Will we get a glimpse of a MotoGP future without Valentino Rossi at Misano? The news that the Italian icon had broken his right leg in an enduro accident will have caused hearts to sink at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, just a few kilometers from Rossi's home in Tavullia. Recent editions have been packed to the rafters. With motorcycling's biggest draw out of action, ticket sales, the biggest source of revenue covering the cost of hosting a MotoGP race, are likely to be down.
How much, is the question, of course. Yes, Valentino Rossi is still unquestionably the biggest name in motorcycle racing, but there are plenty of reasons to be watching right now, and plenty of things for Italian fans to cheer for. An Italian rider, Andrea Dovizioso, is leading the championship on an Italian motorcycle, the Ducati Desmosedici GP17. The racing is closer than it has ever been, with any of five or six riders in with a realistic shout of the win, and a handful more a chance of a podium. More often than not, races are won on the last couple of laps, and surprisingly often, in the last corner. Though the loss of Rossi is an undeniable blow, the show will likely be as good as ever.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the signs are that numbers will be down. There are still plenty of tickets on sale for Sunday at Misano, both in the grandstands and for general admission. Normally, tickets would be few and far between. There is every chance that the grandstands, and more especially the paddock, will be a lot quieter than in previous years.
Even if crowd numbers are down significantly, it would be wrong to see Misano as representative of life for MotoGP after Rossi. There is no doubt that crowds will shrink once Rossi hangs up his helmet for good. But Misano is the circuit which will be hit hardest: it is Rossi's home circuit, close to perhaps the most bike-mad region of Italy, and the area which produces the most motorcycle racers; it is close to Rossi's home, and so many fans combine a trip to the race with a pilgrimage to Tavullia; and as a fan, there are far better tracks to go to, as general admission is restricted to such a small area. The hit Misano takes is not the hit MotoGP will take when Rossi retires
Tough on tires
But enough of the man who won't be there, there is plenty of reason to be excited about the riders who will be present. The track itself is a somewhat limited affair, unusual enough that Michelin will be bringing a different selection of tires to the circuit. The resurfaced track is relatively abrasive, and in combination with the usually high track temperatures, it stresses tires more than most.
So instead of soft, medium, and hard compounds, Michelin is bringing hard compounds front and rear, and a choice of two medium compounds front and rear. At the front, the difference between the two tires is in the profile, one choice using this year's profile, the other featuring the profile used last year. At the rear, the difference between the two medium tires is in the rate at which the rear tire warms up, for use should temperatures be cooler.
That is entirely possible. The forecast for the weekend is mixed, with high temperatures expected on Saturday afternoon, but rain showers and colder conditions expected on Friday and Sunday morning. As so often this year, conditions will make it hard to find the perfect setup come the race.
For the satellite teams, at least. The factory teams find themselves in a much better situation, or at least five of the six teams in MotoGP do. All of them bar Suzuki have tested recently at Misano, working mainly on race setup, with a couple of notable exceptions. So Aprilia, Ducati, Honda, KTM, and Yamaha all turn up at Misano pretty much ready to roll.
Testing pays off?
Who does the testing benefit most? Hard to say. Yamaha used the test to roll out their 2018 chassis, which found such favor that it was used at Silverstone, if paddock gossip is to be believed. Yamaha has a strong record at Misano, with Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo having won six of the ten races held at the circuit since it returned to the calendar. But Rossi is absent with injury, and Lorenzo is on a Ducati, so the pressure is on Maverick Viñales.
The young Spaniard's record at Misano is not exceptional – a single podium in Moto3 – but new-found confidence in the M1 should give him the boost he needs. Rossi's absence may also help Viñales; there has been a consistent level of tension in the Movistar Yamaha garage, as Rossi and Viñales have tussled over who is control there. With Rossi gone, Viñales is clearly in the driving seat, and Yamaha will focus all of their attention on him. Viñales must now focus all his attention on using that to regain the upper hand in the title chase.
A revitalized Viñales could be a significant problem for Marc Márquez. The Repsol Honda rider saw his lead in the championship go up in a literal cloud of smoke, when his engine let go during the race at Silverstone. While the loss of that engine will not cause a problem for his season – factories are now so good at juggling the seven engines they are allowed for the season that the loss of one is at worst a minor logistical inconvenience – losing 25 points is much more painful. He now trails Andrea Dovizioso by 9 points, and is just 4 points ahead of Maverick Viñales. That redefines what a good result would be for Márquez. He must now finish ahead of Viñales to keep the charging Spaniard at bay, while trying to minimize any loss to Dovizioso. The tracks coming up favor the Honda over the Ducati, but Márquez cannot afford to throw any more points away.
