He might have established a handy lead in the 2011 MotoGP World Championship standings, but Repsol Honda pace-setter Casey Stoner insists there will be no throttling-back over the upcoming races, with the mantra firmly to 'keep our heads down and continue working hard'.
Off the back of four victories and two further podium finishes from the opening seven outings of the current campaign, Stoner arrives at Mugello – scene of this weekend's Italian Grand Prix – with a 28-point margin over defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo in the chase for the crown, and more often than not this year, the Australian has been the man to beat.
Stoner pipped Lorenzo to triumph around the spectacular, ultra-fast Tuscan circuit – universally popular amongst riders and with a top speed of a jaw-dropping 350km/h – two years ago with Ducati, and following a distant fourth place there in 2010 and having missed out on victory champagne in Assen last weekend, the 2007 MotoGP World Champion is eager to bite back.
“I'm really looking forward to Mugello, especially after a difficult weekend at Assen where I was extremely happy to have finished second in a very difficult race,” the 25-year-old confessed. “Last year, we didn't get the best result [in Italy], but I've always enjoyed this circuit and I think this year we can expect to be quite competitive.
“From what I've heard, the new surface is a lot smoother and a lot faster, which will make Mugello an even better circuit from what it already was! I've been excited about coming here to try it out! I'm hoping to have a good race and score important points for the championship, but we need to keep our heads down and continue working hard.”
Repsol Honda team-mate Andrea Dovizioso has similarly been in fine form of late, stepping up to the plate well during Dani Pedrosa's injury-enforced absence with three rostrum finishes from the last four outings to move into a solid third spot in the title rankings and close to within just nine points of second-placed Lorenzo. Like Stoner, the Italian is eager to experience Mugello's new asphalt – and to give his partisan supporters something to cheer about on home turf.
“I'm very curious to go to Mugello and ride there with the new asphalt,” confessed the 25-year-old, third in the Italian Grand Prix last year. “Those who tested there said that it's unbelievably smooth. Mugello is one of the most technical, demanding and beautiful tracks on the MotoGP calendar, so I'm sure that without the bumps it will become one of the best circuits in the world.
“Mugello is always a special event and I enjoy every minute of it, and I'm happy to race in the Italian Grand Prix at this particular moment of the season; we are third in the championship and we arrive after two successive podium finishes. We are competitive, and determined to get another good result at my home GP.
“We have been consistent in dry and wet conditions, and the team is working really well so I'm confident. Last year, I was on the podium and the feeling up there is amazing – not comparable with any other podium finish – so I really want to repeat it. I hope there will be many spectators and that we can put on a good show!”