Thousands of Spanish fans, and many observers, including your humble reporter, expected the Gran Premi de Catalunya to be a festival of Spanish racing, with Spanish, or rather Catalan, riders starting from the front row of the grid, to take a Catalan win in front of their home crowds. The fact that most of the Catalan riders are on Michelins, the tires which dominated last year's race weekend, only reinforced this expectation. But this evening, the bars of Barcelona will be filled with despairing Spanish fans, wondering what happened to their local heroes. Sometimes, things just don't work out as you expected.
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.
At a dramatic press conference at the Barcelona race track, Sebastian Porto, Repsol Honda's 250 cc class rider, announced his retirement from motorcycle racing with immediate effect. The 27 year old Argentinian has had a dismal season so far, his best result a 7th place in Qatar, a severe disappointment for the man who came a very close second in the championship in 2004.
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.
Ducati has used their home GP to announce the Desmosedici RR, a roadgoing replica of their gorgeous Desmosedici racer. Specs are very impressive, with over 200 bhp claimed (with a 102 dB racing exhaust fitted) for the desmodromically operated 16 valve V4. No weight or price is given, but expect the former to be low, and the latter to be sky high. You'll also have to wait until July 2007 before you take delivery of your shiny new Duc. It will be exclusive, though, as only 400 are to be produced a year.
You can see a flashy version of the introduction over at the Ducati Website (click on the Desmosedici bar at the top of the page), or a more readable text-based version over at Mike Werner's Motorbiker.org blog.
One interesting question about this bike: The FIM rules for MotoGP state categorically that all bikes running must be prototypes:
- Four stroke motorcycles participating in the Motogp class must be prototypes. Those that are not entered by a member of MSMA must be approved for participation by the Grand Prix Commission.
The question is whether the other MSMA manufacturers will refrain from submitting complaints about the racing Desmosedici if Ducati start winning a lot. So, if, for the sake of argument, Rossi went to Ducati in 2008, and won 8 Grand Prix, how would Honda, or Yamaha, react?
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.
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.