Can anyone conquer Ducati in their own backyard?

World Championship leader Quartararo is in a confident mood at Mugello, as three title-chasing Ducatis aim for home GP glory

After going without the majestic Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello in 2020, the riders and paddock have eagerly returned for Round 6 of the 2021 MotoGP™ World Championship. Previewing the Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley in the pre-event Press Conference was Championship leader Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), his closest challenger Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing), back-to-back winner Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT), with all six riders looking forward to attacking Mugello once more.

Can anyone beat Ducati on home soil?

The Bologna bullets have taken the last three victories at Mugello thanks to Danilo Petrucci, Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso, and everyone knows the advantage they’re going to have down the 1.1km home straight. Ducati have proved their package is competitive everywhere this season though, they’ve had at least one rider on the rostrum at all five races this year, so they’re going to be understandably confident on home turf this weekend. However, Quartararo is also relishing Mugello, because it’s not just about superior straight line speed.

Quartararo: “I’m expecting a great race, you know when we were in Qatar I was feeling a bit the same because Ducati had won the last three races and actually I’m feeling good on the bike. On the straight we know it’s not a strong point for us but there are many corners here, and the fast corners are where I feel good. I think we need to just start the weekend like a normal weekend, not thinking about the last three wins of Ducati or the big straight here, just go for it, do our pace and see on Sunday. The most important thing is that we have a really great feeling on the bike.”

Bagnaia: “It would be great if I could win my first race here but at the moment it’s not my objective. First of all, it’s more important to be constant and then competitive from the start of the weekend. Then, if the win is possible, I will try to achieve it. At the moment I’m just thinking about being competitive like the last race in Le Mans. In the wet conditions I was struggling a lot at the start of the race so we have to understand that this weekend. I want to be competitive from the start like in Portimao, like in Jerez and then we will see. It’s a track that I like, it’s a track where the Ducati is really sweet so I think we have a great opportunity.”

Zarco: “Having a nice feeling on the Ducati and knowing the Ducati is quite competitive here, I’m hoping to use the advantage of the bike pretty well. The race in Le Mans, the wet conditions helped me to get a nice podium and 20 points in the championship, so pretty happy to be back in the top three and try to stay there, keep gaining points on Fabio to play my game. Ducati’s situation, if we can enjoy, Pecco, Jack and me together and put some pressure on the main opponent which is Fabio on the Yamaha, this would be great for the Championship.”

Miller: “Mugello demons? I mean it’s a place I love, as I think everyone else does. Just arriving here in the beautiful landscape of this place, it’s just, you know, we definitely missed it last year. My report card of Mugello is not the most pleasant one, I’ve always been pretty quick here but just haven’t been able to see too many chequered flags. I’ll try to put that right this weekend but we’ll see what happens.”

How important are these next few races for Rossi and his future?

One of the hot topics swirling around the MotoGP™ paddock is will Rossi be racing next year or not. Mugello, Barcelona, the Sachsenring and Assen are up next before the summer break, and Rossi admits it’s a vital part of the campaign for him especially.

Rossi: “We now have a very important period of the championship because we have four races in five weeks. Also, at important racetracks like Mugello, Barcelona and Assen and then without Finland we will have one month off. Everybody will start to think about 2022 during that period, so like I said that the beginning, in that point I will make my decision. But also it’s not only my decision, I have also to speak with the Petronas team and also with Yamaha to understand what their plans are for next year. We will see but for sure now these four races are very important for us to try and find some good results.”

Miller riding the crest of a wave and on for three in a row

It’s safe to say that the last few weeks for the Australian has been as good as they get. Two wins in two GPs, a 2022 contract with Ducati in the bag and now a date with the Bologna brand’s home race. But Miller isn’t thinking about becoming the first Ducati rider since Casey Stoner to win three races in a row, he’s just focusing on riding the wheels off his GP21. 

Miller: “If you’re unhappy in my situation I mean you’ve got something going wrong. I’ve had a pretty phenomenal couple of weeks and it feels unreal to get the contract signed up and not have to worry about that for another eight months or so and just focus on what I enjoy the most, which is riding my motorcycle.

“That was basically the time when I started watching racing. I started racing the following year but we all started really watching in 2007. Of course, with an Aussie (Stoner) doing well. I unfortunately missed most of Mick’s era. Seeing an Aussie do well is what turned me on to the sport. I mean I prefer to not even think about the whole three on the trot or anything like that, I’m just happy to be here and be in one piece and try to do a decent weekend.”

Down on top speed, but Aprilia’s strength lies in the corners

Much like Quartararo and the Yamaha riders, the 350+ km/h Mugello straight isn’t going to be where Espargaro and Aprilia gain an advantage. The fast, sweeping corners nestled into the Tuscan hills are where Espargaro is excited to try his brand-new RS-GP, and another top six result could well be on the cards this weekend.

Aleix Espargaro: “Yes I’m pleased, happy with how things are going. It was a shame in Le Mans because I was in sixth and chasing Alex Marquez for fifth place so it would have been very nice points for the championship, but races are like this. We had a small technical problem but now arrive here in Mugello and as Jack said, it’s one of the most difficult, challenging but at the same time fun tracks to ride in the world. We missed this circuit last season so I can’t wait to try the new bike here, we know it’s not going to be easy because the straight is very, very long and this is one of the weak points – top speed. But the bike is going very well on changing direction and stability side, so I can’t wait to try the bike here and I’m very curious as to how we go.”   

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