The VROOM Blog #ItalianGP – Pecco punches his way to sweet Mugello victory

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

After the bumper crowds that we saw at the French GP last time out, this weekend MotoGP headed to Mugello and it looked a much quieter affair. Usually at Mugello the grandstands are rammed and the hills around the circuit are a sea of colour – mostly yellow – as people wave flags and wear merchandise to support their favourite riders, but this year, spaces could be seen in the grandstands and you could see the grass on the hills.

It was also reportedly much easier to get in to the circuit each morning, whereas previously the queues would have been lengthy. While many put the lower crowd numbers down to the retirement of Valentino Rossi – which will surely have had some impact – upon further investigation, another reason may have been the cost of tickets. Ticket prices were almost double the cost of GP races at other circuits, and times are tough – many people simply couldn’t afford the cost of the tickets. There was a similar problem with the prices of the tickets in Indonesia this season too – the country loves MotoGP, but many fans were unable to pay the ticket prices.

Mugello did offer a 10 Euro discount on tickets for females – now I’m all for a discount, but I don’t think that I should get to watch MotoGP for cheaper just because I’m a woman!

There was lots going on this weekend – there was a Ducati ride-in on Wednesday, Max Biaggi was inducted as a MotoGP Legend, and Valentino Rossi’s number 46 was retired from the MotoGP class.

The Ducati ride-in was led by Pecco Bagnaia, Jack Miller and Enea Bastianini who were followed by a huge number of Ducati Owners Club members as they rode from the Ducati factory in Borgo Panigale to the Mugello circuit. Upon arrival at the circuit, they completed a lap of the track before being met by the remaining Ducati riders – Jorge Martin, Johann Zarco, Luca Marini, Marco Bezzecchi, Fabio Di Giannantonio and test rider Michele Pirro, who was a wildcard this weekend – for a group photo and the chance to chat to their heroes.

On Thursday evening, the Pramac Ducati team unveiled a new livery for the rest of the season thanks to new sponsor Prima. The bike now features purple instead of blue, while the red and white remain, and I’m not keen!

Max Biaggi was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a MotoGP legend this weekend. The Roman Emperor is a four-time 250cc World Champion, and a two-time World Superbike Champion – one of only two riders to have won a title in both GP racing and World Superbike alongside John Kocinski. During his time in the MotoGP paddock, Biaggi took the 250cc title in four consecutive years – 1994 to 1997 – before moving up to the premier class where he won on his 500cc debut. He was runner up in his first year, and didn’t finish outside of the top 5 of the championship in the premier class between 1998 and 2005. In fact, Biaggi won at least one race across 7 consecutive seasons from 1998 to 2004, as well as taking at least one pole position in each of those seasons.

On Sunday afternoon before the MotoGP riders headed to the grid, Biaggi donned his old leathers and did a parade lap on the 250cc Aprilia that he won the ’94, ’95 and ’96 titles on.

Saturday afternoon saw the “ceremony” to retire the number 46 from the premier class in honour of MotoGP Legend Valentino Rossi. I’m not keen on the whole retiring numbers thing – I can see why they do it, but I’m all for allowing a number to remain and letting people have a crack at it! It’s going to take a special talent to take on the 46 in GP racing, but if someone feels that they want to use the number then they should be allowed to do so.

Even when a number is retired in honour of a rider that we have lost, I think there are better ways to honour them. One of the more recent examples of this was when Tom Booth-Amos asked the Hayden family for their blessing to run in the American GP in 2019 with Nicky’s number and design (Booth-Amos usually runs the number 69, but wanted to honour Nicky with his version of the number). The Hayden family agreed and Tom ran Nicky’s 69 for that weekend, which was a lovely tribute to the late American.

Anyway, whether we like it or not, the number 46 has been retired from MotoGP and Valentino has another trophy for his cabinet.

This weekend marked a year since the tragic loss of Jason Dupasquier during Moto3 qualifying for the 2021 Mugello race, and the PrüstelGP team along with other members of the paddock took some time on Thursday to remember Jason and lay some flowers at the corner of his accident.

There was news this weekend that the Finnish GP has once again been cancelled. A statement from the FIM, IRTA and Dorna stated that “homologation works at the KymiRing, together with the risks caused by the ongoing geopolitical situation in the region, have sadly obliged” the cancellation of the race this year. It went on to say that they expect to race there in 2023, and that this season will now be 20 rounds instead of 21.

We were expecting news about Ducati signings this weekend based on what Davide Tardozzi had said last time out, but it appears they’re still working things out. When asked about speculation that he may lose his seat at Ducati, Jack Miller said that he isn’t looking at his phone or allowing the situation to distract him from his racing. He said “I’m just doing my job the best I can, to the best of my ability. I might not be the right guy for the job, but I’m doing what I can.”

