Alex Hofmann: Mugello Round Up

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Ah

There is absolutely no getting away from it: In Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, PUMA’s MotoGP partner Ducati suffered yet another tough race, with the team performing well below expectations at a track which both riders know virtually better than any other.

Yes, there are reasons for it, such as wet weather just when the team needed to test stuff on the new Ducati Desmosedici GP11.1, which is basically the 2012 chassis fitted with the current 800cc engine. Having introduced it two races ago as replacement for the GP11, the team is still developing the bike, so the last thing they needed was rain, yet that is precisely what they got on both Friday and Saturday – as happened during last week’s Dutch TT round in Assen.

So qualifying in Mugello didn’t go too well for star rider Valentino Rossi, who complained about a lack of front and rear ‘feel’ under braking and turn in, and therefore the seven-time Mugello winner could only qualify 12th. From there he was always going to have a long race.

The team tweaked the rear-end and changed the weight distribution before the race. It seemed to work, as Valentino was able to fight his way through the pack to end sixth, but that is still five places from where the team and rider hoped to be. However, all credit to Valentino: After the race he went up to the fans and thanked them for their support, and explained that the team was working very hard at catching up.

It was typical of Valentino, and something only he can pull of as well as he did. It illustrates why he is so popular even when things aren’t going well for him or his team.

His team-mate Nicky Hayden was also desperate to do well for the fans, and he qualified ninth, moving up to sixth by the end of the first lap of the race. Unfortunately he then made a small mistake, ending up in the gravel. Although he managed to keep the bike upright, the time lost meant he slipped to the back, meaning he faced a hard fight.

He eventually finished tenth, scoring a point. But I think that without the ‘off’ Nicky would have finished fifth or sixth; certainly would have been up there with Valentino, which would have been encouraging. Nicky should be getting his GP11.1 soon, which will help the team as that will enable them to double up on development time during race weekends.

His bike is currently being assembled, with the delay being down to the racing programme, developing the bike for next year when engine sizes go up to 1000cc, and getting a decent stock of spare parts together. I’m told Nicky should have the GP11.1 within two or three races.

After Saturday’s qualifying we all thought it would be a walkover for Championship leader Casey Stoner, Ducati’s 2007 World Champion. He stuck his Honda on pole, then took an early lead before losing his rear tyre, which allowed reigning Champion Jorge Lorenzo to pass and take the race for Yamaha. This has opened the Championship just when we thought it inevitable it would go Casey’s way, and proves the old adage that ‘it’s never over until it’s over’.

In a fortnight we go to my home grand prix at Germany’s Sachsenring, but first the teams have a (dry) three-day test session at Mugello, starting today, Monday. Ducati is scheduled to run on Tuesday/Wednesday – let’s hope they find something for Germany and beyond.

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