the thinning out of the 125cc grid this year, which has come about in part due to the arrival of the new Moto2 class, which has attracted large amounts of sponsorship, talent and public interest from the 125cc class.
The Yamaha team have a long history of running special liveries several times a year, and 2010 is to be no exception. At Laguna Seca, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi are due to run a special paint scheme, to celebrate half a million Fiat 500s being produced. This will be no ordinary paintjob, though. The Fiat On The Web team have come up with an entertaining way for MotoGP fans to help create the livery.
By heading on over to the special M1 Laguna Seca Fiat Yamaha team website, you can upload a photo and have it placed on the bike. You can choose whether you want your picture to appear on Valentino Rossi's bike or on Jorge Lorenzo's M1, but you will need to hurry. The website has only been online for a few minutes as this story is being posted, but already the spots on the fairings are disappearing fast. So if you ever fancied a ride on a Yamaha YZR-M1, this is probably the best chance you will ever get.
It's Tuesday, so that must mean it's highlight time. Once again, Infront Motorsports have added highlights of the weekend's World Superbike races to their Youtube channel, giving you a chance to catch the best of the Memorial day racing in your lunch break / coffee break / motorcycle racing break. And for those of you with more time on your hands, and a fondness for Italian commentary, you can also catch the entire races over on the website of the Italian broadcaster La7. La7 has World Superbike race 1 and race 2 on line, to be viewed in full. Complete with excitable Italian commentary.