Meanwhile, Enea Bastianini – the current favourite to take Jack’s seat – said that he has been guaranteed a factory Ducati package for next season, but he doesn’t know which team that will be with yet. Paolo Ciabatti confirmed this when talking to the BT Sport team, and added that they are keen to keep Jorge Martin on the same basis – a factory package within one of the Ducati teams. He also hinted that the rumours of Jack leaving for another manufacturer (KTM) may be true, saying that what they can offer Jack is different to what he wants and that if he has a better option for a longer contract in a factory team, then he would understand.

Things are not all rosy over at KTM either – with the rumours that Jack may be headed there, Miguel Oliveira has said that he has been asked to step back to the Tech3 squad, but has said that he is not happy about that option. KTM boss Francesco Guidotti said that they have made an offer to Miguel for a two-year contract, but that they haven’t specified which team that would be with. He also said that they are talking to Jack, and that currently they have 4 riders who have only ridden KTM in the premier class, while Jack would bring some experience of other manufacturers to the team.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, but it does sound highly likely that Jack Miller will be heading to KTM for next season.

We did have an announcement from Aprilia, who called an exceptional press conference on Thursday. While speculation went wild about what might be announced, it was just the news that they would be retaining both Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales for 2023 and 2024. Most teams just fire out a press release!

It seemed perhaps a little soon to be committing to Maverick Viñales on such a contract based on his current performances, but firstly we don’t have access to all of the data and information that Aprilia do, and secondly it was announced on Friday that the RNF team will be switching from Yamaha to Aprilia after the end of the season.

The riders will be contracted to Aprilia, and so Aprilia will likely have a strong say in who rides the bikes, which means that they will have 4 riders on the grid and as such can afford to give Maverick a bit longer to get up to speed. I don’t think he’s too far away – he is often stronger in practice on Friday and Saturday morning, and I think if he can work on qualifying and his race starts, he’ll be much faster. I have to say I’m impressed with how Aprilia are treating Maverick – I’ve been very critical of how they have treated those who have ridden alongside Aleix in the past, and its nice to see them actually sticking with someone.

Massimo Rivola said that the idea is to use the RNF team as a ‘junior’ team, to bring talent into the MotoGP class, but admitted that given the abundance of talent on the market at the moment, it may well be that next season will see a more experienced rider alongside a junior rider.

Free Practice 1 on Friday morning saw the return of the ‘shoulder cam’, and we were treated to a view from Pecco Bagnaia’s shoulder. I do like the shoulder cam, and it’s quite cool that we are getting to see views from different riders (with different riding styles) as they continue to develop this technology.

The session was topped by Taka Nakagami, from Aleix Espargaro and Pecco Bagnaia.

FP2 was a tricky one for early pace-setter Johann Zarco, who half way through the session crashed at turn 4. As his bike had slid across the gravel and back onto the track, the Frenchman was trying to move it out of the way. It took longer that you would like for marshals to arrive, and even longer for the red flag to come out given that Zarco’s bike had sprayed gravel over almost half of the track at that corner, rendering the racing line dangerous.

The red flag did eventually come out – 2 minutes after Zarco had crashed – and the track was cleared before action got back underway. Alex Rins had a crash with 13 minutes remaining on the clock, and we saw a series of time attacks towards the end of the session as there was the possibility of rain during FP3 so riders were keen to get a fast lap under their belts to aid progression through to Q2.

With just 30 seconds left of the session, Johann Zarco crashed again, bringing out the yellow flags and disrupting any final attempts at a fast lap. It was Aleix Espargaro who was fastest on combined times, ahead of Pecco Bagnaia, Jack Miller, Johann Zarco and Luca Marini.

Traditionally FP3 at Mugello is when Valentino Rossi – and others – would unveil a special helmet for the weekend. While The Doctor may no longer be racing, there were still a few riders who were up to the challenge. Winner of the best helmet of the weekend was – for me anyway – Pecco Bagnaia who had gone for a tribute to the Italian military on a very glittery blue background. Remember the shots of the Italian equivalent of the Red Arrows soaring across the grid with green, white and red smoke behind them last season? That is what Pecco had painted on his helmet and it looked awesome!

Marco Bezzecchi had gone for a “SCARY Mugello” interpretation of the Scary Movie film franchise on his helmet, and I really liked that he had the names of his team on the back. The Gresini team tried, they really did – they had Aldo Drudi (of VR46 livery fame) design a message of peace similar to that worn on the helmets of Morbidelli and Migno this season, for the side of their Ducatis. The design itself, and the message “we fight on track, we stand for peace” was perfect, but it was on the background of that hideous blue colour they are running this season and for me that spoiled it. Massive kudos to the team for the message though!

