Rossi escapes to Mugello seventh heaven
1 June 2008
Valentino Rossi escaped from the pack to claim his magnificent seventh consecutive home Mugello victory in dominant style in Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.
Rossi, riding under bright sunshine and in front of almost 100,000 trackside fans, got a bad start from pole position and was only fourth through the first sequence of corners, behind Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Loris Capirossi.
But The Doctor worked his way clinically forwards, passing Capirossi's Suzuki on the opening lap and immediately closing the slight gap to his title rivals.
Stoner's powerful Ducati got the better of Pedrosa along the home straight on lap 2 of 23, with Rossi dropping the Repsol Honda rider back to third later on the same lap.
The Bridgestone-shod Fiat Yamaha star then took the race lead from Stoner with a clever inside move through a downhill turn and the face painted on the top of Rossi's special Mugello helmet never looked back.
At a track famous for its close slipstreaming battles, Rossi's lead broke two seconds by the halfway mark and the seven-times world champion went on to take his third victory in a row (from six 2008 starts) by that same margin after backing off in the closing stages. It had been 17 years since the last non-Michelin win in the premier-class at Mugello, by Wayne Rainey in 1991 using Dunlop tyres.
Rossi celebrated his 91st grand prix victory by pumping his fist across the finish line before enduring one of his toughest tests of the afternoon when he had to weave his way through the invading fans on the slow down lap.
Perhaps surprisingly, there was no special celebration - although it could be argued that none was needed in such an emotionally charged environment, with the whole of the Mugello home straight packed with fans by the time the podium ceremony took place.
Whilst Rossi rode into the distance, Stoner and Pedrosa had disputed second for much of the race - before Pedrosa once again lost pace away in the closing stages. Ducati may have been denied a Mugello home victory by Rossi once again, but a fighting second for Stoner was welcome reward after several tough rounds.
Of the four 2008 race winners, and title contenders, rookie Jorge Lorenzo suffered the most at Mugello. Rossi's Michelin-shod team-mate had qualified a career worst seventh on the grid, but was up to sixth and the tail of the lead group within a few laps of the grand prix. However, it all counted for nothing when the Spaniard lost the front and ran off track on lap 7, resulting in his first DNF as a MotoGP rider.
In Lorenzo's absence, Sunday's leading rookie was a surprising Alex de Angelis, who produced a brilliant ride to charge from tenth to fourth. The Bridgestone-shod Gresini Honda rider had hinted at what was to come by leading morning warm-up and even applied pressure to Pedrosa in the closing stages, the San Marinese crossing the line just 1.5secs from the #2 after a breakthrough performance.
Colin Edwards recovered from some slow opening laps to claim fifth position, just in front of Tech 3 Yamaha team-mate James Toseland. The double World Superbike champion was down in eleventh at the end of lap one but was soon back to his best as he carved his way impressively through the field to equal his career-best sixth at Qatar.
Front row qualifier Capirossi always faced a tough challenge to hang with the frontrunners on his home Suzuki debut and - despite a strong early showing - the ever-fighting Italian faded from third to seventh, just in front of countryman Andrea Dovizioso.
Joining Lorenzo on the DNF list were Randy de Puniet, Marco Melandri and John Hopkins - de Puniet fell from an unlucky 13th on lap 6, forcing an even unluckier Melandri off in the process, while Hopkins made his first race mistake as a Kawasaki rider moments later.
Nicky Hayden was battling Rossi for fourth on the opening lap, but dropped ever backwards thereafter and eventually finished a demoralising 13th - one place ahead of wild-card team-mate Tady Okada, who took the pneumatic-valve Honda to 14th on its race debut. Anthony West claimed the final point by finishing 15th and last for Kawasaki.
In the world championship standings, Rossi will take an increased 12 point lead over Pedrosa into Dani's home Catalan Grand Prix next weekend, with countryman Lorenzo now 28 points from the top and Stoner a further 18 points back in fourth.
Italian Grand Prix:
4. de Angelis