Our recent discussion here over the rider vs technology factor in motorcycle racing was set into perspective by the riding of both Valentino Rossi and Mat Mladin this past weekend. Both the MotoGP race at Mugello and the AMA Superbike races at Road America gave us the best racing we’ve had so far this season.
In Italy, Yamaha, Ducati and Honda all had their best setups on the track and the riders took full advantage of the machines as they battled for the lead. Rossi made his way to the front, went a little wide in one turn and immediately found himself in 5th place. Gibernau, Melandri then Capirossi along with Hayden all gave a great show, Gibernau finally fading while the trio of Rossi, Capirossi and Hayden raced as close and tight as in any race we’ve seen. Just superb racing all the way through. Give yourself this test, if you saw that race and didn’t enjoy it, you simply don’t enjoy racing, it doesn’t get much better.
Here in the U.S., Mat Mladin broke Ben Spies’ six race streak on Saturday with a win. On Sunday, Mladin had an absolutely awful start falling to somewhere around 12th position. He picked his way through the pack to get to third before an oil spill caused a red flag. On the restart he again slid back a ways but began an amazing charge. Spies was riding his usual great race out front but Mladin started riding at a level above everyone, setting a new track record during the race and then lowering the record several more times in successive laps! He finally passed Spies and it was all over. Winning both races puts Mladin second in the points race for the championship behind Spies.
In both cases, a mental shift took place. Mladin needed to come to grips with Spies who was beating everyone quite handily. Digging down he came back to show why he has the number one plate on his bike. The AMA Superbike season just became a lot more exciting.
For Rossi, the Ferrari F1 talk may have distracted him a bit and his early season riding was just not what it should have been along with setup problems that plagued the champ. He said last week that he needed to win in Italy. He closed the door on the F1 speculation and got down to work. No matter how good you are, MotoGP is not a place for distraction, there are far too many excellent riders waiting for you to stumble. On Sunday, Rossi put it all together when he needed to because Capirossi and Hayden were riding extremely well, Rossi didn’t win by default, he rode to the front and deserved to be there.
Excellent racing, great riders, can’t wait for more of the same.