The rivalry between the Fiat Yamaha pairing of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi looks set to escalate this weekend at Mugello.
Lorenzo arrives in Italy nine points clear of his teammate at the top of the championship standings, as a result of his first MotoGP back-to-back win in Jerez and Le Mans.
Lorenzo finished second in last year’s wet to dry race at Mugello, despite crashing his Fiat Yamaha on the warm-up lap.
Jorge Lorenzo says: "I thought my race was over last year when I crashed on the warm-up lap, but the bike was not damaged and I went on to make an almost perfect race in the drying conditions," said Lorenzo. "This year I hope it stays dry on Sunday, but it’s also fun to race here in the wet."
The Spaniard played down his chances of taking a third successive win this weekend during the pre-event press conference, and was quick to point out that he might be leading the championship now, but there’s still a long way to go.
"There is a long time yet before the championship is finished; we have 15 more races between now and the end of the season. We’ve barely started yet. I don’t feel any pressure for this race, or for the championship. This is just one race more to enjoy," concluded the championship leader.
Rossi returns this weekend to a circuit that he’s made his own in recent years, having won seven times in the premier class during his last eight visits to the Italian track. The reigning World Champion is keen to secure his second victory of the season, but is still a little concerned about the shoulder he injured in a motocross crash shortly after the Grand Prix in Qatar.
Valentino Rossi says: "The shoulder stabilised after Jerez, but the improvement has been very, very slow since then," said Rossi, when asked about the injury during the press conference. "When I get up in the morning for about an hour there is still a lot of pain, but after that I can do the normal things like driving the car. It is still difficult to ride the bike though."
The reigning World Champion also admitted that he still feels the pressure when racing in front of his home crowd.
"It’s always great to race here in Mugello. The track and the crowd are both fantastic and it’s a great feeling. There is big pressure, sure, but it’s good pressure."
While the focus has been mainly on the battle for supremacy between the two Fiat Yamaha riders, there is an equally dramatic battle going on in the Repsol Honda pit box, as Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa fight it out for bragging rights as the top Honda rider. Currently it is Dovizioso who holds the advantage.
The Italian is third in the championship standings, just two points ahead of his teammate, after getting the better of Pedrosa to take the final podium position last time out in Le Mans.
The Italian is hoping for a strong performance in front of the huge crowd at Mugello but especially his own supporters, who will be filling the grandstands at the Casanova Savelli turns this weekend. After two podiums in three races, the Italian is confident that the time when he is able to challenge for his first MotoGP race win is not so far away.
"We’ve not fought for victory yet, but we’re close now. If we can improve again then we’ll be up there. It’s a big step up, but not an impossible one," declared the Italian.
Casey Stoner, whose win in the Italian Grand Prix last year ended Rossi’s seven-season run of victories at Mugello, arrives in Italy only 13th in the championship standings, a massive 59 points behind Lorenzo, after crashing out of contention in both Qatar and Le Mans.
With Stoner struggling thus far, it is teammate Nicky Hayden who is currently flying the flag for Ducati. The American lies fifth in the championship standings, after three fourth place finishes so far this year, but is adamant that a podium finish is not so far away now.
Nicky Hayden says: "We certainly started the season quite good, but our goals are a lot more than fourth places" explained Hayden. "The podium is not that far in front, but to really get with the front guys; you know, that next step is the hardest. We have a lot of work to do and, as you get closer to the guys at the front, then those extra tenths get harder because those guys aren’t sitting around, they’re pushing too. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m looking forward to this next stretch."
Marco Simoncelli is a former 250cc race winner at Mugello, but this weekend marks his first appearance on home soil since moving up to the premier MotoGP category. It’s been a difficult start to his MotoGP career for the Italian, but he was quick to point out that he’s no stranger to difficult first seasons in a new category.
Marco Simoncelli says: "The move up from 125cc to 250cc was a difficult one for me, and it’s the same now moving up to MotoGP. Winter testing was very difficult, but since the first race we’ve improved a lot and the last two results were not so bad. For sure I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far."
Earlier today Moto2 stars Toni Elías, Simone Corsi, Scott Redding and Andrea Iannone and 125cc hotshot Bradley Smith all tried their hands at traditional pizza making as part of the official pre-event for the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM, with mixed results!
The riders all learned about the methods of preparing the famous Italian dish at the Restaurante II Rustico in Scarperia, just a stone’s throw from the Mugello circuit where they will race this weekend.
Scott Redding says: "I was quite good at the flipping and turning part, but then I ruined my pizza by adding too much tomato sauce," said Redding. "To make things worse, I almost dropped Bradley’s pizza as I was taking it out of the oven. It was interesting, but I don’t think I’ll be applying for a job in a pizzeria anytime soon."