- Round 3: Mugello, Italy
- Track length: 5245 m
- Opened: 1974
- Fastest Lap Ever: 1' 51.258 (Valentino Rossi, 2002)
- MotoGP lap record: 1' 52.601 (Tohru Ukawa, 2002)
- Last year MotoGP winner: Valentino Rossi
- Circuit tel: +39 055 8499111
- Circuit web site: http://www.mugellocircuit.it
The 2003 Mugello MotoGP may have finished as an all-Italian affair, with Valentino Rossi (Honda), Loris
Capirossi (Ducati) and Max Biaggi (Honda) dominating the 23-lap race - the trio finishing in that order - but
the Italian one, two, three didn't come easy after the incessant harassment of Yamaha rider Shinya Nakano.
The jockey-sized Japanese launched off the front row and slammed his YZR-M1 into the thick of the Italian war at the first turn before slipping past second placed Biaggi to nip at the heals of race leader Capirossi soon after. Nakano had settled into the intense pace and remained a threat until mid-race.
Although he eventually lost touch with the leaders Nakano held onto his fourth place despite the repeated
attempts made by fifth-placed Honda rider Sete Gibernau. Then, within sight of the finish line, Nakano was the next victim on surprise charger Makoto Tamada's (Honda) list - Nakano finishing the race in a respectable fifth place.
Despite all the efforts made by Yamaha Team-mates Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri the duo were unable to match the intense pace this weekend and eventually ended the day with a disappointing eighth and 11th place respectively. After a solid start, which saw Checa as high as fifth in the opening few corners, the Spaniard dropped back to eighth by the end of the first lap, yet looked set to remain in contention up until halfrace distance. At this point the 30-year-old was back in the top six with only a 4.4 second deficit, before losing touch with the battle for fourth.
All hopes for a top five result at his home Grand Prix came to an end when a troublesome clutch caused Melandri problems in the most crucial points of the 5245m circuit. The 20-year-old Italian, who won the 250 race here in 2002, was confident and feeling good on the YZR-M1 during the opening few laps. Melandri featured as high as sixth, and was still making solid progress when it became difficult to select third gear on his factory machine - which proved too much of a deficit to overcome at such an intense pace. He ended the day only 0.10 seconds behind tenth-placed Olivier Jacque (Yamaha).
Located in the beautiful Tuscan hills, Mugello boasts a sequence of undulating medium to high-speed corners combined with a straight where even the former 500 two-strokes were capable of producing an outright top speed of 315kmh. The four strokes are now expected to push beyond the 240kmh benchmark in 2004.
Although picturesque, the Italian circuit has a reputation as a very demanding venue on chassis set-up and engine performance. In fact Mugello is a circuit that requires the best from every aspect of a race motorcycle. The main aim for each team will be to find a balanced geometry that will provide the rider with the ability to change direction quickly through the high-speed switchbacks, and especially through the tricky right-hander at the end of the main straight. This corner, to some extent, is the key to a fast time around Mugello as it influences the next sequence of turns dramatically. Make a mistake in this area and the lap-time will pay the price through the next series of turns.
Yamaha's chassis technicians will also need to provide a front-end which will offer the rider the feedback while braking into the numerous downhill Mugello turns. This is especially the case onto the front straight as it influences corner exit speed and eventual top speed. Following the recent performances of Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Carlos Checa Yamaha is confident it has found a neutral geometry that will provide the riders with the balanced character required to deal with these demanding circuit features. This involves lowering the front of the M1 to improve front-end feel and lighten the handling response through the chicanes. This is also possible, as the Mugello doesn't require a front-end to be dialed in as firm, regarding fork springs, as in Le Mans since the braking needs aren't quite as extreme. There is also no major issue concerning bumps entering the turns, resulting in a more linear medium-damping characteristic, a must to aid feel.
Where bumps are an issue will be on the exit of the turns. To ensure Yamaha riders will be able to find the necessary drive a medium to high rear spring-rate will be used, along with progressive rear suspension
linkage rates. It will also be necessary to prevent squatting as riders wind the power on in the well-banked,
high G-force corners. This has become more of a concern with the introduction of the four-stroke due to its
heavier weight limits over the two-strokes used in the past, and because of their high power outputs.
Since drive is so important, and the Mugello surface has proven to be reasonably abrasive, a medium to hard compound 16.5inch rear tyre is the most likely combination come race day. Its consistency over race distance and good side grip will prove to be an advantage. It will be a very similar story for the front-end, with the new Michelin 16.5inch front tyres offering improved side grip feel.