Nature abhors a vacuum. On a day when Marc Marquez uncharacteristically slid out of the mix, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi stepped up to fill it. With an Italian icon and two Ducatis on the podium, it was another great day to be Italian. (Even if they don’t exactly have a government at present.) The 2018 standings have tightened up to some extent. Enough, at least, to hold our attention for a few more rounds.
Practice and Qualifying
Friday’s two practice sessions produced a few surprises. Maverick Viñales – remember him? – had it going on, as did rookie Franco Morbidelli on the usually moribund Marc VDS Honda. Several high-profile riders, including Dovizioso (our pick to win the race), Dani Pedrosa and Alex Rins were on the outside looking in on Friday night. Suzuki roughneck Andrea Iannone, hours after declaring Suzuki had washed its hands of him for next year, put himself at the top of the heap in an effective show of spite.
In FP2, Dovizioso set the fastest top speed ever recorded in MotoGP, exceeding what the Federal Aviation Administration calls ‘liftoff speed,’. Meanwhile Michele Pirro, on a Ducati GP18 wildcard, executed a 160-mph high-side at the end of the main straight, going all ragdoll and ending up in the hospital with a concussion and a dislocated shoulder, a testament to the technical prowess of Alpinestars and Arai. (While his injuries kept him out of Sunday’s race, he is lucky not to have become Humpty Dumpty. In the photo of him giving the thumbs up from his hospital bed, he looked as if he had fallen from the upper deck of Yankee Stadium.)
FP3 on Saturday was a different story. Marquez set the fastest lap in the history of Mugello while Dovizioso was able to sneak into Q2 by the skin of his teeth. Rins found something on Saturday, but Pedrosa, Jack Miller and Viñales were shunted off to the Q1 corral. Interesting to note that at the end of free practice, #3 and #4 were Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, giving the day a bit of a vintage feel. This feeling would arise again after the race.
Q1 held little drama, other than the continued sufffering of Pedrosa, who was unable to crack the top ten at all until Q1, ending up 20th on the grid. Viñales and Miller made it into Q2, which was a different story, as rider after rider broke the old track record (putting the author at 3 out of 4 for the season, batting .750). In a bit of poetic justice, the much-maligned (by me) Doctor Rossi laid down the fastest lap EVER at Mugello while securing pole, joined on the front row by The Squishy-Soft Spartan and Viñales. Two Yamahas on the front row after months of singing the blues. Iannone, Danilo Petrucci and Marquez on Row 2. Several balloons popped as Dovi could manage only 7th, Johann Zarco 9th, and Miller 11th. None of which, to my way of thinking, would have much to do with Sunday’s race result. Wrong again.
By the time the main event rolled around, the racing surface was approaching 50° C, the hottest conditions of the weekend. Marquez had found success in the morning warm-up going with the hard front/hard rear combination, which would help him hold up later in the race. By comparison, both Rossi and Dovizioso went with hard/medium, and Mr. Softee, Lorenzo, went with medium/soft. Before the lights went out, we were thinking we’d already seen this movie, in which Lorenzo takes off like a scalded cat only to get devoured in the second half of the race.
Not today. In a salute to Michelin, Lorenzo was able to make the softer rubber hold up all day after taking the holeshot at the start. He fought off a challenge from Marquez, who crashed on Lap 5, and began creating a bit of a working margin on his pursuers, who included Rossi, Iannone and Dovizioso. Later in the race, Petrucci showed up, with Rins tagging along on his own factory Suzuki.
By mid-race, it was clear that Dovizioso, running second, wasn’t going to challenge Lorenzo, nor was Rossi, sitting happily in third, going to challenge Dovizioso. On Lap 12, Petrucci went through into third place, visions of an all-Ducati podium dancing in the head of Gigi Dall’Igna. But Petrucci’s tires went up with about six laps left, allowing both Rins and Cal Crutchlow through, demoting him to a demoralizing 7th. Which is more than his rival and competitor for a factory ride in 2019, Jack Miller, could say, as he crashed out on Lap 2, joining Dani Pedrosa, Scott Redding, Karel Abraham and Tom Luthi in making early exits from the proceedings.
So, what did we learn today? That Jorge Lorenzo is, somehow, BACK? No. He admitted as much himself in the post-race presser, in which he said the track and the conditions need to be right, as they were today, for him to compete for a win. That Marc Marquez is, somehow, beatable, having finished out of the points twice this season? Not really; it’s way too early to think of this as a thing. That Valentino Rossi is, somehow, at age 39, still capable of competing at a high level? Absolutely. Though he still hasn’t won at Mugello since 2008, he gave the fans a show. (And while 40 is not the new 30 in MotoGP, third place on the podium is as good as a win for Rossi in 2018.) That age and experience can still, on occasion, beat young and quick? Yes. Lorenzo (31), Dovizioso (32) and Rossi (39) dusted the likes of Marquez (25), Viñales (23) and Rins (22). Mugello respects its elders.
