As always, Mugello produced the goods on and off the track. On a weekend jam-packed with ceremonies, events and bustling racing, it was Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) who conquered the rolling hills of Tuscany to take his second victory of 2022 and reignite his title charge.
Over the years, we’ve become accustomed to seeing the Italian destination being saturated with yellow due to the support of one man. However, this season made for a change of pace, as for the first time in 26 seasons, Valentino Rossi wasn’t on circuit competing in the World Championship. The MotoGP™ Legend was still in attendance mind, as he was bestowed the honour of having his iconic #46 retired from the sport, and he’ll have no doubt been pleased with what he saw on track across the weekend.
As Bagnaia exclaimed in his post-race interview, the Italian Grand Prix wasn’t just a victory for himself, but for the entire VR46 academy. Having cut his teeth under the tutelage of Rossi, he has moved onwards and upwards in his career, while the current batch of premier class riders within the academy had their own coming of age weekend.
For Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), he formed part of a first qualifying rookie one-two since Jorge Lorenzo took pole ahead of James Toseland in the 2008 Qatar GP. He went on to back that performance up by mixing it with some of the class’ biggest names to take a career-best P5, before announcing that it was probably “one of the best weekends in his life.”
Crossing the line one place further back was Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team). It’s a best-ever result in the dry for the Italian, and second only to a manic 2021 Austrian GP P5. Now in his sophomore season in MotoGP™, Marini’s P3 launch was his second front row of the campaign and third overall. Renowned as a patient learner, we are beginning to see the kind of form that saw him narrowly miss out on the 2020 Moto2™ World Championship to Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™).
The number 10 was also quick to credit the role that Valentino Rossi has been playing in their development.
"He sees everything out at the track. Because he rode these bikes last year. He knows the tyres, nobody knows our tyres. None of the other coaches know our tyres. So, he can see everything. He can see what one bike is doing out of the corner, in entry. For sure the lines, but the lines are easy for everybody. But he can understand how the bike is working, and how the rider is making the bike work. So he gives a lot of feedback, for sure, because he can see everything.
"Obviously we see those things of other bikes when we are on the track. But the special thing is that he can see these things from outside of the track. And this is unbelievable. It's impossible for other people to tell these things. Even the best coach. Even Idalio [Gavira], who is the best coach in my opinion. But he doesn't know a MotoGP bike, he doesn't know electronics, he doesn't know tyres. But he is still doing an amazing job."
It is the first year the VR46 Team has had two riders representing them in the premier class, with the successes it experienced in Moto3™ and Moto2™ over recent seasons beginning to be seen on the grandest stage of them all. That’s not to say they still aren’t experiencing joy in the other classes. Celestino Vietti (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) currently leads the intermediate class title race thanks to taking two victories and two podiums to date. Should he keep up that form, he could end up following in the footsteps of Bagnaia and Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) to come through the VR46 academy and win the Moto2™ Championship.
Indeed, everywhere you look, you can see the influence of Rossi at the top end of the standings. Lightweight class rider Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) is in the thick of the battle for the Moto3™ title, having previously represented the VR46 academy.
While we may no longer get to see the legendary Rossi on track, his influence in the sport is so deep-rooted that we will be seeing riders trained by his hand fighting for titles for years to come. The MotoGP™ VR46 project is just getting off the ground, but if last weekend was anything to go by, it won’t be long before it bears fruit and the Mugello faithful have a whole host of new heroes to shout for.