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More than simply a race: this is Mugello | MOTOGP | SPORT

Nestled in the hills of Tuscany near the Italian jewel of Florence, the natural beauty of the Autodromo del Mugello is a stunning spectacle on its own.

Packed to the rafters with fans when MotoGP – and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) – come to town, the circuit and event is one of the true wonders of the Championship. More than a race weekend, Mugello is almost a festival to celebrate of speed, competition and motorcycling.

The paddock will not only be racing for 25 points in the Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley, they will be racing with more than winning on their minds. Following the tragic loss of MotoGP Legend Nicky Hayden ahead of the event, this weekend MotoGP is racing for Nicky. The work ethic, passion and commitment to racing that took Hayden from Kentucky to the MotoGP World Championship will be the goal of every rider on every grid, to celebrate the life of one of the finest figures ever to walk the paddock and grace the racetracks of the Championship. One of Hayden’s catchphrases was ‘Let’s Get It’, and that’s what MotoGP will be there to do.

Leading the charge at Mugello will be the home hero – in the truest sense of the word. The ‘Doctor’ Valentino Rossi commands a devotion from Mugello almost unseen on any other stage on Earth. The nine-time World Champion also has fantastic speed around the venue, and coming into the Italian GP after a difficult Le Mans could bring out the best of the number 46. Pushing hard to catch teammate Maverick Viñales last time out, Rossi crashed out on the final lap – but the gap to the top is not insurmountable and the crowd will be out in force to back Rossi as he pushes for another win.

Viñales, now clear at the top of the table by 17 points, will be the man looking to stop him. With a true duel to the line denied the crowd at the French GP, the Spaniard will be preparing himself for a re-run on Rossi’s home turf – with more to prove than his speed. The man now behind Viñales in the Championship, Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) also has an advantage to defend – but has shown a different calling card so far in 2017.

A crash in Argentina aside, Pedrosa has consistently judged the limits of each race. From a stunning win in Jerez to a charge from P13 on the grid to the podium at Le Mans, the ‘Baby Samurai’ has only been getting better since a solid preseason passed some by under-the-radar. With hotter temperatures expected at Mugello akin to those of Jerez and tracks on the horizon where he has one of the best records on the grid, Pedrosa can be confident for the Italian GP as well as confident of concentrating on consistency. Teammate Marquez is the man who needs to hit back after a DNF in France.

The number 93 took his first GP win at Mugello in the 125 Championship, however, and won the 2014 MotoGP race at the track. Dueling it out for the win last year with Jorge Lorenzo, Marquez showed his pace once again – and will be looking for points this year to move back up the Championship table, eager to avoid repeating his mistakes of 2015.

The man who won last year, Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team), has been first or second at the Italian venue every single season since his sophomore year in MotoGP – and most of those were victories. Now facing a different challenge on a different machine, Mugello is a track that could see the ‘Spartan’ back into the front fight after a more difficult Le Mans – somewhere to add some more early glory to his journey in red after the rostrum finish at Jerez. And the home crowd will be cheering the Borgo Panigale factory effort fielding both Lorenzo and teammate Andrea Dovizioso, giving the red machines an even bigger incentive to put together another impressive race weekend on home turf.

The Italian support doesn’t stop there. Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) took good points in France and will be pushing in Mugello – a track that his seen him at his spectacular best – and Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) will also be on the charge at home. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) is a constant Independent Team threat for the podium, and Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) is looking to add his name to that list after getting his first MotoGP rostrum finish last time out in France following a stunning ride to second.

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’ Aleix Espargaro and Sam Lowes will also be looking to fly the flag at home for the Noale factory after positive testing in Barcelona for the ever-evolving RS-GP, and fellow competitors on the road to progression Red Bull KTM Factory Racing will be pushing hard to get another bike into Q2 and take more points after managing both with both Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith last time out.

The field is close, the venue is spectacular and the crowd one like no other. With so many riders in podium and victory contention so far in 2017 and incredible racing throughout the field, the show is sure to be one to remember. And this weekend, MotoGP is racing for 25 points as in every race – but more so for Nicky Hayden, on one of the most beautiful stages on Earth.

Ride on, Kentucky Kid. Let’s get it.