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. It is one of the most eagerly-awaited rounds on the MotoGP calendar, taking place at the breathtaking circuit of Mugello in Tuscany.
Leading the World Championship for the second time in the present campaign, Jorge Lorenzo has 66 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 99th 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.
Fifth-placed Marco Melandri is the surprise package of 2009 so far. Riding a 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. 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 Andrea 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 18 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 17 MotoGP riders will participate in 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, 31st May, with practice and qualifying on the two days prior.
Just like in MotoGP, the current series leader in the 250cc class has no room for complacency heading to Italy. Álvaro Bautista and Hiroshi Aoyama have spent the past few races trading places at the head of the classification, although both failed to finish on the podium at the last round in France.
A solitary point splits the Spaniard and his Japanese rival, but it is Bautista who holds the better record at Mugello. The Mapfre Aspar rider took his first 250cc victory at the track in 2007, and started from pole in 2008 although he failed to finish the race.
Aoyama has been a rejuvenated force since his move to Scot Racing Honda for the current campaign, and has proven more than a match for Bautista over the past month. The duo are nearly 20 points ahead of third-placed Héctor Barberá in the standings.
Reigning World Champion Marco Simoncelli won last year at Mugello, and also dominated the recent French round at Le Mans to take his first victory of the year. As in 2008, the Italian is playing catch-up after a disastrous start to the year.
Raffaele de Rosa and Roberto Locatelli head to their home race inside the top six after great results in France. Locatelli returned to the podium for the first time since 2006, whilst De Rosa took sixth place onboard the second Scot Racing Honda machine.
The 125cc class might have a slightly bigger cushion between the championship leader and the second-placed rider in the standings, but the category is still as wide open as the racing on track.
Victory at Le Mans gave Julián Simón a five-and-a-half point lead over Bancaja Aspar teammate Bradley Smith, with the duo yet to engage in a head-to-head battle for victory. Both the Spaniard and his British rival are heavily favoured for glory in 2009, and Mugello could be the race where one of the two establishes superiority.
The win could, of course, go to one of the multitude of other riders participating in the Gran Premio d’Italia Alice. Amongst the prime candidates is home racer Andrea Iannone, whose season has been on the slide – literally as well as figuratively – with two recent crashes to follow up his victories in the opening two rounds. The Ongetta Team I.S.P.A rider was able to pick up his Aprilia after a tumble at Le Mans to put further points on the board, and now needs to regain his form in order to prevent a Simón-Smith escape.
Sergio Gadea and Jonas Folger moved up the classification with respective podium finishes in France, and cannot be ruled out in a battle at Mugello. The fifth round of the year will also feature the appearance of a wealth of wildcard talent from the Italian national championship, as well as the same series’ reigning champion and World Championship rookie Lorenzo Savadori.