As it turned out, FP3 was a dry session, which meant that there was still a chance for everyone to try for faster laps and direct access to Q2. The first half of the session saw crashes for 3 Ducati riders, with Bezzecchi, Bagnaia and Martin all having crashes, while Jack Miller’s Ducati appeared to suffer a technical issue as he hitched a ride back to the pit lane on a scooter.

With 12 minutes to go, we saw Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro deep in conversation inside the Aprilia garage before the pair headed out on track for what was a frantic end to the session. Marc was playing his usual games following Fabio on track and into the pits and back onto track again, but Fabio managed to put his slower team mate between himself and Marc meaning that the Spaniard was unable to reach the top 10.

Fabio Di Giannantonio fired himself up to 7th place, before Nakagami went 3rd knocking Quartararo out of the top 10. Luca Marini was up to 2nd place, with Rins going 6th and bumping Miller out of the top 10 as Martin went 4th and knocked out Enea Bastianini. With so many riders seemingly able to improve their lap times each time around, it could well be that those in the top 10 would simply be those who took the chequered flag last.

Fabio Quartararo had pulled himself back up to 8th, but with others improving behind him he was sitting 10th as the chequered flag came out! Enea Bastianini crashed on a fast lap, bringing out the yellow flags which meant that Fabio was safe – just – as no one could improve their lap time on the final lap. Darryn Binder crashed at the same corner as Enea while Enea and the marshals were still in the gravel, earning himself a long lap penalty in the race for not observing the yellow flag.

Darryn complained about the penalty, saying that he had slowed down, and crashed on something on the track while he was looking to see what had happened to Enea. His argument was that he shouldn’t be punished as he had slowed down and that the crash was out of his control, but surely if he’d been paying attention to where he was going on track rather than looking at what had happened, he might have seen whatever it was he claimed was on the track and caused him to crash?!

At the end of FP3, it was Bagnaia, Aleix Espargaro, Marini, Zarco, Bezzecchi, Bastianini, Martin, Pol Espargaro, Nakagami and Quartararo who would be heading straight for Q2, while the others would have to fight it out in Q1 for a chance at a place on the front four rows of the grid.

With grey clouds looming overhead, FP4 got underway and less than 10 minutes into the session the rain flags were being shown as rain began to fall around the circuit, bringing everyone into the pits. The riders remained in the pits for almost 15 minutes before some began heading back out on wet tyres. Marco Bezzecchi went out on slick tyres but immediately returned to his garage and swapped to wets!

We can’t really read too much into the session as there was only about 9 minutes of dry time, but it was topped by Bagnaia, from Bezzecchi and Marquez.

The Q1 session this weekend was stacked with riders who you would usually expect to see in Q2 – it was almost impossible to call who would be the top two that would head through. The track now looked damp rather than wet, and there was a mixture of wet and slick tyres as the session started. With 5 minutes to go, it was KTM team mates Binder and Oliveira who held the top two spots, but after a wild few minutes, it was Di Giannantonio who topped the times from Marc Marquez as the session came to a close.

You had to feel for Jack Miller – he had gone top of the times only to be knocked down by Marc who was using him for a tow, and Diggia who was a little back from them so would have been using them as a target.

The weather was wild between the sessions, with thunder and lightning creating epic photo opportunities for the on-site photographers. As Q2 started, it looked like there may be race on to get a fast time set before the rain arrived with a group of riders actually at the end of pit lane waiting for the green flag. Marc Marquez had a massive high-side on his out-lap which brought out the red flags as what was left of his bike caught fire on the track. Thankfully Marc himself was up and ok – although I’d have liked a trip to the medical centre – and able to return to the pits for his second bike before the session resumed.

Once again, riders were waiting at the end of pit lane for the green flag, ready to head out on slicks and get some fast times set. Diggia was the fastest man for the majority of the session, before a wild final couple of minutes which saw the timing screen lit up with red sections. Zarco, Bezzecchi and Pecco all took turns at taking provisional pole position, but it was rookie Fabio Di Giannantonio who set the fastest lap of the session to take his first MotoGP pole position ahead of fellow rookie Marco Bezzecchi, with Bez’s team mate Luca Marini 3rd in an all Ducati, all Italian front row.

The last time two rookies took a 1-2 on the grid was back at Qatar in 2008 when Jorge Lorenzo and James Toseland lined up together, and this is the first all Italian front row since Iannone, Rossi and Dovi back in Austria in 2016.

Following qualifying on Saturday, Repsol Honda called an exceptional press conference where Marc Marquez and Alberto Puig announced that Marc would be taking some time out to undergo a fourth surgery on his arm. Marc has travelled to America this week and will have surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and once the post-operative period is complete, he will return to Spain to begin his recovery.

Marc explained that the surgery was necessary as he is feeling “big limitations” on the bike, and he suggested that the surgery was a last chance to resolve the issues he has been having. Marc described every weekend as a “nightmare” at the moment and simply said “I cannot continue to ride like this” as he is creating other injuries as he compensates for what his right arm doesn’t allow him to do.

