MotoGP fever rising at Mugello

Eager anticipation surrounding the Gran Premio Alice d'Italia rose hand in hand with the temperatures today as warm sunshine greeted the MotoGP World Championship paddock to Mugello. With the team trucks, tents and pit garages resplendent beneath the clear blue skies, some of the most famous sporting personalities in the land came face to face ahead of what promises to be one of the most intriguing contests of the season.

Valentino Rossi has won his home Grand Prix for the past three seasons and, after an electric start to his latest MotoGP title defence, is eager to repeat the incredible scenes of his victory celebrations here last year. "I was unlucky in my first two seasons with the 500 here but since then I have won some great races - especially last season," commented Rossi, who took victory one year ago by just three tenths of a second from Sete Gibernau.

"I have a lot of good memories from here but seeing the crowd underneath the podium last year is one of the best of my career. I have never seen so many people at a MotoGP podium before. Hopefully we will see the same thing on Sunday. The weather today is fantastic, like summer is here for real, and I hope it stays that way all weekend."

Whilst Gibernau will again be hoping to be Rossi's main challenger this weekend as he continues his recovery from a disappointing start to the season, three Italian riders with past successes at this track will also be gunning for home glory. Marco Melandri, in particular, has his sights set on the top step of the podium.

"This is a special race for all of us but I will try to put the pressure onto Valentino and concentrate on my job," commented Melandri, who lies second in the championship just four races into his first season with Honda and has had four previous podiums here in the 125cc and 250cc classes. "I competed in my first ever race at this circuit in the Italian Championship so it is the track I know best and I will be looking for my best ever result in MotoGP."

Loris Capirossi also knows this track better than most, having become the first Italian ever to win here five seasons ago and having racked up the kilometres during hours of winter testing with Ducati. "The Ducati factory is only 60 kilometres from here so the test team have done a lot of work at this track and the setting of the bike should already be good for tomorrow morning," said Capirossi, who has now fully recovered from a cracked bone in his ankle. "I feel 100%, the bike improved in a recent test at Le Mans and I'm ready."

The other rider in search of home glory this weekend is Max Biaggi, who has also made the most of an extra week between races to rest and recover. "I had a big crash in the warm-up in Le Mans and rode through the pain in the race but I was unable to test afterwards," explained Biaggi, who has taken three wins here in the 250cc class. "Luckily we had the extra week off and I'm feeling okay now. I have a lot of fans here and I hope they will be celebrating with me on Sunday."

Meanwhile, Kawasaki rider Alex Hofmann was back in the paddock after a seven-week absence since breaking his wrist in a pre-event accident at the second round in Portugal. Hofmann will test the injury in tomorrow's first free practice but his replacement for the past two rounds, Olivier Jacque, is on standby.

"I've done everything possible to make sure I'm fit for this race, but racing a MotoGP bike at a track like Mugello is physically demanding, and I'll only really find out if all the preparation has been successful when I take to the track on Friday morning. I'm fairly confident that everything will be fine, and I'm definitely looking forward to racing the bike again after such a long lay off," said the German.

250cc World Champion Dani Pedrosa is predicting a tough weekend as he faces up to the challenge of Honda colleague Andrea Dovizioso, in the hunt for his first quarter-litre victory on home soil, and a fleet of Aprilia riders defending a strong record at a traditionally favourable circuit for the Italian factory. "It's going to be a hard race and Dovizioso won't be the only rider out there with plenty of motivation - I'm sure Sebastián Porto, Randy De Puniet and Casey Stoner will all be at the front too," commented Pedrosa. "At Mugello it's difficult to get away because there is a long straight where the Aprilias could have an advantage, and a lot of fast corners. I don't know why but I've always found it difficult here."

Local representation in the 125cc class is as plentiful as always, with Mattia Pasini returning from injury to join Marco Simoncelli as the main contenders for home glory. Both riders are looking for their second win of the season as they chase early series leader Mika Kallio, whilst plenty of watchful eyes will also be on the traditionally strong wildcard list as a host of youngsters look to follow in the footsteps of the current crop of Italian MotoGP stars.


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