Rossi strikes back with home Mugello win
4 June 2006
MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi has ignited his troubled 2006 season with a dramatic home win over fellow Italian Loris Capirossi after a gladiatorial contest worthy of ancient Rome.
Capirossi and Ducati Marlboro team-mate Sete Gibernau were riding in a special one-off red, silver and green livery for the race - and the Spaniard put the new colours straight out front by converting his pole position into a turn one lead ahead of Rossi's Yamaha, Shinya Nakano's Kawasaki and the Hondas of Casey Stoner, Marco Melandri and Nicky Hayden.
But Capirossi had made an uncharacteristically poor start, plummeting from second on the grid to eighth - where he remained for the opening laps. Meanwhile, Rossi snatched the lead straight from Gibernau on the exit of turn one, much to the delight of his watching fan club, but ran slightly wide on lap two - allowing Gibernau back ahead.
Sete then kept his Desmosedici in the lead of its home race until lap 5 of 23, when – after several corners of wheel-to-wheel action - Rossi finally barged past the #15 and attempted to break away from the now seven rider strong lead group, as Nakano dropped out of contention.
That group was then reduced to six on lap 9 when exciting rookie Stoner spectacularly highsided out of third position – his LCR Honda cartwheeling down the track while the young Australian was fortunately able to walk away from his first MotoGP non-finish.
Back up front and Gibernau was still matching Rossi's every effort, the pair in turn 'enjoying' a one-second lead over Hayden as the halfway point arrived - but with Capirossi now charging hard and up to fourth, having carved past Melandri and Pedrosa.
Capirossi outbraked Hayden for third into turn one soon after and looked likely to repeat the move on Gibernau a lap later - but Rossi ran wide ahead of him and Loris was also sucked into a mistake, allowing Gibernau back into the lead - while Rossi dropped to an all-time low of fifth (behind Hayden and Melandri).
Capirossi, riding in his normal leathers after finding the new livery uncomfortable during the warm-up, soon recovered and took the lead into the long final corner. Shortly after, the previously confident Gibernau began a surprisingly sudden decline, swiftly slipping back to sixth after appearing to sustain boot damage from possible contact with another rider.
Without such worries was Rossi, who wasted no time in returning to the front - taking second from Hayden on lap 18 while Melandri saw his home grand prix hopes end when he ran off track while trying to force Hayden out of third. The double 2006 race winner eventually rejoined in a distant sixth, behind Gibernau, leaving a top four of Capirossi, Rossi, Hayden and Pedrosa.
Chinese Grand Prix winner Dani had had a relatively quiet afternoon, despite the frantic battles all around him, and seemed to lack that little something to take on the Italians at home - a point proven when he began to lose touch with the leaders as they stepped up another gear to act out the thrilling finale of a superb battle.
Capirossi had successfully defended against Rossi's many attempts to pass, until The Doctor launched a surprise move on the penultimate lap. Nevertheless, Ducati horsepower helped put the home heroes side-by-side along the main straight as the last lap began - but Loris then ran slightly side as he attempted to take advantage under braking.
That was to be Capirossi's last chance as Rossi promptly pulled several vital tenths out over his fellow former world champion through the early part of the lap - while the impressive Hayden, who clearly lacked top speed on the 'evo' RCV, was now hounding Capirex for the runner-up spot.
Rossi rode the rest of the lap perfectly to remain just out of reach of the bucking and sliding Capirossi - who in turn held Hayden at bay - giving Rossi his desperately needed second win of the season, his fifth home win in a row and - most importantly - his first race finish from the last three attempts.
An exhausted Valentino celebrated his epic victory by parking in front of his adoring fan club and simply soaking up their applause, before riding slowly through the cheering fans for the rest of his slow down lap.
As is traditional, a substantial number of the 90,000 fans invaded the home straight for an emotional podium ceremony - during which Hayden wore a red wig taken from one of the Alice girls!
Sunday's result means that Capirossi and Hayden are now tied at the top of the world championship standings, with Loris retaking the official lead due to his Jerez win, while Rossi is now 34 (rather than 43) points from the leaders having climbed from eighth to fifth.
Pedrosa, Gibernau and Melandri duly completed the top six with Melandri's Fortuna Honda team-mate Toni Elias winning a hectic race-long battle for seventh after finishing a fraction ahead of Kenny Roberts, Makoto Tamada, John Hopkins and Nakano.
Further back, Rossi's Camel Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards saw his nightmare weekend go from bad to worse when - after qualifying just 14th - he ran off track in the early stages, before 'recovering' to twelfth.
Italian Grand Prix:
13. de Puniet