With hometown hero Valentino Rossi out of action with a broken leg, the hopes of Italy will fall heavily on Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) when the MotoGP™ title visits Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli this weekend.
In the type of form he's in, Dovizioso could certainly make it five wins for the year and three on the trot after successes at the last two rounds in Austria and England.
Dovizioso leads the championship on 188pts from world champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda, 174), Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha, 170), Rossi (Movistar Yamaha, 157) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda, 148).
“Coming to Misano as leader of the championship is fantastic, even though I’m really sorry that Rossi will not be there, as it would have been great to also battle against him," said Dovizioso.
"In the past the Misano circuit hasn’t been too favourable for Ducati, but a couple of weeks back we did a very positive test at this circuit ma and we are on good form, and so we’ll be trying to take home the best possible result.”
Dovizioso's teammate Jorge Lorenzo has an incredible record at the venue – first or second in an eight-season span from 2007, beginning with a victory in the 250cc race that year.
Moreover, Lorenzo has also been edging ever closer towards the leading pack, and he only finished four seconds behind Dovizioso at Silverstone. He could certainly be the bolter in the pack at Misano, where he was third in 2016 behind Pedrosa and then Movistar Yamaha teammate Rossi.
Pedrosa was well off the pace at Silverstone, but a return to a track he enjoys could well mean another win.
“I’m looking forward to the Misano race and it's a track I like," said Pedrosa.
"There are always a lot of fans there, and an incredible atmosphere. I have good memories there and I've enjoyed some strong results, so I hope to be able to work well in every session.
"A couple of weeks ago we had a test there that went quite well, and hopefully that will help us to get things going in the right direction right from the beginning of the weekend.”
A solid result will see Pedrosa at least move past the convalescing Rossi in the standings, with the latter set to miss at least a couple of rounds as he recovers from a double break in his right leg after a motocross training incident.
That will leave Vinales as the sole Movistar Yamaha rider at Misano, with the factory team choosing not to enlist a replacement for Rossi.
Briton Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) has also hurt himself while training, injuring the index finger on his left hand. He will use a custom-made splint at Misano.
A number of other riders impressed at Silverstone, including Alex Rins (Ecstar Suzuki), Pol Espargaro (Red Bull Factory Racing) and Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Ducati). If the trio can continue its strong form, the battle for top 10 placings could become red-hot in the latter part of the season – and Aussie Jack Miller (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) will want to be a part of the action.
Miller, who will ride for Octo Pramac Ducati in 2018 alongside Danilo Petrucci, was a disappointing 16th at Silverstone, so he'll be determined to make amends a Misano
Two other Italians will compete at Misano: Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Petrucci, while other fast Independent Team riders will be Monster Yamaha Tech pair Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger and Álvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Ducati).
Meanwhile, the round will also have special significance for Aprilia, because exactly 30 years ago the Italian brand took its first GP win in the 250cc class with Loris Reggiani. It was the beginning of a magnificent heritage, especially in the smaller GP classes. Watch out for Aleix Espargaro to be pushing hard inside the top 10.
The 4.226km Misano circuit has some very particular demands over its 10 right-hand and six left turns, and to cope with the high temperatures, abrasive surface and increased stresses placed on the tyres Michelin will offer two medium front specification tyres and one hard, with the same selections available for the rear.
Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) heads to Misano with a 29pt advantage over his soon-to-be 2018 MotoGP teammate Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten).
Last year at Misano, Morbidelli was fifth and Lüthi sixth, while Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Racing Team) was the winner. The other key name on last year’s podium was Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) in third, and he's now in peak form after his win at Silverstone.
Rookie Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46), Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) will also be in the thick of the action.
Aussie Remy Gardner (Tech 3 Racing) will be looking to get back into the points.
Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda) took his third win of the year at the British GP, and the 25pts saw him move into second in the standings at the expense of Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers Honda).
That's all to championship leader Joan Mir's delight on the Leopard Racing Honda – his rivals taking points off each other as he enjoys his 64pt advantage.
The British GP saw something else significant, however, with Enea Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda) taking second and his first podium of the season after a tough year. And the Italian is the rider with the best record at Misano, taking his first win there in 2015 and then coming home a close-fought second in 2016.
Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46 KTM) and teammate Nicolo Bulega will also be pushing hard at home, while Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Honda) will join Mir in the Spanish charge.
The other man to watch could be John McPhee (British Talent Team Honda), after a solid second row start at Silverstone and a number of podiums already in 2017. The British GP turned out tough on race day, so there is some bouncing back to be done for the Brit.
The three world championship races at Silverstone will be held over the following distances and times:
- MotoGP™: 28 laps, 118.3km, starting at 2:00pm local time (10:00pm AEST)
- Moto2™: 26 laps, 109.9km, starting a 12:20pm local time (8:20pm AEST)
- Moto3™: 23 laps, 97.2km, starting at 11:00am local time (7:00pm AEST)