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PRESS RELEASE/MotoGP Photos: supplied

The Pre-Event Press Conference kicks off the Italian GP, with riders talking about the incredible venue, the season so far – and the future

Ahead of the Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley, Championship leader Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was joined in the Pre-Event Press Conference by Italian legend Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), 2017 race winner Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Alma Pramac Racing’s Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller and Moto2™ World Championship leader Francesco ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia to talk about the weekend ahead, the season so far and debrief a few final points from Le Mans before taking on the magnificent Mugello.

First, however, there was another event on Thursday morning as Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), Scott Redding (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), Lorenzo Baldassari (Pons HP40), Xavi Vierge (Dynavolt Intact GP), Marco Bezzecchi (Redox PruestelGP), Andrea Migno (Angel Nieto Team), Albert Arenas (Angel Nieto Team), Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing), Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) took part in a Giro di Scarperia – a lap of the circuit before cycling to the impressive Palazzo dei Vicari and then back to the track.

Back to the track and back on track with the weekend, Marquez spoke first in the Press Conference later in the day. With a mixed record at Mugello, it’s not a talisman venue for the number 93 – but the season has seen him conquer some venues at which he has a similar record already. “Mugello is a really nice track, one of the most difficult on the calendar and in the past where I didn’t achieve my best results, but we had a test here a few weeks ago and it wasn’t bad. But now, it’s warmer temperatures and everything has changed so we need to do ride the same as we have in the last few races.”

Asked if the Honda he’s riding now is the best he’s had in the premier class, Marquez says it’s not quite like 2014 – and a lot is down to his competitors.

“It’s related to the performance of our opponents. I feel good now with the bike but in 2014 I felt better, it was easier to ride in 2014. Now there are different tyres and electronics everything is different, and if the performance of your opponents is higher then you struggle more with the bike. But now it looks like we can be fast in all conditions, a bit like the second part of last season, this year it looks like we’ve started in a good way and circuits where we normally struggle we’ve been able to be on top or on the podium and that’s the most important thing during the season.”

Consistency is, as always, important. That’s true for everyone, but Valentino Rossi is certainly one of those looking for more after a more difficult start to the season for the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team. But the number 46 took his second podium of the year in France, and Mugello is something extra special – home turf where the crowd breathes yellow, and a venue where he’s won seven times.

“Mugello is a special weekend for me and for all the Italian riders, it’s the historic Italian GP for MotoGP,” affirms the ‘Doctor’. “The track is fantastic, one of the best, and the atmosphere, especially on Sunday, is very special. I arrive better than last year because last year I’d been injured in motocross, but then it was quite a good race. So we have to check this year! In Le Mans it was a good podium but it’s always a good track for the Yamaha and we have to understand our potential here.”

In terms of understanding that, there was also a private test at the venue recently that the majority of the field took part in – although it was interrupted by the weather. For Rossi, it’s a case of starting from Le Mans and moving on.

Pedal power: squad goals around a stunning venue.

“The test here wasn’t fantastic for me because I wasn’t very fast,” he admits, “but the conditions weren’t fantastic and we only did the morning. But we haven’t changed a lot and we’ll start with a similar base from Le Mans, try and find the feeling and improve – it’s a different track with a lot of changes of direction so you need a different feeling with the bike.”

Danilo Petrucci, however, does think he might be a little behind initially after not having tested at the venue. But ‘Petrux’ is, like Rossi, happy to be riding at home – and is aiming high again after his rostrum at Le Mans last time out and his podium form at Mugello in 2017.

“It’s always special to be here,” begins the Italian. “There are just more Italian journalists! It’s one of my favourite tracks and after Le Mans we arrive in a positive way, but we have to do things simply – the things we’ve done in every race, be precise with the details and working on the bike. Today we had an important meeting and decided everything about the bike, we’re working a lot and arriving here after a podium is special. After last year and two weeks ago I know a target for me is to be on the podium but for sure it won’t be easy. We haven’t been here for testing so we start a step behind but we’ll try and recover as fast as possible.”

The number 9 was also asked about his teammate, Jack Miller, and the competition between the two looking towards next season and a possible move to the Ducati Team as rumoured.

