It’s one of the most eagerly-awaited rounds on the MotoGP calendar, and this season there is a title battle equally as breathtaking as the Mugello scenery. The Gran Premio d’Italia Alice takes place this weekend to mark the fifth race of the 2009 season, with the top three riders in the premier class separated by just a single point.
Leading the World Championship for the second time in the present campaign, Jorge Lorenzo has sixty-six points to his name after a blistering start to the year. Victories in Japan and, most recently, France have been the standout results for the Fiat Yamaha rider since the beginning of the season, with a further visit to the podium making up the rest of his total. Only a crash in Jerez has blotted his copybook thus far, something rectified at Le Mans, and the Spaniard is keen to make amends for his 2008 DNF at Mugello with another sterling result.
Trailing teammate Lorenzo by one point, Valentino Rossi’s record at Mugello speaks for itself. Victory at the last seven MotoGP visits to the Italian track give the reigning World Champion an incomparable pedigree at a single circuit. Rossi has won in all conditions and on a variety of machinery at Mugello, but a win is never a done deal with the high talent level in MotoGP. The six-time premier class titlist is gunning for his ninety-ninth triumph and, most importantly, the leadership of the classification in front of his home fans. If any further motivation were needed, Rossi arrives in Italy following a last place finish at Le Mans.
Adopted by a section of the Italian crowd as one of their own, Casey Stoner is level on points with Rossi in a tightly-packed top three. Like his rival, Stoner also finished off the podium in France, meaning that no rider has stepped onto the rostrum at every race in 2009. A win in Mugello would not only be a huge psychological advantage for the Australian, but would also bring delight to Ducati and their fans at the Italian factory’s home race. Stoner has taken a second place and qualified on pole position in the past two visits to Mugello.
Rapidly catching the leading group, Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa is building confidence and fitness with every race. He chased down teammate Andrea Dovizioso for a third consecutive podium at the last round, and has been one of the few riders to give Rossi problems at the scene of this weekend’s race in recent years. He is currently nine points behind leader Lorenzo in the classification.
In some respects, fifth-placed Marco Melandri is the surprise package of 2009 so far. Riding an under-developed Kawasaki Ninja ZX-RR for the Hayate Racing team, the Italian took an unexpected podium at Le Mans in the flag-to-flag MotoGP race. However, despite his setbacks in recent years Melandri’s talent has never been in doubt, and the former MotoGP World Championship runner-up will be out to show as much at his home Grand Prix. He is currently level on points with fellow local rider Dovizioso in the standings.
The Gran Premio d’Italia Alice is also a home round for Rizla Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi and Pramac Racing rookie Niccolò Canepa, who both have extensive experience of the Mugello track. Capirossi’s laps have come over the course of eighteen race visits in his World Championship career -including a MotoGP victory in 2000- whilst Canepa was a frequent visitor to the circuit last year as Ducati’s official test rider.
Only seventeen riders will participate in the first Friday practice session for the Gran Premio d’Italia Alice, as Sete Gibernau will sit out the event after fracturing his collarbone at Le Mans.
The race itself takes place on Sunday, May 31st, with practice and qualifying on the two days prior.