By Michael Blaustein
For round 1, the stellar start to the 4th season of the Enel MotoE World Cup, click here. Click round 2 if you missed that.
The picturesque hills of Tuscany created the perfect backdrop for the third round of the MotoE World Cup Championship. MotoE found itself on the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello, a circuit that undulates naturally through the tree-lined valley and has remained virtually unchanged since 1976. But for the Energica Corsa electric bikes, this was their first foray into competition here, giving all riders roughly level footing, as even the most seasoned riders have never ridden this bike on this track.
On Friday, for qualifying, we witnessed a sunny hot day with track temperatures reaching upwards of 110 degrees. The big story was that two-time world cup winner Jordie Tores was not going to be racing due to the injury that kept him out of the second race in LeMans. It was Mattia Casadei who turned in the early top time, followed closely by Eric Granado. Ultimately, it was Domi firing off a 1:59.206 to clinch the coveted pole position, just about two-tenths up on hometown hopeful Kevin Zannoni in second and another Italian in Mattia Casadei completing the front row. In the fourth starting position on the start of the second was Eric Granado, followed by a spate of Italians, including former MotoE World Cup Champion Matteo Ferrari, the flying mustache of Kevin Manfredi, and Niccolo Canepa in 7th position. In 8th was lone Spaniard Miqueli Pons, followed by another Italian, Andrea Mantovani. It does seem important to note that the top 10 riders were all separated by less than one second, which is a testament to just how tight the MotoE racing really is.
With the longest straight on the calendar, this fast and flowing track is demonstrative of the definition of hairpin turns. One look at the track will show from whence that descriptor came. Among the longest in distance, the Mugello circuit provides many opportunities to riders who understand aerodynamics and those who are willing to tuck in behind the others to use drafting in order to make some dramatic pass at the entrance of turn #1, San Donato. So, what is key to watch for is the group, the peloton if you will, as they exit the fast sweeping left-hand turn 15, Bacine corner, if a rider can exit well and get on the throttle early while lining up right behind the rider in front you will be able to use the hole they punch through the air to gain anywhere from 2 tenths to almost half a second. Once the rider picks up those extra km/h they can slingshot around and hope to be able to out break the slower rider as you come to the much tighter San Donato corner.
The first race on Saturday, the weather did play a factor, as it was declared a wet race. This means that riders can use rain tires instead of slicks, the trouble this poses is that the rain tires are terrible in dry weather as they overheat and come apart, and even though it was declared a wet race, it was really a bit mixed. The track itself was dry, the surrounding sky was very threatening, but there wasn’t any rain actually falling from said sky. This poses quite a conundrum for the riders: go with rain tires and hope it rains or choose the dry slicks and hope the rain holds off long enough for the truncated sprint race to be completed. Most riders opted for the dry tires and crossed their fingers.
Even as the assistants and team partners were holding umbrellas and whipping the mist off of faceshields, they still held out for dry. The race started clean and Matteo Ferrari jumped up from 5th position to second, and Kevin Zannoni took the poleshot from Aegeter, who was relegated to third. The first bit of drama came when after the riders bunched up for the left–right chicane of Maserati corner to Borgo San Lorenzo, which opens up into a short straight, and Eric Granado in his exuberance ran up the back of Niccolo Canepa and his front fender exploded off the front end of his machine. No harm was done in that no one went down, but these Energica motorcycles are finely tuned for aerodynamics as well as performance and when a piece of the bodywork is lost, it can become quite difficult for the rider to handle.
It was at this same moment that Aegeter was able to take advantage of the passing attempt made by Ferrari on his compatriot Zannoni who pushed each other wide into Casanova and Domi took the lead. Getting the drive out of the final corner, Bucine, is important for everyone and the flash onto the start/finish straight was where Domi was swallowed up by the riders behind him and dropped to fourth. However, the riders who used the draft effect to such great extent were unable to get the anchors out fast enough and were all just a little too hot coming into San Donato, and so the experience of Aegeter came into play and he was able to keep the tighter line and regain that first position. But Granado was right there as well, passing Ferrari on the outside of Luco turn 2 and Aegeter on the inside of Poggio Secco turn 3 in a brilliant feat and a display of supreme confidence. Sadly, this exchange resulted in Kevin Zannoni moving way back to 8th place behind Casadei and Mantavani as they completed what was really only the second lap.
