The key to success in motorcycle racing is in finding advantage wherever you can, and exploiting it to the fullest. If you are stronger in acceleration than your rivals, then you make sure you get out of the corner first and leave them for dead down the straight. If you are stronger in braking, then you wait, not just until you see God, as the old racing adage has it, but until you have seen every deity imagined by humanity since the dawn of time before slamming on the anchors. If you can turn tighter, you grab the inside line and push the other guy wide. You take what is on the table, and seize it with both hands.
So what about when you are racing in front of your home crowd? Do the cheers of your home fans push you to even greater heights? Does being willed on by tens of thousands of adoring fans spur you into taking more risks, trying harder, riding faster? Going on the number of times that an Italian has won at Mugello or Misano, or a Spaniard at Jerez, Barcelona or Valencia, that is a tempting conclusion to draw. Until you look at the other races on the calendar, and see that Spaniards and Italians have won in Australia, Japan, Britain, Holland. And that Spaniards have won in Italy, and Italians in Spain.
Still, it must count for something. Last year, Valentino Rossi rocked up at Misano with an irrepressible will to win, and cheered on by an ecstatic crowd and the entire population of his home village Tavullia, a stone's throw away, took what was arguably his best victory since 2009. Everything finally clicked into place after his return to Yamaha, and Rossi passed Jorge Lorenzo for the lead, forced Marc Márquez into a fatal mistake, and stamped his authority all over the MotoGP class at Misano.
What Rossi's win at Misano last year did show is just how much difference getting all the details right makes. This was the race where Rossi's changing style started to pay off, and the swapping of crew chief Jeremy Burgess for Silvano Galbusera paid dividend. Rossi, Galbusera and the team all clicked, and produced an unstoppable force.
The Italian returns to Misano leading the championship by twelve points, and with the momentum in the title chase firmly swinging his way. He will want to repeat his performance from last year, and impose his will once again at his home round. If motorcycle racing is all about exploiting the details to gain maximum advantage, then Rossi has a very strong hand indeed. As part of his VR46 Riders Academy, Rossi has spent a lot of time over the past year cutting laps around the newly resurfaced Misano aboard a Yamaha R1. The purpose of that practice, Rossi said, is to work on his fitness, and the fitness of all the riders in the Academy.
There has been some controversy over Rossi's riding at Misano, but the Italian has operated entirely within the rules. The MotoGP rules state that a rider is free to test wherever he likes aboard a standard road bike, with any modifications subject to approval by MotoGP's Technical Director Danny Aldridge. The option is open to every MotoGP rider on the grid. Of course, not everyone lives as close to a GP race track as Rossi does, nor has the financial means to be able to afford it. But Rossi's main rivals do. If Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo or Dani Pedrosa decided they wanted to spend their time lapping Aragon on a Honda CBR1000RR or Yamaha YZF-R1, they could easily do so. Tito Rabat spends most mornings, lunch times and evenings pounding out laps at Almeria, and plenty of other Moto2 riders have done the same.
It may be perfectly legal, but it is also a fairly clear advantage. The Misano circuit was resurfaced earlier this year, the astroturf removed, and one or two spots subtly changed in order to make the track safer, the work undertaken by the brilliant track engineer Jarno Zafelli. There are no major differences, but the subtle changes are enough to force riders to modify their lines slightly. When World Superbikes can to Misano earlier this year, it took the regulars a session to find the perfect line again. Rossi already knows where the perfect line is, leaving his rivals a session behind already.
That does not mean that Rossi will have it all his own way. Rossi may have been indomitable last year, but Jorge Lorenzo has an impressive record at Misano. Since entering MotoGP in 2008, Lorenzo has won at Misano three times, and never finished worse than second. The track suits Lorenzo's style down to a tee, and suits the Yamaha too. It should be even better for the 2015 M1, as Yamaha have made big improvements in areas which are crucial at Misano. This year's bike accelerates better, and brakes better, meaning the M1 loses less ground getting out of Misano's slow corners, and gains ground in the hard braking areas.
Lorenzo may not be operating in front of his home crowd, but that does not mean he will lack motivation. Losing twelve points at Silverstone, a track where he should have held an advantage, was a painful blow for Lorenzo, especially as it was in part due to his second helmet malfunction this season. Lorenzo really needs to seize back the momentum from Valentino Rossi by beating him, and if he can't beat him, then he needs to finish directly behind him. Losing five more points to Rossi would be bad, but not insurmountable. If Marc Márquez or one of the Ducatis get between the two Yamahas, it would have a massive impact on the championship. Twelve points is tough enough to come back from this far into the championship. Seventeen points would be even harder, but still doable. But twenty one points or worse still twenty four points, and any hopes Lorenzo may have of the title would start to get considerably slimmer.
Could Lorenzo lose out to the Hondas or the Ducatis? Like Valentino Rossi, they also have the advantage of experience. The Repsol Honda team tested at Misano back in July, and the factory Ducati riders have been here a couple of times, but in July and August. They come prepared.
That could make Marc Márquez the biggest fly in the Movistar Yamaha ointment. Márquez is undoubtedly strong at Misano, and the test helped the Spaniard and his team work on the issue which has plagued the Honda RC213V all year, the issue of braking. That could be a formidable problem at Misano, with numerous places where riders are braking while leaned over, and wanting the rear of the bike to slide predictably. Having had time already to address the issue during the test, Márquez could once again be fearsome fast around the Italian track.
