Is this the season when the Valentino era ends? That’s the question that everyone is asking here at Mugello now that Jorge Lorenzo has won two of the first three MotoGP rounds this year.
The thought is justifiable – but premature. This is only the fourth event in an 18-round championship, and Rossi is only nine points behind Lorenzo. The nine-times world champion has an ability unmatched by any other rider in the series to pace himself over a season. Lorenzo recorded four DNFs in 2009, and has to prove that he can make fewer mistakes under pressure.
The situation is complicated by the right shoulder injury that Rossi incurred while riding a motocross bike earlier this year. At the pre-event press conference here the Italian was asked if he had more movement in his arm than at the previous round at Le Mans. He responded by raising it almost vertically – but then said that the shoulder was not 100% stable.
“For a normal person it would take three to four months to come back to 100%, and it’s now one-and-a-half months since the accident,” he said. The injury disturbs his sleep, and it’s painful in the morning when he wakes, he added.
Mind games? Lorenzo was sitting just beside him. Does the problem add tenths of a second to Rossi’s lap times or fatigue him at the end of a race?
We may never know.
One experienced MotoGP observer said in the paddock here, “I think Jorge is going to outride Valentino all through the season.”
That’s a risky prediction. Rossi, the winner of nine grand prix races at Mugello, is not going to give up the chance of a tenth victory at this circuit that easily.
Zeelenberg’s Trackside Eye
Jorge Lorenzo’s team manager Wilco Zeelenberg helps his rider the traditional way – by going out on the track during every practice session and watching the Spaniard’s techniques and the behaviour of his Fiat Yamaha.
“Data is nice, but it’s also good to get another point of view,” Zeelenberg said. “I can analyse from a rider’s point of view if he’s having a problem with the chassis or with the line in a corner. Then I talk to the chief mechanic and the technicians, so it’s a group of four or five people helping to improve things.”
So during practice sessions this weekend Zeelenberg will be out on a scooter buzzing to corners on the 3.259-mile Mugello circuit, and then returning to the pitbox to check in with Lorenzo’s crew chief Ramon Forcada.
As a grand prix rider with 100 starts under his wheels from 1986-1995, and victory in the 2009 World Supersport championship with Cal Crutchlow and the Yamaha R6 on his CV, Zeelenberg has perfect credentials for the job.
Pizza Delivery Boys
Britain’s two top teenagers in the MotoGP circus, Bradley Smith and Scott Redding, were at a pizza-tossing photo shoot at the Il Rustico restaurant in Scarperia, the little town near the Mugello track, and sounding optimistic about their chances this weekend.
Smith won the 125cc race here last year – and hopes to repeat the feat on Sunday on his Bancaja Aspar Aprilia. He holds sixth place in the point standings, but could leapfrog three riders just in front of him and move to third place if he achieves his ambition.
Last year at Mugello Redding qualified second behind Smith in the 125cc race, but has found the transition to Moto2 difficult on the Marc VDS machine, and talks about chatter problems. He is encouraged, though, by his first points-scoring ride at the last round at Le Mans, and is not blaming his Suter chassis for his difficulties.
“It isn’t really in the bike, it’s in the rider trying to find the last bit,” he said, after bringing a pizza crust to a perfect crispness (with the aid of the restaurant’s chef). “Every race we’ve tried to change something, but now we just have to ride with it.”
At only 17 years of age, Redding has time on his side to learn the craft of being a grand prix rider.