And now a man we haven’t heard much from — Marc Alcoba, 70 Openbank Aspar Team — came charging up from a position of 10th on the grid to grab fourth place from Mantovani. With the high-speed double rights of Arabiata 1 & 2, Aegeter was able to keep a nice tight line (while Granado preferred a wider later apex) and Aegeter gained a small advantage, reeling in Granado at Scarperia turn 10, flowing through without loss of momentum. Aegeter regained the lead, but leading onto the start/finish straight was suboptimal with the tight pack of racers drafting off the fast left-hand corner and Domi once again finding himself in fourth, while Matteo Ferrari through grit and determination hung on around the outside of the turn. Meanwhile, Aegeter had some contact that damaged his front brake lever and he was having to adjust it on the fly and adapt to the new lever position.
As they prepared to complete the penultimate lap, it was Ferrari leading from Granado, with Marc Alcoba, Aegeter, and Mantovani rounding out the top group. But as Mantovani, a substitute rider stepping in for the injured Bradley Smith, dove under Aegeter at Bucine, the five leaders raced down the start/finish straight once again. Whether it is the fact that Aegeter had his brakes rearranged or if he was just the last of the late breakers, Domi found a way to be in the front and on the inside of turn 1 took the lead into the last lap. With 77 from 11 from 54, it was Dominique Aegeter who knew that he needed to open up enough of a gap to keep the chasing pack far enough back so that they could not benefit from his slipstream. The number 11 bike of Matteo Ferrari, the first ever World Cup Series winner, came in second. But it was Granado’s 51 machine that got pipped at the line by Mantovani to be the second Italian on the podium.
The next day, Sunday, was a completely different picture, with as fine a day as you could wish for. In the buildup to the race start, there was some tension, as the title points spread was just about 35 points covering the top 5 contenders for the Cup, but with Dominique Aegeter’s dominance and experience, he could well run away with it today. Anything could happen and it usually does.
The lights went out and they were on their way, down into their first pass at San Donato. It was local favorite Kevin Zannoni cutting the nose off of Domi to lead the first lap. Everyone was cleanly through except for Mattia Casadei, who found his line a little bit too inside and caught a little grass and dirt, sending him to the floor and nearly taking Mantovani with him. This could have some implication for the World Championship, as he was #3 in the standings at the start of the race, just 29 points behind Aegeter.
As the first lap drew to a close, we saw another faller, while Zannoni had enough of a lead that he did not fall prey to the chasing pack in his slipstream. Aegeter, however, did, dropping 5 places to 7th — and the other Kevin, Kevin Manfredi 34 OCTO Pramac MotoE, moved up into 4th. Another championship contender, Eric Granado, had given himself a lot of work to do from 6th position, with Zannoni leading from Ferrari and Miquel Pons in third.
Further down the order, yesterday’s winner and his closest points rival were swapping 6th and 7th place between them and opening doors for some of the riders further down the field to catch up to the all-important lead group. Meanwhile, Nicolo Canepa, a faller in yesterday’s race, turned in the fastest lap time today and put himself into 5th position.
Rounding Bucine one more time to mark the midway point of the race, the top 7 riders began to bunch up and then fan out in an attempt to break the momentum of the drafting riders behind. But try as they might, it was all chop and change, with Ferrari and Zannoni swapping places, Miquel Pons coming up fast on the inside and overtaking Marc Alcoba for 4th, while Nicolo Canepa held on in 5th from a hard-charging Aegeter.
The two points leaders were playing against each other and Pons nipped past Zannoni for 2nd on the second-to-last lap. It all seemed quite settled for a moment until Marc Alcoba on the number 70 made an aggressive move up the inside on Kevin Zannoni’s number 21 SIC58 machine. He was forced wide, which opened the door for the likes of Granado and Aegeter. At the end of the fast straight, Zannoni, looking so good all weekend, found himself in 8th place with Canepa and Mantovani also getting cleanly by. Get ready for a firecracker last lap, as the veteran campaigners were battling with the hungry young riders. Aegeter made a daring move up the inside of Alcoba at Bucine and Ferrari was squeezing out just a little bit of a gap out front. Granado was pushed back and Aegeter was free to fight for his own position. It’s Alcoba and Aegeter, or Aegeter and Alcoba — they finish with an identical time and the replay shows them in a dead heat. WOW.
Ultimately, 2nd place was awarded to Aegeter by virtue of his setting the fastest lap of the race on that final lap. So, they finished with Matteo Ferrari in 1st, Dominique Aegeter in 2nd and Marc Alcoba in a mighty 3rd place.
Well, race fans, you can take a moment to catch your breath, as MotoE will have a few weeks break before reconvening at the Cathedral of Speed at Assen in the Netherlands on June 26th. In the meantime, here are your standings after 6 races.
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