Another interesting session. No one was out early in the session, and times being set were in the 2 minute range, after about 20 minutes, it all kicked off. The session provided a few surprises again. Kenny Roberts Jr is still fast, but not as fast as Valentino Rossi, who topped the table with a 1:42.837.
If Spain is the heart of motorcycle racing, Catalonia is its soul. The separatist region along Spain's Northeastern coast positively pulsates with racers and racing history. Of the five Spanish riders contesting the GP de Catalunya, four of them are Catalan natives, all of them born within a GP's distance of the Barcelona race track. But it's not just the riders: Dani Pedrosa's mentor, former GP star Alberto Puig, current MotoGP team manager Luis d'Antin, and Spain's only 500cc world champion Alex Criville are all Catalan. Everywhere you go in Catalonia you see billboards of Pedrosa, Checa and Gibernau peering down at you, posted along swooping mountain roads to die for. A day's riding through Catalonia and you understand why the MotoGP paddock is simply awash with Catalans. So while there was plenty of atmosphere at the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, the Grand Prix de Catalunya will be simply electric. The question is, of course, with so much to choose from, who will the Catalan crowd be backing?
Pride and Prejudice
Motorcycle racing is a sport haunted by injustice. Chance lies waiting at every corner, turning a dream race into a nightmare, where engines can blow, tires can tear themselves apart, or an overcooked corner can end in the gravel traps. But sometimes, Fate takes a step aside, and races turn into a direct reflection of the real strengths in the paddock. That this should happen at Mugello seemed only fitting: great races belong at great racetracks.
It should come as no surprise that the Italians are highly motivated at Mugello this weekend. Valentino Rossi had already jumped up the qualifying rankings at Le Mans, after setting some very poor practice times in earlier races, and had dominated both Free Practice sessions on Friday. Not to be outdone, Ducati's Loris Capirossi had set the fastest time in Saturday morning's free practice session, slashing a second off Rossi's time. The only Italian missing from the party was Marco Melandri, who seemed to settle for running around 7th or 8th place.. So all eyes were on the Italians before qualifying, with much pressure on them to get a pole in front of their home crowd.
As qualifying opened, just about everyone took to the track to try and set a semi-respectable time, yesterday's semi-wet FP2 session still fresh in their memories. The weather seems destined to be a factor this season, and with this in mind, no one was taking any chances. It was clear that the Italian riders were serious right from the start, with Loris Capirossi setting the weekend's fastest time so far at 1:50.133 with over 53 minutes of the session left. Four minutes later, Capirossi broke into the 1:49s, setting a 1:49.819. Most riders having set a time they were comfortable with, the session quietened down, riders concentrating on finding tires and a bike setting to last the distance of tomorrow's race.
Well, I touched upon this in my Mugello round preview, and I'm starting to think I might just be psychic. According Crash.net, Dorna has announced that the San Marino Grand Prix will be run at Misano in 2007. It's not clear whether one of the existing GPs will be dropped, or whether the season will have 18 races, but my money is on either Shanghai or Qatar being dropped to make way for Misano.
The race is to be run on a "heavily modified" version of the track, in the reverse direction.
~~~ UPDATED ~~~
Since I posted this story, Dorna have announced the official calendar for next year. You can find it here.
After last week confirming that he would not move to Formula 1, Valentino Rossi has confirmed that he will be staying with Yamaha for 2007. This will be the first year of the new 800cc bikes, and Rossi is keen to stay with the team that has brought him so much success. You can find the official Yamaha Racing press release here.
Crash.net have an interesting quote from Rossi:
Motorcycle racing, like life, is full of little ironies. One such irony is that despite the fact that three of the five favorites for this year's MotoGP title, the current five-time World Champion and one of the leading factories taking part are Italian, this weekend's Italian Grand Prix at Mugello is the only MotoGP race in Italy this year. And this in spite of the fact that Italy has so many glorious circuits with a long and rich history: Monza, with its majestic and insanely fast Parabolica, the tree-lined Imola, Misano's sweeping Curvone Veloce, and this weekend's venue, Mugello.
The 2006 MotoGP season is certain to go down in history as one of the most memorable, and most surprising, for a very, very long time. Added to an electric mix of new young talent come up from 250s and over from Superbikes, and capable of immediately running at the front, have been a series of racing incidents and mechanical failures which have totally reshaped the face of MotoGP.