This year's pulsating MotoGP season continues at the challenging Mugello circuit in Tuscany, with hometown hero Valentino Rossi set to lock horns with Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso in another epic battle.
That's in sharp contrast to 2014 when Marquez (Repsol Honda) was in red-hot form, which he continually — at least in the first half of the season — converted into victories. Marquez has still shown bursts of his flair and brilliance in 2015, but has hitherto been overshadowed by Movistar Yamaha pairing Rossi and Lorenzo and Dovizioso (Ducati) in the hunt for championship glory.
The irrepressible Rossi has clearly been the most consistent, and is the only rider to have banked more than 100pts in the opening five rounds. Meanwhile, Lorenzo's hit a purple patch with two wins in a row — the only rider to go back-to-back in 2015.
Lorenzo is now second in the standings, 15pts behind Rossi (102 to 87), followed by Dovizioso (83), Marquez (69), Andrea Iannone (Ducati, 61) and Cal Crutchlow (CWM LCR Honda, 47).
Rossi has won his beloved Italian GP seven times, the last triumph in 2008, while Lorenzo's three wins came from 2011 to 2013. However, it was Marquez who trumped both of them in 2014 as he brought up his first premier class win on the 5.245km Ferrari-owned circuit, which is lauded alongside Phillip Island for its sweeping curves and fluid nature.
In fact, the two circuits share much in common, with average speeds of about 175km/h and riders reaching similar velocity down the front straight — close to 350km/h. One manufacturer which will be licking its lips in anticipation is Ducati, which has the extremely fast Desmosedici GP15 at its disposal.
Ducati's only previous victory at Mugello came in 2009, thanks to Aussie Casey Stoner. If Rossi can't win on Sunday, the boisterous and partisan Italian crowd would love nothing more than to see Dovizioso or Iannone get the job done — and an all-Italian podium would be just cause for a national holiday!
“I believe that we can be competitive at Mugello because we have tested at this track recently and we were quick," said Dovizioso. "In addition the team is very motivated: we are at Mugello and this is Ducati’s home race, so we all have that extra incentive to do well. At the last race however we were missing a little ‘something’ and so we are going to have to continue to work hard throughout this weekend.”
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) is another to watch, holding the record for the best ever lap around Mugello. The Spaniard, like a number of others including Crutchlow and Aussie Jack Miller (CWM LCR Honda), crashed in the last round at Le Mans, and he'll now be looking to move his stuttering season up a gear.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 pair Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro have clearly been the best of the rest in 2015, while Aleix Espargarò and Maverick Vinales have been excellent performers for Suzuki Ecstar. The Esparagaros have both been under the knife since Le Mans two weeks ago — Aleix for an injured thumb, and Pol for arm pump issues.
Meanwhile, Miller's biggest Open class rival could be veteran American Nicky Hayden (Aspar Honda), who he was dicing with at Le Mans before crashing.
In Moto2, Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) heads into Mugello as championship leader, but race winners have been hard to pick with four different winners in the opening five rounds — Jonas Folger (AGR Team) the exception with two victories. World champion Tito Rabat (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) is yet to register a victory in 2015, but he's definitely edging closer. Mugello, where he won in 2014, will mark his 150th GP start.
Australia's Anthony West (QMMF Racing) is 14th in the Moto2 standings.
Moto3 provided plenty of last corner fireworks at Le Mans, with Italian Romano Fenati (Sky Racing Team VR46 KTM) winning, and he also prevailed at Mugello in 2014. Danny Kent (Leopard Racing Honda) is still the ace in the pack this year, while 16-year-old star Fabio Quartararo (Estrella Galicia 0,0) is still chasing a maiden win.
Australia's Remy Gardner (CIP Mahindra) improved markedly at Le Mans in practice and qualifying before being taken out at turn one in the race. Expect a strong performance from the son of a gun at Mugello.
The three world championship races at Mugello will be held over the following distances and times:
• MotoGP: 23 laps, 120.6km, starting at 2:00pm local time (10:00pm AEST)
• Moto2: 21 laps, 110.1km, starting a 12:20pm local time (8:20pm AEST)
• Moto3: 20 laps, 104.9km, starting at 11:00am local time (7:00pm AEST)