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Aussie watch ahead of the 2024 Italian MotoGP™

Matt Clayton
Thursday, 30 May 2024

Rolling hills, magnificent corners and THE opening-lap TV shot of the year … Mugello never gets old, and there’s stories on and off-track to follow as round seven roars into life this weekend.

There’s temples of two-wheel speed – and then there’s Mugello, site of this weekend’s Italian Motorcycle Grand Prix (May 31-June 2) and the circuit where MotoGP™ thoroughbreds are unleashed like nowhere else.

Want numerical proof? In last year’s Sprint at Mugello, Brad Binder’s KTM was clocked at (no misprint) 366.1km/h through the speed trap on the start-finish straight – the same straight that features a steady climb out of the final corner, a crest with what amounts to a jump heading towards the braking zone for Turn 1, and a slow hairpin to traverse once you get there.

The Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix 2024 returns to Phillip Island on October 18-20, 2024. Register your interest for all the latest ticket information.

It’s an undulating, picturesque and challenging layout with some of the best corner names on the calendar (the Casanova-Savelli-Arrabbiata downhill sequence is as fun to watch as it is to say), and while the crowds aren’t as jam-packed as they were in Valentino Rossi’s heyday, there’s a host of Italian riders (and Italian riders on the sport’s dominant Italian bike) that’ll get the locals through the turnstiles.

The four Aussies across the three world championship classes arrive to round seven with goals ranging from modest to significant; here’s some talking points to ponder ahead of the first of two visits to Italy this year.

Miller faces the music

There’s no sugar-coating it; Jack Miller’s post-race debriefs are getting shorter, more raw and less optimistic – which is a fair reflection of his racing lately as he arrives at Mugello off the back of three straight DNFs, something that’s never happened across 10 MotoGP™ seasons. “It’s a very testing time in my career,” he admitted after Catalunya last Sunday, where he crashed out on lap three and a tick under four minutes into the 24-lap race. His media mea culpa lasted half that long …

“If we can try and work out what the issue is come race time, both Saturday and Sunday, in terms of lack of grip and lack of confidence in the front end … it seems like every time I try to trust it, it disappears or lets go on me,” he explained. A solution to that feeling needs to come fast at a track that historically hasn’t been kind, a sixth place in 2021 the best he’s managed in eight starts.

KTM team manager Francesco Guidotti put an arm around Miller’s shoulder after Barcelona. “A bit of a shame for Jack, he didn’t make any strange move,” Guidotti said. “No big drama, because it had been a good weekend otherwise.” This weekend’s race – and the one-day test that follows – is as important for Miller’s psyche as it is for his statistics.

Agius starting to look the part

Sitting in 16th place in the Moto2™ standings with 16 points after six rounds doesn’t sound like much in isolation, but the arrow is undoubtedly going up for Senna Agius. A week shy of his 19th birthday this weekend, Agius comes to Mugello off a career-best fifth last Sunday at the Catalan GP, and was desperately unlucky to get a long-lap penalty for track limits infringements triggered by being shoved off by Celestino Vietti. Without it, he thought a podium was possible, meaning expectations are high for round seven.

For Moto3™ compatriots Jacob Roulstone and Joel Kelso, Italy is a time to consolidate (the former) or recapture some early-season form (the latter). Roulstone, the Tech3 GasGas rookie, matched his season-best result with eighth in Barcelona, and will undoubtedly be chipping away at his one-lap pace to avoid having to come through Q1, which he’s done in half of his six starts so far.

Kelso, meanwhile, had a run of 10 straight races in the points end in a cloud of gravel trap dust in Spain, a weekend that began with a season-worst fifth-row start and didn’t get a lot better. The BOE Motorsports rider qualified on the front row at Mugello last year, but had to start at the back of the grid with a long-lap penalty for irresponsible riding in practice, and an early fall was explainable and predictable. The qualifying speed without the drama will be on his agenda this weekend.

D-Day for Ducati?

Mugello has been the anticipated deadline for Ducati to announce just who of Enea Bastianini, Jorge Martin or Marc Marquez will partner Pecco Bagnaia in factory red next season, with whoever gets the nod – and the ripple effect that will follow – sure to attract plenty of attention.

There’s a case for all three; Bastianini as the incumbent who has never really got a clear run at the job because of injury, Martin as this year’s runaway championship leader, and Marquez because he’s … Marquez. The potential of the six-time premier-class champion on a current-spec Desmosedici is scary when you consider Marquez has gained 45 places across the past two weekends to take four podiums … on a 2023 hand-me-down Ducati run by Gresini Racing.

Kazakhstan’s cancellation means Assen at the end of June is the next race after Mugello, a four-week gap that’ll be nicely filled with stories and speculation of who goes where should Ducati make their big call public sooner rather than later. Social media could be fairly flammable this weekend …

Italian MotoGP™ fast facts
Circuit name/location: Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello, Italy
Length/laps: 5.25km, 23 laps (MotoGP™), 19 laps (Moto2™), 17 laps (Moto3™)
Grands Prix held/debut: 33, 1976
Most successful rider: Valentino Rossi (seven wins)
2023 podium 1st: Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati), 2nd: Jorge Martin (Ducati), 3rd: Johann Zarco (Ducati)

The 2024 Italian Motorcycle Grand Prix will be available to watch live on Foxtel and Kayo. See our What time does the 2024 Italian MotoGP™ start for Australians? article for timings.