The Tuscan Smokescreen
Mugello MotoGP 2016 through the teary bloodshot eyes of Boris Mihailovic
The rumours are not true. Lin Jarvis is not being hunted by Rossi fans like a jackal running through beautiful Tuscan countryside. But even his usual po-faced composure slipped a little when the Number 46 Yamaha started geysering dead-engine smoke on lap eight, forcing Rossi to retire.
Up until then, it looked like Mugello would see what Mugello wanted to see – a sensational Rossi victory scripted by Hollywood and starring Charlize Theron as Rossi’s grid girl.
Against all expectations, the Doctor had qualified first on the grid, followed by a Maverick Vinales – the man who helped put Rossi there (according to Lorenzo) by apparently towing him around in a super-hot qualifying lap – and Iannone, who was similarly helped in his qualifying efforts by sitting behind Lorenzo for two fast laps. Marquez and Lorenzo shared the second row with Aleix Aspargaro, who looks like becoming Suzuki’s Dani Pedrosa.
Dovizioso had tied himself in knots during Qualifying and was languishing in 15th, exchanging poignant glances with Aleix’s brother Pol and Hector Barbera.
Ominously, Lorenzo’s Yamaha had exploded its engine (Number Three in a sealed set of seven) during Warm Up, but the Yamaha garage must have thought this was an anomaly. And who could blame them? Their engines were renowned for being bulletproof.
Besides, the Doctor was on pole. This race was going to be the stuff of legend.
And it was, but not for the reasons everyone wished it would be. MotoGP is a cruel sport, and it doesn’t always adhere to the script.
When the red lights went off, Lorenzo made a brilliant start, with Rossi hard on his rear tyre. Behind them, the pack was reshuffling itself and an earnest Dovizioso scythed his way into third, with Marquez sitting on him like a saddle.
It was quickly obvious that Lorenzo was not going to get away from Rossi, and the massive mostly yellow-clad crowd settled back to watch Number 46 tease the Spaniard for the first eight laps. He even passed Lorenzo twice at the end of the straight, only to run it wide and have Lorenzo snatch back the lead.
Then the smoke. It looked to be the same issue that had afflicted Lorenzo’s bike in Warm-Up and while Rossi has put it down to “Shit happens”, there is certainly going to be concern in the Yamaha team.
Modifications and engine development is not allowed in the middle of the season. The only time this rule is waived is if the manufacturer can show there is a safety issue and there is unanimous consent among the MSMA MotoGP officials. They would need to be convinced that any engine changes offer no performance benefit. And they have never previously given such consent. Stopping the donk nuking itself under high revs by fitting stronger components would be seen as a performance benefit, so Lin Jarvis might still set out running for the hills if the same thing happens to a Yamaha in Barcelona.
Back on the track, an appalled silence had descended on Mugello. The man they had come to see was being dinked back to the pits on a scooter.
Miller had been taken out on Lap One by Bautista, Vinales had compromised his great grid position by still being crap at starts so he got to race with Smith and Petrucci, and Dovizioso had arm-pumped himself out of contention.
That left Lorenzo to sail on alone. But Marquez was coming and Marquez was coming fast. Iannone was also fast, and even set a new record top speed of 354.9km/h down Mugello’s insane straight.
There was still a race going on, and it was a brilliant one.
The last few laps were simply breath-taking. Marquez and Lorenzo fought like cats in a bag for first place, and while the crowd would have been praying to all the virgins and all the saints that maybe Marc would do the right thing by Italy and take himself and Lorenzo out by doing something crazy and Spanish, it was not to be.
What was to be was a last corner death-or-glory dice which saw Marquez lead onto the straight, with Lorenzo millimetres from his rear Michelin.
The Hondas have struggled this year to get their power to the ground, and as Marquez wound it on, his front wheel came up, which allowed Lorenzo, whose front wheel did not come up, to slipstream past and win by a mere .019 of a second.
Iannone salvaged a little Italian pride by hauling his Ducati into third, and was obviously pleased to rub Ducati’s face into the fact that the bloke it chose to keep on the team had just had his arse handed to him by Dani Pedrosa, who beat Dovizioso like a cheap drum-kit.
Yamaha’s engine failure has had a big impact on the championship standings. Coming into Mugello, only 12 points separated third-place Rossi from first place Marquez.
Lorenzo now leads the championship (115), ten points ahead of Marquez (105) and 37 points ahead of Rossi (78), with two-thirds of a season left to run, and Barcelona next on the running sheet.
It will be great to see how the bulls run under the Spanish sun.