There are few race tracks in the world more iconic than Mugello, and there are few riders in the history of MotoGP more revered at a circuit than Valentino Rossi at his home Grand Prix.
The bad news for VR46 fans is that only a week ago The Doctor was lying in a hospital bed, being attended to by actual doctors, following a training accident upon his MX bike at the Cross Club Cavallara. Whilst he was released the following day, the report from those within the Yamaha garage is that the Italian did take a heavy blow to his ribs and abdomen, and the subsequent pain that he’s suffering from is not insignificant. Make no mistake though, as long as Rossi is passed fit by the onsite doctors on his arrival to Tuscany, he will be donning his leathers this weekend and riding out on his YZR-M1 past a blaze of yellow flags and caps. He is The Doctor, and this is his track.
Not only will Rossi have to put the pain from that injury out of his mind come first practice on Friday, but he would also do well to eradicate all memories of last year’s Italian Grand Prix as well. 2016 was meant to be the year of Rossi’s Mugello redemption. After seven victories in a row at his beloved track from 2002 to 2008, he then endured a lean spell of five years at the Tuscan circuit, only able to finish on the podium once in that time. The podiums would return in 2014 and 2015 though, and with the Doctor finally back in contention for the top step in 2016, a plume of white smoke pouring past the ever present yellow smoke signaled the end of Rossi’s race, as his M1 engine blew and his adoring fans fell into astonished silence.
Vale will of course also be looking to bounce back from heartbreak in France two weeks ago, where he crashed out with a lap to go and victory firmly within his sights. The good news for him though is that Le Mans was the first time this season where the top step of the podium was a genuine possibility – a fact Rossi himself attested to following his DNF.
“It’s a great shame because for me and my team it was the best weekend of the season, when I was more competitive in practice, in the wet and especially in the race,” the Italian said.
“It was for sure my best race of the season.”
Whilst he might have ceded his championship lead to teammate Maverick Vinales as a result of his failings in France, Rossi is still very much in contention. Only 23 points adrift of top spot, and with Mugello the first of four Grand Prix in the next five weeks, a run of good results starting at home would leave the Doctor in a strong position to finally seal that 10th World Championship that has been 8 years in the waiting.
The figures bode well. With a total of nine victories, Rossi is the most successful rider across all the classes at the Tuscan track. Furthermore his
Yamaha team have been the most successful manufacturer in the MotoGP era there, with ten wins to their name.
To break a nine year hoodoo a week after a serious training crash, and in a season without a victory thus far, would be beyond the realms of possibility for most. VR46 though is no ordinary rider, and if one man can defy the odds, it’s Valentino Rossi.