“Jack is very fast and he’s shown that in all previous races,” says Petrucci. “But every race is important in MotoGP, there’s not one race that’s easier than another and I always want to be as quick as possible. Sometimes it happens but sometimes it’s more difficult. I have to be in front of as many people as possible, I don’t care about being in front of one rider or another – I just try to be faster than everyone…it’s just not always possible, unfortunately!”

Miller was, aptly, the next on the mic – and talked more of consistency, having taken eight top ten finishes in a row as of Le Mans.

“I’m feeling pretty good and such a consistent run for me is quit a new feeling – I was known for inconsistency in the past and I loved to crash,” laughed the Australian. “But since hopping on the Ducati I’ve found some new form and new consistency and it’s starting to show with some decent races. In Jerez we got lucky with the tangle between Dani, Dovi and Jorge but in Le Mans it was good to fight and be close to the group for the podium. We were missing a little bit there but riding with these guys and being around them the whole race, I learned a lot and got a lot more experience so I’ll try and bring the momentum we’ve had in the last couple of GPs into this weekend. It’s a track I’ve not done the best at in the past, I had a pole but then crashed out that year but since, on the Honda, I‘ve struggled. It will be interesting, this bike won here last year so it’s sure not slow around here and we have to try and do our best!”

Miller continued talking about riding at the front and experience, also asked about the rumours about his future: “The more I get to ride with them at the front and study them and learn, the better. In the past I was crashing out a lot and missing out on valuable experience, so I feel I’m learning and maturing more into it, and enjoying it more and more. I finish the race with a smile on my face, especially when you’re up there you’re more and more hungry each week. It’s nice and it’s good to be at least in the frame for a factory position because two years ago I wouldn’t have imagined this was possible. It’s an amazing turnaround and I enjoy it, and it’s coming because of hard work so I have to keep pushing and keep trying.”

Keep pushing and keep trying could be a mantra used by Andrea Dovizioso after some back luck of late. Collected in the three-rider incident in Jerez and then crashing out the lead in Le Mans, ‘DesmoDovi’ did, however, have some big positives that point to a turnaround around the corner – at the track where he took his first win of the season in 2017.

“I hope the situation changes,” smiled the Italian. “We’ve come here with a different situation to last year, for many reasons, unfortunately we’re quite far from Marc this year but I think we were more competitive than the past in the last two races. Unfortunately we got zero points but we showed good speed and that’s important if you want to fight for the Championship. We know we have to start to gain some points and that’s not easy because the level is really high, and also at the test here a few weeks ago a lot of riders went fast, but I feel confident on the bike, this is a good track for us and I think we can be competitive. But every weekend it’s a different story! Let’s see tomorrow, when you put wheels on the ground you can understand if you’re really fast and can fight for the podium or the victory.”

Explaining his mistake in Le Mans, that’s exactly what Dovizioso says it was – a simple but costly error. “It was quite clear for me what happened, I was too relaxed because my speed was really good. I overtook Jorge because I wanted to be in front because Zarco was very aggressive. He had the speed and was maybe too excited to be in his home race! I put myself in the best position but made a mistake in the braking point, I wasn’t careful enough about the weight on the front and it was too much for the grip. It was a very small but bad mistake.”

Finally, it was then time for ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia to make his Press Conference debut. Ahead of his debut in the premier class in 2019, the intermediate class points leader was happy to be there – and is aiming to make more of a habit of it…

“I’m nervous, excited, but most of all happy to be here for the first time. Since the test in February we started well, we’ve taken a good direction to work in and from Qatar we knew it was possible to be fast this year, and the win in Texas and Le Mans confirmed that feeling. In Jerez it was difficult to be fast like in Austin or Le Mans but to finish third in a difficult Grand Prix was good. For sure being here with riders who will be my competitors next year it’s hard to say much…next year I’ll be with the fastest riders on the planet, with Valentino who was my hero since I was young…that’s incredible. It’s the first time I’ve been here in the Press Conference and next year I hope I can be here a few more times!”

With so much talk of the future of late, it’s easy to forget we’re only at the sixth Grand Prix of the season – and what a Grand Prix it is. Mugello, home of one of the most passionate crowds in the world and some of the best racing we’ve ever seen. This year is sure to be no different when the lights go out at 14:00 (GMT +2) on Sunday – so make sure to tune in!

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