Teammate Dani Pedrosa is no slouch around Misano either. He too has won at the Italian track, and has finished third here for the last two years in a row. Pedrosa has made a slow recovery since coming back from arm pump surgery, though his results have been getting stronger. The time is now for him to start contending for the podium again, and pushing the leaders for a win.
At Ducati, both Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone will be hoping for big things at Misano. Dovizioso had an exceptionally strong race here last year, pushing Dani Pedrosa all the way to the line for third place. He came up just a fraction short, having to settle for fourth once again, the fourth time he has done so at the circuit. The two tests Ducati held at Misano were mainly focused on getting the bike ready for this weekend's race, rather than testing any new parts. If Dovizioso is finally to break onto the podium at Misano – not very far from his home in Forli – then this weekend is his best opportunity yet.
As for Andrea Iannone, the Italian has been impressive all year, and will be wanting more at Misano. Iannone's record at the track is patchy at best, though he has three podiums to his name in Moto2. He also has a few crashes to his name, the most memorable coming in 2009, when Iannone took out Pol Espargaro in the final corner of the 125cc race, as the pair battled for the win. Iannone then added insult to injury, by headbutting him in fury, despite the crash being entirely of Iannone's own making. An apology followed the next day, but by then, the damage was done.
Pol Espargaro will be hoping for revenge this weekend, perhaps. The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider is having a rough season in 2015, and is looking to make amends. Misano is a track where he has done well in the past, especially in Moto2. With the track also favoring the Yamaha, Espargaro's job should be easier this weekend. He will of course face stiff competition from his teammate. Bradley Smith has had strong results in the 125 class many years ago, and even scored well in Moto2. Smith has been very solid all through 2015, and Misano could be one of those tracks where that hard work pays off for the Englishman.
Danilo Petrucci will be getting plenty of attention this weekend as well. After his fantastic podium at Silverstone, the Pramac Ducati man is due a bike upgrade for his home GP. From Misano, Petrucci will have a Ducati Desmosedici GP14.2 at his disposal, which should help him improve his results. The step between the GP14.1 and the GP14.2 is not massive, but it is large enough to make the bike easier to ride in the second half of the race. It was a GP14.2 which Andrea Dovizioso used to fight Dani Pedrosa for third at Misano last year. That would be a dream result for Petrucci.
Petrucci is not the only rider with new equipment. Stefan Bradl will get the new Aprilia frame used by Alvaro Bautista at Silverstone, which Bautista regarded as an improvement. Bautista has also spent time testing at Misano, providing important input for a base set up at the circuit. But the Aprilia RS-GP is still a long way from troubling the podium, despite Bautista matching his best result of the season at the last race in Silverstone.
Aprilia could be the focus of rider announcements this weekend. It now seems likely that Stefan Bradl will retain the Aprilia seat for 2016, staying to help develop the new bike alongside Alvaro Bautista. The contract Aprilia are reputed to have signed with Sam Lowes means that the Englishman is more likely to head to the Gresini Moto2 squad to take another shot at the title, this time on a competitive Kalex machine. Sources suggest that after a year in Moto2, Lowes will then move up to take the Aprilia MotoGP ride, most likely taking the place of Alvaro Bautista. Bradl looks to have secured a spot in the Aprilia team long term, the German being complimented on the quality of his feedback.
With so many Italian teams and Italian riders, Misano is likely to be the scene of plenty of rider announcements. An announcement on the Aprilia ride could happen this weekend, and would make sense given the Italian factory's strategy. If Marc VDS has indeed decided to sign Franco Morbidelli, then Misano would be the logical place for that to be announced. The future of Danny Kent could be settled this weekend, though again, it seems that the young Englishman is still stuck between the choice of a move to Moto2 and step up to MotoGP. There will likely also be a spate of Moto2 and Moto3 announcements at the round.
The biggest announcement we are waiting for is a provisional 2016 MotoGP calendar. The dates seem largely set, but there are still a fair few details to iron out. The Indianapolis round is still not definitely off the calendar, the circuit keen to keep the race but less keen on paying the fees demanded by Dorna for covering travel and transport costs. That race is key, but the surrounding races are also still not settled. Dorna would like the Austrian round and Brno to be run as back-to-back races, but Brno is keen to have a little more space between the two. Silverstone, meanwhile, would like to hold the British round of MotoGP in June, but Dorna want to hold it at the end of August again. An alternative acceptable to Dorna would be to hold the race there in July, but given that Silverstone is also set to host the F1 race in July, the track is less than keen. Agreement should already have been reached, allowing a calendar to be issued this weekend. If it hasn't then we will have to wait until Aragon.
First, though, the race at Misano. The weather is set fair, and chances of Valentino Rossi taking his first back-to-back victory since the 2009 season are good. But hot weather could make Jorge Lorenzo even more competitive, the tires hitting their sweet spot in the afternoon heat. The circuit is said to have sold over 100,000 tickets, promising a completely packed house. The fans are expecting an epic race at the Italian circuit. Who are we to disagree?
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