Marc Márquez may need a good result at Misano, but not as much as his teammate Dani Pedrosa. The Repsol Honda rider trails Dovizioso by 35 points, and though there are still six races to go, he cannot afford to lose any more. Fortunately for Pedrosa, this is a track he excels at. He has two victories at the Italian circuit, and was robbed of the chance of another victory – and a possible shot at the title – in 2012, when a tire warmer stuck to his front brake disc and caused him to start from the back of the grid. He did not survive Misano's treacherous first corner, Hector Barbera clipping Pedrosa's rear wheel and taking the Repsol Honda man down, along with any hope Pedrosa may have had of the title.
It could be third time lucky for Pedrosa. The Spanish veteran has made real progress in recent rounds, and the 2016 tire which Michelin have brought could play right into his hands. This was the front tire which made Pedrosa invincible at Misano last year. Could it be a recipe for a repeat in 2017?
It is hard to overstate just how big a race this is for Andrea Dovizioso, and for Ducati. The circuit has not been kind to the Italian manufacturer, having only racked up a single victory at the track, with the mercurial Casey Stoner in 2007. They have had a couple of podiums, including one with Valentino Rossi in 2012. That is more than Dovizioso has had: the Italian has never stood on the box at Misano, just missing out three times to finish fourth.
If the omens are not good, there is reason for Dovizioso to be optimistic. The Italian has become a master of tire management, especially adept at judging when to make a difference at the end of the race. He has also seized opportunities when they have been offered to him, using testing to good advantage. If there is a rider who understands what it will take to win at Misano, it is surely Andrea Dovizioso.
Dovi's Ducati teammate is perhaps the most intriguing prospect at Misano. If Jorge Lorenzo is one thing, it's a confidence rider. When he has the right feeling and the right feedback, he is unstoppable. That feeling can come from a lot of places: good grip is crucial, especially from the front tire. A track layout he likes can make a massive difference, the flow of the tarmac tapping directly into Lorenzo's racing instinct.
Lorenzo loves Misano. He has never finished a race off the podium, though he managed to crash out of the 2015 race when he pushed too early on cold slick tires. Since MotoGP returned to Misano, Lorenzo has four victories (including one in 250s), four second places, and a third place. The relatively new surface (2015) still provides a lot of grip, and Lorenzo's Ducati fortunes have been reversed since the Italian factory rolled out its aerodynamic package. The downforce from the pseudo-winglets keep the front tire on the ground, and that puts Lorenzo's head back in the game.
Aprilia are due to roll out a new fairing at Misano with their own aerodynamic upgrade. It is, to quote the press release, designed to fit the latest understanding of the rules. That suggests something very much along the lines of the Ducati. Aleix Espargaro will be using the new fairing, though whether Sam Lowes will be able to – he has been running the initial aerodynamic fairing design throughout the season so far – is unclear. The aerodynamic rules are confusing for everyone, including those of us who are supposed to know about them. We can only hope that Aprilia has had Technical Director Danny Aldridge sign off of them.
Aero or no, expectations for Aprilia should be strong. The bike should suit the hard braking zones at Misano, and the latest engine update with much better acceleration should help the bike get out of corners like Quercia and Tramonto. Aleix Espargaro is hungry for success, and it's time the bike held together for long enough for the Spaniard to obtain it.
Young, gifted, and whack
If VR46 himself is missing, his Riders Academy is exceptionally well represented in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes, and hopes will be high for a good result from them. They make frequent use of the Misano circuit for training, riding Yamaha R6s to keep themselves accustomed to the speed of racing on tarmac, as well as their training on various types of dirt.
Franco Morbidelli has a tight grip on the Moto2 class, and can make that even tighter at Misano. His main rival is likely to be Mattia Pasini, the Italian veteran who has been reborn this season. Though Pasini is too far behind to be in contention for the title, he is hungry for wins, and at his home race (Pasini hails from Rimini, a few kilometers up the coast from Misano), he will be a tough man to beat.
In Moto3, all eyes will once again be on Joan Mir. The Spaniard has a comfortable lead in the championship, and has only to hold his own to manage his lead over his rivals. The Italians will be out for his blood at Misano, however, with Romano Fenati, and especially Sky VR46 riders Andrea Migno and Nicolo Bulega keen to make a stand. Moto3 is always the best race of the weekend, and there is no reason to believe that this weekend will be any different.
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