Fabio Quartararo has topped the final session of free practice for the Moto3 class. At one of the most difficult tracks to learn on the calendar, the French youngster took just two sessions to get a handle on the circuit and set the fastest time. Miguel Oliveira took 2nd, the Red Bull KTM rider ending just under two tenths behind Quartararo and ahead of Danny Kent. Romano Fenati was the first Italian home,putting the Team Sky VR46 bike into 4th place, ahead of the Mahindra of Jorge Martin.
What did we learn from the first day of practice at Mugello? We learned that Jorge Lorenzo is still at the same steamroller pace he was at Jerez and Le Mans. That Valentino Rossi is following a plan, rather than chasing a lap time. That the Ducatis are fast, almost obscenely so, and that's before they put their special Mugello engine in. That Aleix Espargaro is one tough son of a gun. That the Hondas are still fast, when the conditions are right. And that Mugello might just be one of the places the conditions are likely to be right.
Why would the Honda be good at Mugello when it was so bad at Le Mans? Marc Márquez explained in a little more detail after practice on Friday. The biggest problem of the Honda RC213V is the aggressive nature of its engine, both in acceleration and braking. In braking, the bike is sliding more than the riders want it to, and in acceleration, the riders are having to fight the bike's willingness to wheelie and spin out of the corner. Because Mugello is such a fast track (more of that later), the teams have to gear the bikes longer, both for the main straight and for the more flowing corners. Longer gearing means that the engine has to work harder to try to lift the front wheel, taming the power a little. "It looks like here the character of the engine is smoother, also because the final sprocket is longer and then the gearbox is longer," Márquez told us. "The bike is pushing less, the corners are faster and don’t have that big acceleration and that helps us."
This is in part why the problems weren't spotted at Sepang. "In Valencia when we did the test after the race I said, if it feels like this we will have problems next year," Márquez said. With a lot of tight corners which need to be geared rather short, and colder temperatures meaning denser air, allowing more oxygen into the engine, and producing more power, the engine was at its most aggressive. When they went to the Sepang tests, where Honda had brought new chassis and the latest revision of the engine, the bike felt a lot better.
Tito Rabat set the new lap record at the Mugello circuit in Italy Friday to top the second free practice session. Rabat's 1.52.311 put him one-thousandths of a second in front of championship leader Johann Zarco (2nd). The time bettered Pol Espargaro’s former record of 1’52.369 from 2012.
Sam Lowes ended his session another two-tenths back in third followed by Thomas Luthi (4th) and Simone Corsi in fifth.
Rabat, who set a fast pace throughout the latter half of the 45-minute session, set his record time with six minutes left in the day's final practice. The current world champion has not won a race this year and sits 36 points behind Zarco in the 2015 world championship. He finished second at the previous race at Le Mans.
Andrea Dovizioso set a late fast lap with two minutes remaining in the session to take the top FP2 time Friday at the MotoGP contest in Mugello, Italy. Dovizioso's 1’47.479 left him more than one-tenth of a second ahead of second-fastest Marc Marquez. Jorge Lorenzo grabbed third, three-tenths back of the leader. But Lorenzo, a previous winner here, set a consistently fast pace for the entire session.
Andrea Iannone took the other factory Ducati to fourth with Bradley Smith (5th) right behind him. Cal Crutchlow (6th) finished the session a full six-tenths back.
And where was Valentino Rossi, the championship leader who is riding at a his favorite track? Rossi had been running consistently within the top five but ran off track at turn one late in the session leaving him in ninth place, more than seven-tenths back.
The weather is expected to continue to be clear and warm for Saturday's practice.
Niccolo Antonelli ended the final Moto3 session Friday with the top time and the lap record at his home track at Mugello, Italy. The Italian's 1’57.616 was more than half a second quicker than Efren Vazquez who finished the session in second. Isaac Viñales grabbed third, just in front of Miguel Oliveira (4th) and Romano Fenati (5th).
Championship leader Danny Kent ended his day sixth-fastest, eight-tenths of a second off the top pace.
Sam Lowes topped the first session of free practice for the Moto2 class at Mugello, but only by a very narrow margin. The Speed Up rider just edged ahead of Tom Luthi to take first, leaving the Swiss rider in 2nd. Tito Rabat ended the session in 3rd, after running a fast pace in the latter part of practice, and finished less than a tenth of a second slower than Lowes. Simone Corsi ended in 4th, while Johann Zarco finished in 5th.
Andrea Dovizioso has topped the first session of free practice for the MotoGP class. The Factory Ducati rider took advantage of the data collected during the test with the team had here just over two weeks ago, and was very quickly up to speed, being at or close to the top all session long. Only Jorge Lorenzo could break his hegemony, the Movistar Yamaha rider still on a roll from his last two races, and very quickly up to speed. Andrea Iannone was the 3rd quickest, putting in a fast lap at the end of the session, and producing a very close top three: just 0.047 seconds separate Iannone from Dovizioso.
Marc Marquez is another tenth of a second further back, the Repsol Honda rider experimenting with two different swingarms: the new one introduced at Le Mans after testing at Jerez, and the old one they started the season with. Yonny Hernandez took 5th spot, cleverly using a tow from Valentino Rossi to post a quick lap. Rossi himself ended the session in 6th, 0.432 behind Dovizioso, but a relatively good start for the Italian.
