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Throngs of tourists line the beaches and beachside towns of the Riviera di Rimini as they come to bask in the sun of the Adriatic coast, but many descend on the region for another reason entirely: Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, set back from the sea but perfectly placed to provide the best of both worlds. Sun, speed and sand – and another home race for many on the grid, not least nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP). Misano bleeds yellow. The smoke rising from the stands – yellow – and the shirts streaming through the gates – yellow – leave no doubt as to who holds the honour of the hometown hero here. But after an accident in training, the number 46 sadly won't be riding - so the hopes of Italy in the title fight now fall solely on the shoulders of Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). An Italian rider on an Italian bike riding in Italy - it was a good recipe at Mugello. So can he do it again?
Dovizioso is the man in the lead once more as we arrive into Round 13. Taking another 25 points at Silverstone – a track where, on paper, that should have proved difficult – show ‘DesmoDovi’ is as real a threat as can be crafted. Ducati also tested at the venue recently, and the Italian on the Italian bike will enjoy some good home support – with the Borgo Panigale factory not so far away at all. And his teammate, Jorge Lorenzo, is getting closer by the race. Another half a tenth nearer per lap at Silverstone, the ‘Spartan’ is the man with the stats at Misano: first or second for an incredible eight season span from 2007, beginning with a victory in the 250cc race that year, see Lorenzo top of the pile for track records – good omens stacking up as he makes good progress in red.
Last year was another story. From eighth on the grid, race day belonged to one man: Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team). Pedrosa, who became the eighth different winner of the year, was untouchable under the blazing Sunday sun. He’ll remember that when he lines up on the grid in 2017, and he’ll want to do it again. Losing no ground in the title fight at Silverstone by way of teammate Marquez’ DNF, it’s only 35 points between Pedrosa in fifth and Dovizioso at the top of the standings. Everything can change in a race, or a single lap.
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Highlights: Pedrosa's perfect race in Misano
Marc Marquez found that out the hard way in the British GP. Fighting for the podium and the victory, the rider from Cervera was well placed when he suffered a mechanical problem and was forced to retire with seven laps to go. That saw him lose the lead in the Championship, but not by too much: he’s now in second, nine points off Dovizioso. But Marquez has never won a dry premier class race at Misano, and he’ll want the record book to prove unreliable once again in an ever-changing 2017. Two Moto2™ wins and a flag-to-flag masterclass in 2015 are the statistics that will most interest the reigning Champion.
Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) is another who wants to write another chapter rather than re-stage one he’s already penned. The title challenger – currently third in the standings – has never won on the Adriatic. But he did take a front row start last year in P3, converted it into a top five result in the race, and has a podium in the lower classes. Track time in recent testing and good feelings reported thereafter should make Viñales a key threat once again – and the Spaniard was only a tenth off the win last time out.
Racing on Italian turf makes home heroes of many. Not least of all Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar), who suffered a crash at Silverstone that saw him collide with compatriot Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing), making Misano a perfect stage for both to bounce back. And as well as the home riders, there’s also Aprilia Racing Team Gresini who count Misano as their second home race, making Aleix Espargaro and Sam Lowes eager to write different stories on the Riviera di Rimini to those that transpired in the UK.
As always, there will be a cast of familiar and fast Independent Team names looking to get in their way in the fight at the front: two-time GP winner Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Aspar Team)…and Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) will be back on track after missing the British GP following a crash in morning Warm Up. Fellow rookie Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was back in the top ten at Silverstone as he regains full fitness, and there’s also Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Racing) riding for a home team and with premier class podium history at the venue, no less. The ever-gaining Red Bull KTM Factory racing are also a serious threat for the top ten now, and there’s no margin for error for any in the tight field of 2017.
The crowd may be partisan, but the competitors never are. They’re out to win, and the stakes for some are higher than ever. Six races and four title challengers remain in 2017: it has, both mathematically and on track, never been so close. And as Silverstone and the week after proved once again – everything can chance in a race, or even a single lap.
The Gran Premio Tribul Mastercard di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini will add another 28 laps to that racing tally of 2017, and the lights go out for show number 13 at 14:00 on Sunday. Lucky for some? We’re about to find out.
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