Bikes will soon be on track for the Gran Premio Octo di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini, and after it was confirmed we’d be racing at Misano until at least 2021, it was time for some talk in the pre-event Press Conference. Reigning Champion and points leader Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was joined by local hero Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), fellow three-time Misano MotoGP winner Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team), his Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Moto2 Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) as the grid got ready to rumble.
First to speak was Marquez, who was one of those who headed for the Vatican on Wednesday for a reception with the Pope – and that was the first topic on the agenda: “Meeting the Pope was a great experience, if you have the opportunity to do so in your life you should, and visit the Vatican! We’ll see if it gives us any luck this weekend! But it’s nice he knows what we’re doing, racing bikes.”
So will there be any extra luck? That remains to be seen but Marquez is the man in the driving seat so far, debriefing Silverstone briefly before talking of his target for this weekend.
“Everyone was disappointed to not race at Silverstone but safety conditions weren’t ready to race. But now in Misano we’re leading by 59 points, and 71 and 72 points ahead of the Ducatis. The target is to increase the advantage, try to attack…we know they tested here a couple of weeks ago so maybe at the start we’ll be a bit far but we’ll try to bring passion and work hard for Sunday.”
Rossi, meanwhile, hasn’t raced at Misano since 2016 – having missed last season due to injury. As could be expected, he’s happy to be ready to race at the venue again.
“I’m very, very happy to be back at Misano! It’s the most important race of the season, together with Mugello, the most special for the fans,” says the ‘Doctor’. “This one maybe even a bit more because it’s so close to my house and last year it was a great shame, it wasn’t easy to follow it from home!”
Later, the Italian also explained it was the first track at which he rode a motorcycle competitively - and said that it was a pivotal moment: "It was very emotional. It was a 125, I was very small. I always rode a scooter on the road, so when I went on the track, I understood at that moment that it’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life." Now 39 and a nine-time World Champion, it's going pretty well. And despite some struggles this season for Yamaha, Rossi is currently P2 in the standings – and their recent test at MotorLand Aragon was positive.
“Aragon was an important test for sure, because it’s always a difficult track for me and Yamaha. But we’ll have to see at the ‘real’ weekend with all the fast guys to understand our ‘real’ level…”
From one three-time premier class winner at the venue to another, next to speak was Lorenzo: “Misano is one of my favourite tracks, I’ve more or less always been on the podium since 2008 and we arrive here in good shape, very strong with quite a bit of experience with the bike – including the test here a month ago where we were very competitive,” says the number 99. “But let’s see about the weather as well, tomorrow it looks like it will rain, and Saturday, but we hope after the practice! And we’re hoping for a dry Sunday.”
The weather could be a little changeable, but the next question then harked back to the far-from changeable difficult Sunday at Silverstone – and the loss of 25 possible points as Lorenzo pushes to try and move up in the Championship.
“At Silverstone with the conditions, if we raced we could have competed for it…anything could have happened, you could lose a lot of points, maybe Marc would have been able to stay on or crash. You could have recovered some points but also you could have lost it. But we made the right decision, together with Race Direction, because it was risky and dangerous. Now we have one race less but at the moment we’re not thinking about the Championship. We’re thinking about momentum, small changes on the bike and trying to win as many races as possible.”
Teammate ‘DesmoDovi’, meanwhile, was first asked about his record at Misano – which so far has been one of his more difficult circuits. “I think it was more about the technical side. It’s not my best track but we’ve struggled, but now we’re in a different situation, especially after the test we did here. I felt so good. The grip was good but it was very hot, but the speed was really good. And the rest at Aragon was good. So I think we’ve confirmed our speed is a bit better than the beginning of the season and we’re better than last year. I expect to have good speed but we have to work in these conditions, which are very different to what we had in the test. There was a lot of rubber and grip then, but it was also hotter. We’ll see but I think we can be very competitive.”
Sounds positive – so what’s the target?
“Every year, every race, every weekend you have to try and improve yourself and the bike, always. That’s our target and I think it’s what we’re doing now. We’ve confirmed it at a lot of tracks but you have to get the results in the race, until then it’s just an opinion. But I feel good on the bike at each track, our pace is good and we’re fast from the beginning. That makes the difference.”
Next to talk was Andrea Iannone, who had a difficult race of it last season – but hopes for more in 2018, as he prepares to also change team at the end of the year.
“Racing at home is a special race for us, it’s big motivation for me and for the team because most people in the garage are Italian guys – for sure it’s an important weekend for us. It’s interesting because last year I had a good feeling with the bike but we didn’t have good speed. I want to confirm a different situation this year.” And leaving Suzuki? “Always when a rider comes to the end of a relationship with a team or factory, it’s a bad moment. But at the moment I have a good relationship with the team, the guys and the management. It’s not easy but everyone tries their best and we’ll try to finish this Championship in the best way.”
Finally it was time to hear from Moto2's home hero and Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia. Only three points ahead, the pressure is on on home turf – but ‘Pecco’ feels positive.
“At Silverstone I was strong, I was to start on pole and Miguel was in P23, and in the wet it would have been difficult for him to recover the gap but safety comes first. Just three points is the gap here and it’s a track I like, it would be positive to be in front of him, we’ve been here a lot to train and it could be a positive weekend for us!”
As part of the VR46 Riders’ Academy, Bagnaia certainly knows the place inside out – but so do many on the grid. Find out who will take to the top at Misano on Sunday, with Moto3™ racing at 11:00 (GMT +2), Moto2™ at 12:20 and MotoGP™ at 14:00.