Some good weather was due for the lightweight class and the lightly clouded sky with twenty degrees air temperature showed off the Italian track in all its glory. And the local boys made it proud in the first practice session, Romano Fenati making a late jump to the top of the timesheets, with a time a little over a second off his own pole time from last year.
The measure of a rider's importance is the number of journalists which turn up at their media debriefs, held every day over the course of a MotoGP weekend. There is more than one to define importance, of course. Factory riders garner more media attention than satellite riders. Riders battling for the championship draw bigger crowds than riders at the tail end of the title chase. And sometimes, an incident can create a lot more interest in a rider than they usually draw.
All of these factors came together on Thursday afternoon to draw a huge pack of journalists, photographers, and TV crews into the Movistar Yamaha hospitality unit. They came to hear, and more importantly, see Valentino Rossi speak publicly for the first time since he was hospitalized by a motocross crash a week ago today. The sport's biggest star, battling for the championship, risking serious injury while training. No wonder the place was heaving.
Valentino Rossi has passed a medical examination at the Mugello Circuit for his home race. The Italian will now take part in practice on Friday, with the objective of preparing for the race on Sunday.
Below is the press release issued by Yamaha:
ROSSI DECLARED FIT TO RIDE AT MUGELLO
The Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Team look forward to starting their home race with their original rider line-up for this weekend‘s Gran Premio d'Italia Oakley.
Scarperia (Italy), 1st June 2017
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP‘s Valentino Rossi is declared fit to participate in this weekend‘s Gran Premio d'Italia Oakley.
There are a lot of reasons to love Mugello. First, there is the setting: a dramatic backdrop of Tuscan peaks and dales. A place so fecund you need only stretch out your arm to grasp the riches of the earth: nuts, fruit, wild mushrooms, stag and boar. To the south, Florence, one of the marvels of the Renaissance and city so beautiful it breaks your heart to look upon it alone. At every bend in the road on the way to the circuit, the view takes your breath away. And there are a lot of bends. Hypoxia is a real concern.
Then there's the track itself. It snakes across the landscape like a discarded shoelace, a thin filament of tarmac hugging the hillsides of the valley into which the track is wedged. It has everything a motorcycle track needs to make it truly majestic: long, fast corners like the Arrabbiatas; fast combinations like Casanova/Savelli or Scarperia/Palagio; a terrifyingly fast front straight where the braking point is blind; and a corner where front brakes and front tires are tortured, as riders dump their speed into San Donato.
No pass at Mugello is ever a done deal, there is always an opportunity to counterattack. No bike has outright superiority at the track, for the nature of motorcycle dynamics is compromise, and each manufacturer chooses to make their compromises in different areas. Mugello rewards only perfection, and perfection is almost impossible to sustain for 23 laps at such blistering speeds.
When Valentino Rossi crashed his motocross bike while training last Thursday, he triggered a wave of speculation on just how serious his injuries were. It was clear that there was reason for concern, as the Italian had been taken straight from the motocross track at Cavallara to the emergency room at Rimini hospital. The fact that he was kept in overnight made it even more worrying.
Initial reports from local newspapers and websites validated such concerns. There were reports that Rossi had fractured one or more ribs, that he had injured his shoulder, even that he had taken a blow to the head and had picked up a concussion as a result.
That presented the Movistar Yamaha team with a serious problem. One which they have handled with considerable subtlety and expertise, it has to be said. Their first and major priority was to control the narrative around Rossi's injury, giving the media the information they wanted, while keeping their options open.
However, despite their careful information strategy, if you read between the lines, there was clearly more going on than met the eye. In all of their press releases, Yamaha were treading a fine line between being as honest as possible about Rossi's injuries, while leaving underlying questions unanswered.
Sunday’s Italian GP marks one-third distance in the 2017 MotoGP championship, but Mugello may be the start of a new championship
There is no part on a racing motorcycle more important than the front tyre. Everything comes from the front tyre: the all-important rider feel, corner-entry speed, mid-corner speed and therefore corner-exit speed.
And this weekend Michelin changes its front tyre for the remaining 13 races; from the 06, used at the first five races, to the 70, which features a stiffer casing.
Everyone knows it was Valentino Rossi who preferred the 70 from preseason testing, but the majority preferred the 06, so the 70 was put aside and everyone went racing with the 06. But as soon as riders started digging deeper, most realised they wanted a stiffer front, which would deform less during braking and entry.
Sylvain Guintoli is to replace Alex Rins at Suzuki from the next race at Le Mans onwards, until Rins is fit to return. To help him prepare for his return to MotoGP, Guintoli will test the Suzuki GSX-RR on Monday, at the official test.
Choosing the Frenchman to replace Rins at Le Mans is an obvious choice. Guintoli has previous experience in MotoGP, having ridden a Yamaha and Ducati in 2007 and 2008. Guintoli even led the MotoGP race at at wet Le Mans back in 2007, before crashing out in front of his home crowd. He is currently racing in BSB for Bennetts Suzuki, and with BSB on a hiatus until mid June, Guintoli will also be available for Mugello.
The 2017 MotoGP calendar is now officially confirmed. The FIM removed the provisional status of the calendar after Dorna finalized contracts with the two remaining circuits still left with an asterisk, Silverstone and Sepang.
The situation with Sepang had been settled earlier, with Sepang keen to retain a MotoGP race for the long term. Sepang has grown to become one of the best-attended races on the calendar. So large are the crowds that they now easily outnumber attendance for F1, which the circuit is trying to drop.
The FIM today issued a revised and updated version of the provisional 2017 MotoGP calendar. The calendar features just a single change: the date of the German round of MotoGP at the Sachsenring has been moved forward two weeks, and will now take place on 2nd July.
The change has both benefits and disadvantages. On the plus side, moving the date of the Sachsenring race means that the riders now have a proper summer break again, with a month off to recover between the Sachsenring and the following race at Brno. Under the previous calendar, they had only three weeks between the German and Czech Grand Prix.
In two races, Valentino Rossi has cut his deficit to Marc Márquez by 35 points. He now trails the Repsol Honda rider by 42 points. All of a sudden, Márquez' lead in the championship looks a good deal less dominant, despite the Spaniard already having wrapped up the 2016 title at Motegi. Márquez' crashes at Phillip Island and Sepang have kicked off a whirlwind of "what ifs" among Valentino Rossi fans. The elusive tenth title suddenly seems a good deal closer than it was four or five races ago.
The one "what if" on the tip of fans' lips is the engine blow up at Mugello. The two Movistar Yamahas had a small but comfortable gap over Marc Márquez, and Rossi was clearly stalking Jorge Lorenzo. It was a matter of when, not if Rossi would pass his teammate. But on lap 8, Rossi's engine let go, just as Lorenzo's had in the morning. He was out of the race, and went from trailing Márquez by 7 points to being 27 points behind the Spaniard. Had Rossi won at Mugello, he would have gained 29 over Márquez (25 for the win, plus the 4-point differential between second and third for Márquez). That would have given the 2016 title a very different aspect.