I ask myself at the end of every race, “What was so special about this one? What made it stand out? Was it that kind of a race, which stays in your memories long after, each turn and manoeuvre embossed in your mind?”
Mugello came to an end. My parents, now unwitting partners in crime every race weekend, stared at the screen, stunned. My throat sore, I rubbed my leg, trying to soothe the cramp that struck just at the final lap, when Valentino Rossi made his move. I screamed, jumped up and slid across the floor towards the television. I stopped short of the television, yelping as the cramp made its move. I don’t blame my leg. I’d just been sitting still far too long, fingers crossed.
No, Mugello wasn’t that race. But it came close, bittersweet in so many ways.
The race weekend began in memory of Super Sic, as San Carlo Honda Gresini presented Paolo Simoncelli with two bikes – his son’s RC212V and a Super SIC inspired Honda CBR1000RR. It was also the first time since Marco’s death that the team replaced black with their traditional white livery. Poignant is such an easy way to describe emotions, as the white and red colours raced around the circuit once more. But Marco was there, on the circuit in so many different ways – in the team colours, in the flags fans waved, and perhaps in the race itself.
There was a sense of breathless expectation too on the track, as the bikes lined up waiting for the red lights to come on. Rossi had suffered through a terrible Qualifying in front of his home crowd. He waited on the 10th spot in his bright, happy new helmet – dedicated to Italian cult singer Gianni Morandi, bearing the legend Restiamo Uniti (Let’s stick together).
Then, they were off. Jorge Lorenzo jump-started the race moving past Dani Pedrosa, as he tried to open up a gap. He was slow at first, though he soon outpaced the rest of pack, a lone rider cruising to victory 5.223 seconds ahead. Pedrosa tried to play chase, but made peace with 2nd position. The third spot on the podium lay empty.
It seemed like open season at Mugello, as the real battle began. Stefan Bradl has shown excellent promise in the last few races and it almost seemed as if this was his chance at the podium. But Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden were close. Dovizioso was chasing his 4th podium and Hayden his 1st. The chase was incredible, as the riders exchanged places, constantly looking for an opening.
Meanwhile, behind them, another battle had begun. A focussed and determined Rossi steadily climbed his way, fighting for each spot, but riding like the wind. Cal Crutchlow was on his tail, pushing hard. At one point, he swung past Vale, but the Doctor outmanoeuvred the Briton easily, moving ahead once again.
The two battles came to a head in the last lap. Dovizioso had made it past Bradl and was in 3rd spot. Hayden attacked Bradl moving past him, but the German made an aggressive move in return. Hayden went wide and Vale took advantage of the open window, swinging into the 5th spot. Cal followed behind and took the 6th position with Hayden now in the 7th. The chequered flag waved at the finish line as I screamed, clapped…and massaged my cramped leg.
Yes, I know I haven’t brought up my pet peeve Casey Stoner. What can I say? He’s had yet another awful race weekend. A bad Qualifying, but this race was a different story altogether. He worked his way up to 5th position, ended up in kitty litter, before rejoining at 10th. It was easy to see his desperation as he worked his way back up. But it was while fighting with Alvaro Bautista that Stoner made a super-aggressive move (the kind he would have trashed in the past), pushing the San Carlo rider wide, and snatching his 9th position.
It’s easy to see why I loved the Mugello race. It’s easy to anticipate the nature of a showdown where there are only two powerful machines, like the Honda and the nippy Yamaha, in the battlefield. At Mugello, even though the podium was a familiar one, the battle that ensued left me with a sense of anticipation for the next round at Laguna Seca. The Ducatis (or the Blah-catis, as I’ve taken to calling them) were right up there battling for a possible podium. It can, however, be argued that Mugello showed us the best in the Ducati riders, and not the machine. It is true. The race was more about Vale and Hayden, and their calibre as riders, than it was about the machine. Doesn’t that though leave you with a sense of hope? For, in the end, it is always about the rider himself. Vale was in form, our very phoenix, who always rises from the ashes, to give us passionate racing. It was his best race in the dry so far, and it took Cal by surprise. The Briton later said, “The battle with Valentino was fantastic and I learned a lot from him. His knowledge of this track is unrivalled and his consistency was awesome. I was faster than him in the final section, but I was not close enough to pass him on the brakes, and he had a fast bike down the straight. I did everything possible, but he is incredible on the brakes and didn’t give me a chance.”
What will Laguna Seca bring to the table? The Mugello tests have been very successful, promising great battles on the American shore. Rossi has been talking to the guys over at Audi, who have promised to take an active interest in the team. But he wasn’t too happy with the engine’s new ECU. Hayden though, set the 4th fastest time. Honda tried to solve those chatter issues and brought their 2013 prototype to the test. The new chassis, the riders felt, wasn’t all that it was made out to be. But it was the Yamaha M1 and Jorge Lorenzo who set the fastest time, as he tested the new software and suspension.
There are just 9 more days to go before Laguna Seca, a track that I must admit, leaves me excited. So, here’s one of my favourite Rossi vs Stoner moments from the California track. Isn’t it brilliant?
* These are copyright images, used with permission or as per the Creative Commons License. Please see captions for details. Contact the photographer for reuse.*
*P.S. I can’t embed the video. So you’ll need to click on the link to see it. If you haven’t you must… it gives me goosebumps!!!*