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Under the Tuscan Sun: Mugello MotoGP Qualifying Notes

They say that there is only one place in the world where you can get a taste of the ‘real’ MotoGP. I just want to give whoever ‘they’ are a big hug. There can be nothing more spectacular than this circuit that sits nestled in the Tuscany hills, surrounded by thick, green forests as far as the eye can see.

Close your eyes and breathe in the fresh air (plus one for someone like me, who is from Delhi) and feel the hairs on your neck rise as a MotoGP bike zooms by, growling at every corner. Look around then, slowly. Take in the sea of Yellow, bright, sunshiny and happy even when the clouds overshadow the sun. This is Mugello. Welcome.

I am on my last leg of a dream Eni win – the Eni Energy for Success award – which gave me the opportunity to travel to two races, first in Monza for SBK, and now to Mugello for MotoGP.

Vale brought out his new Mugello special! But Qualifying didn't go as expected. Image courtesy Yahama Racing Team (for editorial use only)

Vale brought out his new Mugello special! But Qualifying didn’t go as expected. Image courtesy Yahama Racing Team (for editorial use only)

I know, in my heart, I couldn’t have chosen any other place. This is the best place to see Valentino Rossi on his first year back with Yamaha. True to form, the special Vale helmet has made an appearance – a tortoise this time. I look down from where I sit in the media centre directly at Vale as he swings himself on to his bike, ready for Qualifying. Bliss! Now this, this, is exactly where I want to be. I spot Marc Marquez from the corner of my eye, taking off down the pitlane. I press my nose against the glass, as if that would transport me down to the pitlane – buzzing with photographers and mechanics.

The scoreboards are out, as are the umbrella girls. It’s the Yamaha garage though that looks the busiest. Qualifying is approaching and this is the place to be.

After all, Friday wasn’t exactly the easiest of days at the circuit. Marc Marquez started the day with a small accident and then later in the afternoon, found himself in the gravel trap at turn 1. It was a lucky escape. Marquez managed to jump off the bike to avoid the wall and was left with a bruised chin, a strained neck and some contusions. Bradley Smith crashed later and ended up with a scaphoid fracture to his wrist and a cut to his finger. It didn’t help either that the weather played hide and seek, raining through the first session with the sun peeking out just a little in the second.

Ben Spies has decided to take it easy. He withdrew from the Mugello round because of his shoulder injury. Image courtesy Pramac Racing (for editorial use only)

Ben Spies has decided to take it easy. He withdrew from the Mugello round for further medical checks. Image courtesy Pramac Racing (for editorial use only)

Saturday though dawned with cloudy skies. I was keeping my fingers tightly crossed. While wet races are fun, I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted in Mugello. Then came news of Ben Spies. He has not had the most invigorating 2012 and this year seems to be going just as bad. He has now decided to pull out of the Mugello round for further medical checks. It is not sure when he will return to racing. A Pramac Racing press release stated that the team and Spies have decided to continue the physiotherapy and to “interrupt all track activities to allow Ben to complete his total physical recovery”.

The practice sessions rolled on with Rossi setting incredible timing and showing pace. But it all came to pass by the third session. Jorge Lorenzo (1’47.972) was leading the pack, followed by Dani Pedrosa (1’48.222). Rossi was .187 seconds off at 3rd with 1’48.409. Marquez though suffered another crash and had to, for the first time this season, take part in the first Qualifying session. MotoGP.com also says that the 20-year-old Spaniard has suffered a crack in the top of his humerus near the right shoulder.

Three crashes in 2 days, but that didn't stop Marc Marquez. Image courtesy Repsol Honda team (for editorial use only)

Three crashes in 2 days, but that didn’t stop Marc Marquez. Image courtesy Repsol Honda team (for editorial use only)

But there was no sign of that when Q1 kicked off. Marquez and then Bradley Smith, elbowed their way into the second Qualifying session.

The second session was almost like a preview to the race. I do hope though that the results are slightly different! Having said that, Q2 was nothing short of exciting. There was that Oh No moment when Cal Crutchlow crashed. I could have done without that bit. But it didn’t stop our tough honey badger who, by the way is also battling a broken leg. He went back into the garage and then got right back on and proceeded to give Vale hell. Now, under different circumstances I’d probably grumble my way through that one. But hey, broken leg, remember? That was a fantastic performance and Crutchlow was, for a brief while, right up there in the front row.

The Kentucky Kid had a great run until Vale decided he wanted his 3rd place back. Image courtesy Ducati (for editorial use only)

The Kentucky Kid had a great run until Vale decided he wanted his 3rd place back. Image courtesy Ducati (for editorial use only)

I didn’t really expect a musical chairs contest, but hey, I am not complaining. There was that moment when Marc Marquez went out on a stunning run and grabbed a second place for himself. Jorge Lorenzo was of course sitting pretty at 1st place. Vale came along to take 3rd. Then came Nicky Hayden. No, that wasn’t a typo. Yes, I am referring to the Kentucky Kid, who chased down Vale’s time and put himself in 3rd. I had just about caught my breath.

Jorge Lorenzo was sitting pretty on top, until Dani Pedrosa decided to make a last-minute push. Image courtesy Yamaha Racing Team (for editorial use only)

Jorge Lorenzo was sitting pretty on top, until Dani Pedrosa decided to make a last-minute push. Image courtesy Yamaha Racing Team (for editorial use only)

I mean, I can only type that fast on Twitter. The qualifying came to a close. My mouth was open and I was busy looking out of the window at the start-finish straight and then the television screen (It would have helped if I had temporarily grown two heads). My fingers were tightly crossed. Vale was still at 3rd. No wait, he wasn’t. I watched in disbelief as his name slid down, and down and down to 7th. W.H.A.T?

Meanwhile, Dani Pedrosa had already made a last-minute push to take 1st position with 1’47.157, nudging Lorenzo, the defending world champion to 2nd. Andrea Dovizioso took 3rd with 1’47.628.

Dani Pedrosa took his first pole this season. Image courtesy Repsol Honda team (for editorial use only)

Dani Pedrosa took his first pole this season nudging Jorge Lorenzo off at the last minute. Image courtesy Repsol Honda team (for editorial use only)

The sun went behind the clouds – no really, not figuratively. The stands emptied out. The riders came in. Saturday at the circuit came to a grand close. The strange, intricate and beautiful dance riders do was over… but just for today. Tomorrow is race day. And we all know that is always a new story.

The Starting Grid (top 10 only)

1. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)

2. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)

3. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati)

4. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha)

5. Stefan Bradl (Honda)

6. Marc Marquez (Honda)

7. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)

8. Nicky Hayden (Ducati)

9. Alvaro Bautista (Honda)

10. Michele Pirro (Ducati)

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