Rossi revs up for 10th world ti­tle tilt in Qatar

New Straits Times - - Sport -

DOHA: Valentino Rossi will rev up for a 10th world ti­tle tilt amid a field of young ri­vals in­clud­ing new Ya­hama team­mate Mav­er­ick Vi­nales as the 2017 Mo­toGP sea­son roars into ac­tion in Qatar this week­end.

The flood­lit Lo­sail Cir­cuit in Doha will host the only night race on the 18-stop world cham­pi­onship cal­en­dar on Sunday.

The sandy, windswept track on the out­skirts of Doha is one which the 38-year-old Ital­ian su­per­star knows well, hav­ing won on four oc­ca­sions in 2005, 2006, 2010 and 2015.

But the vet­eran Ya­hama rider — win­ner of seven Mo­toGP world ti­tles and two in 125cc and 250cc — fin­ished off the podium last year in Doha with for­mer team­mate Jorge Lorenzo tak­ing top spot.

Rossi’s glit­ter­ing 20-year ca­reer has been tem­pered by frus­tra­tion in re­cent years and he has not won a world cham­pi­onship ti­tle since 2009.

He fin­ished run­ner-up for the past three years amid a tense ri­valry with Lorenzo, 29, with Rossi even ac­cus­ing cur­rent world cham­pion Marc Mar­quez of con­spir­ing to help Lorenzo win the ti­tle in 2015.

Lorenzo has since moved to Ducati, lead­ing to ris­ing star Vi­nales join­ing Rossi at Yamaha, whilst An­drea Ian­none made way at Ducati to move to Suzuki.

Vi­nales proved he could be a chal­lenger to the vet­eran mae­stro as he out­shone Rossi in win­ter test­ing at Sepang, Phillip Is­land and Qatar ear­lier this month.

“I’m still not very fast I have to work,” said Rossi.

But Vi­nales was de­lighted with how he han­dled the Ya­hama M1.

“If we do the same in the first GP as we did in the test, we can fight for the vic­tory,” warned 22year-old Vi­nales, who fin­ished fourth in his sec­ond sea­son in the top cat­e­gory in 2016.

A record nine driv­ers won a grand prix in 2016 and Rossi ex­pects an open cham­pi­onship.

“I think at min­i­mum six rid­ers can win this year,” pre­dicted Rossi.

“It will be very in­ter­est­ing this sea­son be­cause three top rid­ers change bike.”

Mar­quez — a five-time world cham­pion with three in Mo­toGP — fared less well fall­ing of his Honda three times in Qatar prac­tice.

“The first race of the sea­son is al­ways a spe­cial one be­cause you’re a bit more ner­vous than usual,” said the 24-year-old Mar­quez.

“One of the main things to con­sider is the sand, which can make the sur­face quite slip­pery as soon as you get out of the best line.”

Honda team­mate Dani Pe­drosa — a for­mer world cham­pion in 125cc and 250cc — has had six Mo­toGP podi­ums but none since 2013.

“The track is very dusty and the place is quite windy, so the grip is gen­er­ally not very, very good,” said Pe­drosa, who had his worst sea­son in 2016 in a decade com­pet­ing in the top class.

“There’s a long, long straight where we typ­i­cally have a head­wind and there­fore you need a strong en­gine.” AFP

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