It has been over six years since Valentino Rossi won back-to-back MotoGP races, but the Italian great could be on the cusp of snapping that drought as the championship heads to the freshly resurfaced Misano this weekend — right on the doorstep of this home town of Tavullia.
In 2014 Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) scored a memorable victory at Misano ahead of teammate Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), sending the partisan crowd into raptures. More success on Sunday would not only create a feel-good element — he would be the second oldest rider to win successive premier class races — but more importantly extend his buffer over Lorenzo in the 2015 championship race.
Of course, crystal balling in 2015 has proven to be a difficult undertaking in MotoGP, not the least because world champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) is languishing back in third position and is now logically — but not mathematically — out of the race for title honours. And Marquez is fully aware of his predicament: "Of course the championship is getting further away from us but we were back fighting at the front and this is definitely a positive.
"We tested at Misano before the summer break so I hope the data from that test can help us with the setting this weekend. It’s a delicate balance getting the bike right to suit the demands on braking at this twisty track and let’s hope the weather is nice."
Both Rossi and Lorenzo (who went testing at Aragon for two days after Silverstone) are three-time winners at Misano, so suitable hustle around the 4.2km circuit isn’t an issue. The upshot is that unless rain hits again like it did at Silverstone, the teammates are going to be keeping close company, with Marquez also playing his normal aggressive part in proceedings.
Misano is one of three circuits, along with Phillip Island and Motegi, where Marquez hasn't had a win in the MotoGP class, and Honda's last win at the circuit was with Pedrosa in 2010.
It all adds up to another tantalising race day, and the ace up Lorenzo's sleeve is that he always qualifies well at Misano, which could give him the edge in the early laps — especially if he's in one of his uncompromising moods.
Rossi currently leads Lorenzo by 12pts (236 to 224) with six races remaining, followed by Marquez (159), Ducati pair Andrea Iannone (150) and Andrea Dovizioso (120), and Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 115).
Pedrosa (102) is next in line after an injury-interrupted year, and he's another perennial fast man around Misano — more than enough sting to bag another podium.
Iannone and Dovizioso will also want to perform with distinction at home, while Smith just continues to churn out solid results as the leading satellite rider in 2015. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) was expected to run all the way with Smith in 2015, but after a podium at round three in Argentina it just hasn't happened for the garrulous Briton — and getting taken out by Aussie teammate Jack Miller at Silverstone only compounded the misery.
Miller was officially sanctioned for his bout of over-exuberance and, after finishing third in the 2014 Moto3 race at Misano, he's heading back to Italy with some optimism that he can again make his way to the front of the Open class brigade.
Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing Ducati) and Suzuki Ecstar (Maverick Vinales and Alex Espargaro) are also in the hunt for top 10 results at Misano, with Petrucci coming off his maiden MotoGP podium at Silverstone — the first Ducati rider from a satellite team to finish on the presentation dais since Toni Elias in 2008.
In Moto2, Johann Zarco's current championship tally (249pts) provides a clear indication of where the Ajo Motorsport-backed Frenchman is at in 2015: it's the highest points total achieved after the first 12 races in the intermediate class since Max Biaggi in 1995. At Silverstone Zarco was a runaway winner yet again, showing flair in the wet as well as dry, and with an 85pt lead over Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) the championship is his to lose.
The ice-cool Zarco is unlikely to drop his bundle now, but the battle for second place in the championship is a tight one with Rins just ahead of world champion and 2014 Misano winner Tito Rabat (EG 0,0 Marc VDS). There's also a similar cut-throat arm wrestle being played out for fourth between Sam Lowes (Speed Up Racing) and Tom Luthi (Derendinger Racing Interwetten). Lowes was on pole at Silverstone before the heaves opened, and turns 25 the day after Misano.
Queensland Anthony West (QMMF Racing) was at his stirring wet track-loving best at Silverstone with a top 10 finish, and heads to Misano full of confidence.
At the British Grand Prix Jakub Kornfeil became the 15th different rider to finish on the Moto3 podium this season. These 15 riders are drawn from nine different nationalities, but there's one rider who hasn't been fond of sharing the victories around: Danny Kent on his Leopard Racing Honda. Like Zarco, he's been a juggernaut in 2015, and only a seismic change of fortunes will deny him a maiden world title.
Kent’s win at Silverstone was his sixth this year; the most GP wins in a single season by a British rider since Barry Sheene won six 500cc GP races in 1977.
As usual, the likes of Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Honda), Romano Fenati (SKY Racing Team VR46 KTM), Efren Vazquez (Leopard Racing Honda), Red Bull KTM Ajo pair Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder and Fabio Quartararo (Estrella Galicia 0,0) will be out to deny Kent at Misano, and Australia's Remy Gardner (CIP Mahindra) continues to find more and more pace. Last week, Gardner also tested a Moto2 machine at Aragon just to keep himself in the groove.
The three world championship races at Misano 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)