He pointed out that even with the arm as it is now, he is sometimes able to grind out a good result, and he knows that there are certain circuits where he could probably get a podium or a win, but that isn’t what Marc Marquez is about – he is a champion, and he doesn’t want to be riding around for points with the chance of a podium here and there, he wants to win.

Hopefully the surgery will be a success and we’ll see him back on track – and battling for wins – soon.

Warm up on Sunday morning took place on a track with damp patches following overnight rain, but it was still dry enough for slicks. The session was topped by Aprilia duo Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales who had been out on track together, ahead of Bezzecchi and Zarco.

Before the MotoGP race got underway, Pedro Acosta was busy making history in the Moto2 race. He took his first win in the class to become the youngest ever rider to win an intermediate class GP at the age of 18 years and 4 days, taking the record from Marc Marquez who was 18 years and 87 days old when he won.

The weather was looking better by the time the MotoGP riders lined up on the grid, and as the lights went out it was pole man Di Giannantonio who led into turn 1. Luca Marini was soon past the rookie though, as Aleix Espargaro pushed Fabio Quartararo wide to take 4th place.

Marco Bezzecchi made his way through on Diggia for 2nd place, making it a VR46 1-2. Brad Binder meanwhile was up to 7th from 16th on the grid! Bezzecchi was a man on the move, and sliced past his team mate to take the lead of the race at the beginning of lap 2, as further back Pecco Bagnaia was trying to find a way past Johann Zarco. Pecco made it through on his second attempt and was up to 6th, while Fabio Quartararo was up to 3rd at the expense of Diggia.

Pecco spent the next couple of laps making his way up to 4th, passing both Aleix Espargaro and Diggia, while Fabio Quartararo was up to 2nd having passed Marini. As Pol Espargaro crashed out at turn 9, and Bezzecchi continued to lead the race, Quartararo, Marini and Bagnaia were side-by-side as they powered along the start / finish straight towards turn 1!

It was Pecco who came out on top and took 2nd place ahead of Fabio and Luca, with Diggia, Aleix, Zarco and Bastianini all behind them. On lap 7 Aleix pulled a bit of a harsh move on Diggia to take 5th place, and a lap later both Suzuki riders crashed out in separate incidents. Neither of them have finished a race since the shock news that the manufacturer intends to leave MotoGP at the end of the season.

Joan Mir crashed out on his own at turn 1, but Alex Rins crashed following contact with Taka Nakagami and the Spaniard was not happy with his Japanese rival, branding him the dirtiest rider on the track.

On lap 9, Pecco caught and passed fellow VR46 Academy rider Bezzecchi for the lead and he didn’t look back. A couple of laps later Quartararo also passed Bezzecchi, as did Marini. Bezzecchi made his way back through on Marini on lap 12 though, and then they had a bit of back and forth before Bezzecchi managed to keep Marini behind him.

Enea Bastianini crashed out of the race at turn 4, while further back there was a battle raging for 13th between Jorge Martin, Alex Marquez and Maverick Viñales. As Zarco and Marini battled for 5th place, Aleix passed Bezzecchi for 3rd.

Out front, it looked like Fabio might be closing in on Pecco, but all of Fabio’s work throughout the lap was destroyed on the straight, so really the gap remained at around 1 second between the pair. Pecco scorched across the line to take the win, with Fabio in 2nd place, and for the 4th consecutive time, Aleix Espargaro crossed the line in 3rd!

Zarco, Bezzecchi, Marini, Brad Binder, Nakagami, Oliveira and Marc Marquez rounded out the top 10, while a video finish was required to give 11th place to Di Giannantonio over Maverick Viñales.

Fabio Quartararo collected a flag to pay tribute to Jason Dupasquier on his cool down lap, while Pecco picked up an Italian flag which he wore as a cape while he chucked his boots and gloves into a scrapping crowd. Marc’s on-board camera showed almost every rider on the grid slow down and signal to him or give him a pat on the back at the end of the last race before he goes off for more major surgery – these guys may all be rivals when the visor goes down, but they all seem to wish each other well off the track.

Talking of which, Pecco took so long to come back to the pits that Fabio had done his celebrating with his team and was stood applauding Pecco as he arrived in parc ferme.

Who had Aleix Espargaro having scored more podiums than anyone else so far this season on their bingo card? Me neither, but he has 5 podiums so far – 1 win and 4 3rd places – with Fabio next in line with 4. Fabio remains leader of the championship, with Aleix in 2nd only 8 points behind, and Enea Bastianini in 3rd a further 20 points back.

We don’t have to wait long to see MotoGP back on track, with the paddock heading straight to Barcelona where the action will get underway on Friday.

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