There has always been something special about Mugello. Maybe it has something to do with the rolling, green Tuscan hills nestled up against the blue sky. Or it probably has something to do with that sea of yellow and the Vale song; an addictive chant that you invariably join, “Ole, ole, ole! Vale, Vale, Vale.” But always…always it is about the riders, who descend every year to this Mecca of MotoGP. So it was too, this year, at the 2015 Italian Grand Prix. As always there were the three men standing on the podium – listening to the Vale song, surrounded by yellow smoke and celebrating an exciting, nail-biting race. It was controversial a little, yes, but also the ultimate symbol of determination, grit and sheer talent. So, there he was, Jorge Lorenzo doing the Lorenzo Leap while standing on the top step of the podium. There he was, Andrea Iannone with an unexpected second place, sporting a wide grin and a hairline fracture on his shoulder. And there he was, Valentino Rossi, on the third step of podium, spraying the champagne and listening to the crowds call his name.
Earlier that day it was difficult for Rossi fans to be optimistic. Logic dictated that it would be a difficult race for the nine-time world champion. Yes, he had always surprised us. Yes, there was undying faith in him. But there were also the facts – a strong, almost undefeatable Jorge had grabbed second place, with Andrea Iannone scoring a perfect pole for the factory Ducati. Andrea Dovizioso made up the 3rd place on the grid followed by Cal Crutchlow. Dani Pedrosa showed all signs of making a strong comeback with a 7th place. Vale had been consigned to 8th place. The surprise of the weekend however was Marc Marquez who made several errors during qualifying and found himself starting at an ignominious 13th spot. This was not going to be pleasant.
The race itself had all the elements that make up an exciting race. As always Lorenzo was determined to give us the perfect masterclass (yawn!), Marquez was hell-bent on making up for a terrible weekend, pushing his motorcycle and himself to the limit, and the Ducatis were focused on podium finishes, if not podium wins. Vale did not get the perfect getaway he had been vying for. Instead, he found himself stuck in the middle of the pack unable to get away and forced to fight his way up to the top. It was a power struggle worthy of any high-powered corporate takeover.
The race started with Lorenzo tucking himself into third place behind Iannone and Dovizioso, but it did not last for long, as the Spaniard shot past the Ducatis to take the lead by the end of the first lap. Consistency was the key eh? Did I hear you say masterclass again? I would suggest ducking to avoid any missiles headed your way.
While Lorenzo was busy pulling away, a war broke out for the remaining two podium places. Marquez managed to climb his way up to 5th place within the first few laps of the first lap. It was a well-planned strategy, brilliantly executed. But the Ducatis were just as determined. What followed was immense heart-in-mouth action between the two Ducatis and Marquez, who was later accompanied by Pedrosa. The camera moved between Marquez, Iannone and Dovizioso, almost like a pendulum, as the three changed places, once… twice… three times and then again. It was a delicate ballet they danced. Even Iannone showed no signs of slowing down – hairline fracture in his shoulder be damned.
Behind, Rossi made quick work of Cal Crutchlow taking his 6th place and started chasing the pack in front of him. That’s where the real battle was. It took Vale four laps to catch the group, passing Dovizioso to take his 5th place. Dovi retired soon after, pulling into the pits because of some chatter in the rear of his Ducati.
It suddenly seemed like things had taken a turn for the better. Barring that brief second when all Rossi fans gasped en masse across the world, as the Italian’s foot seemed to slide off the peg at a corner. All seemed lost. Just for a moment. In what can only be a brilliant save, Rossi found his balance and continued the chase. It was obvious that the Italian was pushing, and pushing really hard for those points that would keep him ahead of the championship race, ahead of his charging teammate, and may be even get him a place on the podium.
Maybe it was the tightly crossed fingers of Rossi fans across the world. Maybe it was the foolishness of youth that makes you push just a little too hard. Or maybe it was just sheer bad luck. Whatever it was, it looked like Mugello was being extremely unkind to Marquez. He had fought the mighty battle, taken 2nd place and made it stick. But it didn’t last long. The young Spaniard made a small mistake and crashed out of the race!
“It was a shame about the crash today, because I had already done the hardest part! I’m happy because I was able to carry out our plan, which was to try to recover positions on the first five laps. We were up into second place after four laps, but when the tyre grip went down, we had a similar problem to before, with the tyre sliding on corner entry. I was on the limit and when you are pushing at the maximum sometimes things happen like they did today,” Marquez later said in a team press release.
Marquez’s loss though proved to be Vale’s gain. He seized the moment, passing Dani to take 3rd place. He tried to set his sights on 2nd, but it was a little too late. He ended the race at 3rd, 6.661s behind his teammate, but still leading the world championship albeit by 6 points.
“Mugello was very busy, because I am very competitive and all the Italian fans expected a great race from me. It’s a bit of a shame that it wasn’t a fantastic race. I wasn’t strong enough but at the end of the race I arrived on the podium after a great recovery and a hard race. To be on the podium with whole the crowd is always magical with the track being full of people,” Vale said later in a team press release.
Yes. Mugello is always magical. It never ceases to amaze. It never ceases to get the adrenalin flowing. It never ceases to give you the ultimate Grand Prix racing experience, complete with crazy fans, songs and battles that will be spoken of throughout the season.