Michael Doohan, Australia's 500cc world champion, aims to win in Italy for the fourth year in a row at Mugello tomorrow but he will face strong competition from the Italian Luca Cadalora, who has a score to settle.
The 30-year-old Doohan, chasing his third world title and leading the championship after four races, took the Italian Grand Prix at the Tuscan circuit in 1995 and 1994 and the San Marino Grand Prix at the same track in 1993.
Cadalora, who like Doohan rides a Honda, has never won a 500cc race at the circuit north of Florence. To heat up their rivalry, the Italian was quoted yesterday as saying Doohan had behaved in an unsporting manner when he won in Spain earlier this month.
Cadalora, who finished second in the race at Jerez on 12 May, accused Doohan of removing the mini-camera that the top 10 riders have installed on their bikes to relay television pictures. Doohan allegedly carried out the removal on the starting grid minutes before the race.
"That gave him an unfair advantage of around three kilos," Cadalora said, "but I couldn't do anything about it because there is only a private agreement between teams to install the cameras and not an FIM [the governing body of international motorcycling] ruling."
Cadalora said that the race at Mugello was very important strategically for the championship. "This is the place where you can win or lose the championship, that's always the way it's been historically," he said.
The Italian has 55 points to Doohan's 71 after winning the opening race of the season in Malaysia.
Spain was a return to form after a lull in Indonesia and Japan and Cadalora said he was on the right track again. "The most important thing is to put pressure on the leader," he said. "I would like to win here but I think winning depends on the amount of work you put in and your state of mind. I think this could be the right moment."
While the 500cc is the big race of the day, home fans will be following Aprilia's 250cc champion, Max Biaggi, who is the most popular motorcycling celebrity in Italy.
Biaggi won at Mugello last year. Another celebrity attraction in the paddock will be the world skiing champion, Alberto Tomba.
Mugello, voted the best grand prix of the season last year, has undergone several security improvements. The safety run-offs on the bends have been expanded and concrete walls replaced by metal guard rails.