Despite winning 25 MotoGP races since its 2003 debut, Ducati has never won its home Italian Grand Prix at Mugello.

Instead, the home factory has had to settle for three second places and one third, out of six visits to a race won by Valentino Rossi ever since 2002.

But the performance of the 800cc Desmosedici is on an upward curve at Mugello, where it crossed the line third in 2007 with Alex Barros and then second last year with Casey Stoner. Could it go one better this weekend and finally end Rossi's reign?

It will be a shock if anyone other than Stoner leads the Ducati attack and the Australian arrives at Mugello knowing that victory would also hand him the world championship lead.

The #27 is presently joint second with Rossi, and just one point behind the Italian's Fiat Yamaha team-mate and title leader Jorge Lorenzo. Despite a season's worst fifth last time out at a wet/dry Le Mans, Stoner also has nine points more than he did at the same stage last season.

"I can't wait to race again at Mugello - a circuit where I've had good results and some unforgettable moments, such as my first ever pole position in 2003 [125cc] and my first pole for Ducati in 2007, even though we just missed out on the podium in that race," recalled Stoner.

"Last year I finished second and considering the progress we've made since then, I'm sure we can be fighting for it again this time," stated the 17-time MotoGP race winner. "It will be a tough race because the level of the competition is so high, as you can see from the championship standings, and all the home riders will be more determined than ever to do well, but I also like Mugello a lot - it is one of my favourite circuits.

"The fans are really passionate and even though they may get behind one rider more than others you can see that in general they have a passion for the sport above anything. Hopefully we can pick up a good result because this is Ducati's home circuit and that always makes it extra special."

Team-mate Nicky Hayden will be taking part in his first Italian Grand Prix as a Ducati rider and expects a special experience. Stoner, Hayden and the other Desmosedici riders will be cheered on by 3,000 Ducatisti who will once again pack out the Correntaio corner in Ducati red.

"It is going to be really nice for me to race at Mugello as a Ducati rider because I can remember from past seasons seeing all the fans dressed in red and cheering on their riders from the grandstand. It is an honour and a privilege for me to now be a part of this team and this tradition," said the American, who arrives at Mugello just 15th in the championship.

"I hope with all my heart that I can be competitive because those fans don't deserve to see a Ducati at the back," admitted Nicky, whose best finish this season is just twelfth. "The track is awesome - there are maybe a few too many bumps but the layout is incredible and in general it is one of the best GPs of the whole championship.

"I'd really like to have some better results on the board and be going into the factory's home race with some more experience under our belts but we are making progress and now I hope we can make a good step on Friday so that we can build on it over the rest of the weekend."

"Mugello is a special race for us. The atmosphere is unique and we have lots of great memories," declared Ducati MotoGP project director Livio Suppo. "It will be tough, like always, but I think we can do well - as the impressive lap times recorded by Troy and Vitto in the recent test demonstrated. Let's hope the weather doesn't play games with us like it has on so many occasions already this year so that we can really prepare well for our home race!"

Ironically, Ducati has won the home race of its Japanese rivals three times since 2003.