The Big Picture
Marc Marquez’ lead at the top has been cut from 36 points over Viñales to 23 points over Rossi. Viñales in 3rd and Iannone in 7th are separated by seven points. Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller are slugging it out for 8th, while Lorenzo has suddenly appeared in the top ten, if only for the moment.
In our preview the other day, we suggested at least one of the top five riders might hit the floor today; Marquez and Miller complied. We suggested that Andrea Dovizioso needed to come through at his home crib, which he did, to the tune of +20 points. We thought Petrucci, Rossi and, yes, Jorge might make some noise. Check. We commented during the week how qualifying had little to do with race results, and were wrong, despite Maverick Viñales having started 2nd and finished 8th. We thought Johann Zarco might carry the colors for Yamaha; he finished 10th. Just goes to show that if one makes enough predictions, a few are likely to work out.
Once again, the Moto3 race was breathtaking. Teammates Jorge Martin and Fabio Di Gianntonio on the Del Conca Gresini Hondas fought it out all day with KTM’s Marco Bezzecchi. At the flag, Martin crossed the line first, a full .019 seconds ahead of Bezzecchi, with DiGianntonio lagging another .024 back. Three riders within half a second at the flag. Another day at the office in Moto3.
Moto2 was equally compelling. Both Marcel Schrotter and Mattia Pasini crashed out of the lead, Schrotter failing to complete a single lap. The front group then consisted of Miguel Oliveira on the KTM versus Lorenzo Baldassarri on the Pons HP40 Kalex and, at the end, rookie Joan Mir on the Marc VDS Kalex. Francesco Bagnaia, on his way to the Pramac Ducati MotoGP team next year, finished fourth. Once again, all four riders finished within half a second of Oliveira. Prior to the race it was reported that Mir would be signing a contract with the Suzuki ECSTAR team to ride alongside Alex Rins beginning next year. THAT will become a formidable team.
The announcers were speculating whether today’s win by Lorenzo would save his seat on the factory Ducati team next year. I’m thinking maybe, as long as the impossibly proud Lorenzo is willing to take about a 75% pay cut, which doesn’t seem likely. The speculation continued later, with Petronas, the massive Malaysian energy company, rumored to be considering a leveraged buyout of the Marc VDS team and forming a satellite Yamaha team fronted by Lorenzo and Syahrin. Such a team would, presumably, give way to a Rossi-run SkyVR46 team in 2021.
Back to Spain in Two Weeks
The flying circus returns to Barcelona in two weeks, to Montmelo, the favorite track of those whose favorite track isn’t Mugello. Today was a day for the Italians; June 17th is likely to be a day for the Spaniards. To give you, the reader, something over which to ruminate in the interim, your newest tranching tool follows.
Tranche 1: Marc Marquez
Tranche 2: Rossi, Dovizioso, Iannone, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Zarco, Viñales, Miller
Tranche 3: Lorenzo, Pedrosa, A Espargaro, Rins, Rabat
Tranche 4: Nakagami, P Espargaro, Morbidelli, Bautista, Syahrin
Tranche 5: Abraham, Redding, Luthi, Simeon, Smith
|2018 MotoGP Mugello Results|
|1||Jorge Lorenzo||Ducati Corse||41:43.230|
|2||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+6.370|
|3||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+6.629|
|4||Andrea Iannone||Suzuki Ecstar||+7.885|
|5||Alex Rins||Suzuki Ecstar||+7.907|
|6||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda Castrol||+9.120|
|7||Danilo Petrucci||Alma Pramac Ducati||+10.898|
|8||Maverick Viñales||Movistar Yamaha||+11.060|
|9||Alvaro Bautista||Angel Nieto Ducati||+11.154|
|10||Johann Zarco||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||+17.644|
|11||Pol Espargaro||Red Bull KTM||+20.256|
|12||Hafizh Syahrin||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+22.435|
|13||Tito Rabat||Reale Avintia Ducati||+22.464|
|14||Bradley Smith||Red Bull KTM||+22.495|
|15||Franco Morbidelli||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+26.644|
|16||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||+39.311|
|17||Xavier Simeon||Reale Avintia Ducati||+1:01.211|
|18||Takaaki Nakagami||LCR Honda Idemitsu||+5 Laps|
|DNF||Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia Gresini||4 Laps|
|DNF||Jack Miller||Alma Pramac Ducati||22 Laps|
|DNF||Thomas Luthi||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||22 Laps|
|DNF||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||–|
|DNF||Karel Abraham||Angel Nieto Ducati||–|
|DNF||Scott Redding||Aprilia Gresini||–|
|2018 MotoGP Top 10 Standings After 6 Rounds|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||95|
|2||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||72|
|3||Maverick Viñales||Movistar Yamaha||67|
|4||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||66|
|5||Johann Zarco||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||64|
|6||Danilo Petrucci||Alma Pramac Ducati||63|
|7||Andrea Iannone||Suzuki Ecstar||60|
|8||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda Castrol||56|
|9||Jack Miller||Alma Pramac Ducati||49|
|10||Jorge Lorenzo||Ducati Corse||29|