Enea Bastianini got his home Grand Prix off to a flying start, topping the first session of free practice in the Moto3 class. Danny Kent ended the session in 2nd, finding some speed at the end of the session after being well down the order early on. Niccolo Antonelli is third fastest, half a second behind Bastianini, and just ahead of Karel Hanika, the first rider on a KTM.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone ahead of this weekend's Italian GP at Mugello:
Press release previews of Mugello from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams:
I shall spare you the "rolling Tuscan hills" patter. That cliché will be trotted out in most of the press releases and previews you will read. Indeed, it is one I have done to death in many of my own previews of the race. Like all clichés, it is based on an underlying truth: the Mugello circuit is a breathaking track, set in a stunning location, and scene of some of the greatest racing over the thirty Grand Prix which have been held here since 1976. So good is the track that it has remained virtually unchanged, with only minor tweaks to improve safety. There are still a few spots which could use some improvement. The wall at the end of the main straight could use being moved further to the left, and the gravel trap on the exit of Poggio Secco is terrifyingly small, but fixing these would require moving some serious quantities of earth about. But this is Mugello, and so we look away and carry on. At least the astroturf has been removed, removing one possible source of danger.
The setting and the racetrack mean that this is always one of the highlights of the year, but 2015 could be even better than usual. It might even live up to the hype, of which there is justifiably plenty. But where to begin? With Valentino Rossi, the man who once owned Mugello, winning seven races in a row between 2002 and 2008, and who is both leading the championship and in the form of his life? With his teammate perhaps, Jorge Lorenzo, who has won half of the last six races here, and finished second in the other half? A Lorenzo, we might add, who is now firmly on a roll, steamrollering the opposition at both Jerez and Le Mans? How about Ducati, the factory just an hour up the road from their official test track, and a place where Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone had a test just three weeks ago, lapping at pretty much race record pace? Or with Marc Márquez, perhaps, the reigning championship struggling during the defense of his second title, the Honda clearly having taken a step backwards over the winter (or rather, taken a small step sideways while Yamaha and Ducati have taken giant leaps forward)?
Perhaps we should allow seniority, both in years and in championship position, to prevail. Can Valentino Rossi do it again at Mugello? If ever there was a year where the Italian could emerge victorious at his spiritual home, this is surely it. Rossi returned to the podium here last year, for the first time since 2009. He had appeared on the podium for each of the three years previously, but only after being called there to greet fans after the real podium ceremony, for the three riders who finished first, were over. Those appearances were painful, most of all for Rossi. He wanted to earn it, be on the podium on merit, rather than popularity. In 2014, he did just that, finishing in third behind Marc Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo. Not close enough to do battle with them, but close enough to dream of more.
MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Planes, trains, autocycles…
Whatever you are doing, drop it right now and plan your visit to the Italian Grand Prix because there may never be another MotoGP race like it.
Ride your bike, jump on a ferry, book a flight, buy a train ticket, strap a tent to the back of that rusting C90 in the back of the garage, share a car, hire a minibus, or hitch, or crawl the whole way, like a pilgrim, backwards.
Valentino Rossi is leading the 2015 MotoGP world championship, riding the crest of a wave, aiming to achieve what will be a hugely historical – not just in motorcycle racing but across all sports – 10th world title, 18 years after his first.
The Suzuki ECSTAR MotoGP team tonight issued the following press release, announcing that Aleix Espargaro's surgery to fix the thumb injury he suffered in the crash at Le Mans was successful. Espargaro will now start his physical rehabilitation, and hopes to be ready for Mugello. His fitness will be assessed next Wednesday, 27th May, and a decision taken on his participation then.
SUCCESSFUL SURGERY FOR ESPARGARO
Team Suzuki Press Office – May 19.
Team SUZUKI ECSTAR’s Aleix Espargaro underwent successful surgery today at the Hospital Universitari Dexeus in Spain to repair his injured right finger from his crash at Le Mans at the weekend.
His Surgeon, Doctor Mir, confirmed that his ligament has been successfully repaired and that the Spanish rider now needs some time to recover from the surgery to a rupture of the collateral ligament of the thumb of the right hand.
Espargaro was expected to spend the night in hospital, but is now at home starting his recouperation.
Dr. Xavier Mir:
“Aleix Espargaro has had an operation on his right thumb with the removal of the ulnar collateral ligament, proceeding to reinsertion of the ligament and a 2mm intraligamentary suture anchor.”
It is ironic that now we are getting into the meat of the motorcycle racing season, there should be so little news to speak of. But perhaps it is a matter of perspective: there is plenty of real news to be found in motorcycle racing, but it is to be found and read where you would expect to find it, in the middle of every race weekend. That is especially true now that MotoGP and World Superbikes have returned to a more fan-friendly schedule, the two world championships alternating weekends again, with BSB, the CEV and MotoAmerica filling in any gaps when they appear.
Then again, at this stage of the season, all of the focus is on the coming races, rather than next year. It is too early for silly season, especially as all the factory rides are locked up for 2016, and even Jorge Lorenzo's option to leave early removed. There are plenty of attractive seats to be filled for 2016: the contracts of both Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders are up at the end of the year, Cal Crutchlow is on a one-year contract, Yonny Hernandez has a one-year deal at Pramac, and the seats at Forward and Aspar are all being filled by riders with one-year contracts. Speculation about those seats will only start in earnest around mid-season, once team managers have half a season's worth of results to start drawing conclusions, and see who might be available to make the move up from Moto2.