Italian MotoGP: The PUMA Perspective

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As Monza is to Ferrari, so Mugello is to Ducati, and this weekend PUMA’s partner MotoGP team heads to the scenic Italian circuit situated near Firenze (Florence) for the eighth round of 18 in the 2011 World Championship. The scenic circuit nestles in the Senese Clavey Hills about 30 kilometres from the historic Tuscan city.

A touch over 5.2 kilometres in length, the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello has 15 turns (9R and 6L), and is further characterised by a long straight. Purchased by Ferrari in 1988 and regularly upgraded since, Mugello has a growing reputation as one of the world’s most up-to-date, scenic and safest race circuits.

Its blend of slow and fast turns – many off-camber – connected by sweeping curves and long straights makes Mugello one of the most challenging of all MotoGP venues for both the sport’s riders and their engineers. Having hosted its first MotoGP event in 1976, the venue became a permanent fixture in 1991 after extensive refurbishment.

Being very much Ducati’s home track – the factory is situated in Bologna, less than an hour north – the boisterous ‘ducatisti’ are expected to pack the place, with the team’s star rider Valentino Rossi being very much the focus of their attention.

The legendary nine-time World Champion has won in Mugello an equal number of times in various categories, and the circuit counts as one of his favourites. This notwithstanding the misfortune which befell Rossi (32), who was born 120 kilometres due east of the circuit, a year ago: he fell and broke a leg.

“This track is one of my favorites, and I’ve always done pretty well there. Returning after last year’s accident is no problem for me, because I enjoyed riding here during the recent tests, as I always do. I hope there will be a big crowd and that I’ll be able to do better than we’ve managed until now, because this is a very important race,” said the 32-year-old rider ahead of Friday practice.

Valentino will be riding the Ducati Desmosedici GP11.1, an upgraded version of the GP11 with which he started the season, and one which was honed at the Mugello circuit as the venue is extensively used for testing by the team.

Jerry Burgess, Valentino’s usual crew chief, will not be making the trip to Mugello as the Australian and his wife returned to their home country where she will receive medical attention. Thus his place will be taken by Max Bartolini, more usually Ducati’s Technical Manager, with Loris Capirossi’s race engineer being drafted in to fill the vacancy as the rider will miss the Italian GP due to injury.

Nicky Hayden, racing the second red bike, scored a podium here in 2006, and is another rider who is extremely fond of this circuit.

“Mugello is going to be special for the team,” said the US-born rider, World Champion in 2006. “I know the fans are going to come here and support us, especially now we have an Italian rider. I love the track, although it’s not one where I’ve had great results, so I’m not planning on an easy weekend.”

Honda’s Casey Stoner (136 points) currently leads the Championship from reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo (108), with Andrea Dovizioso third on 99. Valentino and Nicky round off the top five with 81 and 71 points respectively.

Sunday’s 23-lap race starts at 14:00 local time, with qualifying at 13:55-14:55 on Saturday. Although rain is expected in the region on Friday, the balance of the weekend is expected to be dry, with 28C skies forecast for race day.