MCN EXCLUSIVE IN­TER­VIEW ‘I don’t want to stop. I know it won’t be easy’

In a rare one-on-one in­ter­view, Rossi tells MCN what he’s got planned for the fu­ture Con­tin­ued over

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Si­mon Pat­ter­son MO­TOGP RE­PORTER

Valentino Rossi has made no se­cret of the fact that he’s been toy­ing for some time with the idea of an­other two years in Mo­togp, ex­tend­ing what is al­ready an in­cred­i­ble ca­reer un­til 2018 – and un­til he’s al­most 40.

But even then, few ex­pected the press re­lease that landed, with­out fan­fare, the night be­fore qual­i­fy­ing at the open­ing round of the sea­son in Qatar, con­firm­ing that he wasn’t toy­ing with the idea any more; that he’d al­ready put pen to pa­per.

In­deed, in a sign of how al­mostrou­tine the an­nounce­ment was to the nine-time world cham­pion, when 20 of the world’s me­dia crammed into a sweaty cabin nor­mally used by the Yamaha team to eat their meals in, it was team boss Lin Jarvis an­swer­ing our ques­tions; Rossi was still in de­briefs with his crew.

But, while few of us ever re­ally doubted the pas­sion the Ital­ian had to con­tinue, it in re­al­ity came as no shock that the man who fin­ished run­ner-up to team-mate Jorge Lorenzo in 2015 was elect­ing to stay in the sport while he was still com­pet­i­tive.

Talk­ing since the 2015 sea­son ended about his thought process to re­main, Rossi ad­mit­ted that the plan was to dip his toes in the very muddy wa­ters of the new sea­son be­fore mak­ing any call. Re­duced elec­tron­ics and new tyres meant that the com­ing sea­son was go­ing to be rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent, and he was tak­ing no chances be­fore mak­ing sure he would still be fast enough to win.

And fast enough he was through- out all of pre-sea­son test­ing, run­ning among the other ti­tle favourites with pace that showed no signs of his in­creas­ing age.

But de­spite that, when MCN sat down with Rossi at last week’s third round of the se­ries in Austin, he ad­mit­ted that while he was al­ready fairly cer­tain of his de­ci­sion, it was in the end Yamaha that made the first move.

“In my mind, I al­ways knew that I was go­ing to stay. But usu­ally we start to speak af­ter five or six races and fix next year then – and this year I was still in this mind, be­cause we change the tyre, change the elec­tron­ics, and every­thing.

“But Yamaha came to me – Lin came to me – and said ‘why you wanna wait? We know you will con­tinue, Yamaha want you to con­tinue, and the con­tract is ready.’ There were maybe two or three de­tails, but we only needed half-an­hour to sort it out and he told me they wanted to sign as soon as pos­si­ble. So I say OK! At that stage, there was no rea­son to wait!”

And, of­fered the new deal at the same time as team-mate and fierce ri­val Jorge Lorenzo, there was also the op­por­tu­nity for mind games in the quick an­nounce­ment; first blood to Rossi as both he and the Spa­niard make key de­ci­sions about their fu­tures.

Whether the move had any ef­fect on Lorenzo’s de­ci­sion to de­fect for Du­cati at the end of the year is some­thing we’ll prob­a­bly never know – but it’s none­the­less a per­fect ex­am­ple of the way Rossi’s brain works.

It also opens the door for a very dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter to come into the garage next to him, with Mo­togp’s new wun­derkind Mav­er­ick Viñales topped

as the favourite to take the Yamaha seat. Rossi – one of the Suzuki riders’ big­gest fans – has no prob­lem with that move… yet.

“For me it would be no prob­lem to have him as a team-mate – it is not a big dif­fer­ence if Lorenzo re­mains or if Viñales comes, or Ian­none or Pe­drosa. It is true for sure that with Viñales it will be very hard, though, be­cause he is very young and he has a good ta­lent. He will be­come one of the top riders in Mo­togp very soon.”

Age will be a key dif­fer­ence re­gard­less of whom Rossi’s team-mate ends up be­ing. Now set to re­tire from the sport aged 39, he’ll be the old­est rider of the mod­ern age by a long shot.

But, de­spite that, he says there was never any ques­tion of tak­ing a one-year of­fer from Yamaha – partly be­cause of Mo­togp’s now-stan­dard two-year deals and partly be­cause he doesn’t want to walk away that soon!

“Two years is long, es­pe­cially at my age, but the way the world works now, Yamaha have to make a con­tract for two years – be­cause ev­ery­one else does too.

“I know that it will be a big ef­fort to be as fast as now un­til the end of 2018 – it will not be easy. But my tar­get is to fight for wins and to be com­pet­i­tive un­til the last race of my ca­reer. I know I’ll have the feel­ing that I don’t want to stop, but I have to! But I still know it won’t be easy to do it.”

And yet while oth­ers like Casey Stoner and Colin Ed­wards have suc­cess­fully tran­si­tioned a ca­reer in Mo­togp into a role test­ing for a man­u­fac­turer or a tyre com­pany, Rossi con­ceded that the fi­nal round of the 2018 cham­pi­onship may well be the last time we ever see him on a Mo­togp bike in anger.

“I don’t know if I want to be a de­vel­op­ment rider. Rid­ing a Mo­togp bike is what I love do­ing best, so maybe I can test for Yamaha or some­thing like this, but I don’t know. It’s dif­fer­ent – the adren­a­line, the feel­ing, the pres­sure of a race is some­thing dif­fer­ent. Maybe ral­ly­ing in­stead – I think I can go there be­cause if you are quite old you can still go fast!”

So if test­ing is out for Rossi postre­tire­ment, what will the fu­ture even­tu­ally hold for him?

“I think the Academy will be my fu­ture more than the test­ing. I en­joy it so much – the young riders keep me young! We spend a lot of time to­gether, and I like that they’re like my close friends now. It’s nice to be able to help them, and it’s nice to be in front of a TV on a Sun­day shout­ing and scream­ing like mad!

“I have my brother, but I also have Mor­bidelli, Fe­nati, Bulega, all the young

THE TEAMS ROSSIÕS RID­DEN FOR

2000 Rossi, the reign­ing 250GP cham­pion, grad­u­ates to 500GP. Honda build him a new team around the de­part­ing Mick Doohan’s crew. Sec­ond in his first year, he wins the ti­tle the fol­low­ing sea­son.

VALENTINO ROSSI

riders. They are great, and I think that be­ing in this world will be my fu­ture.”

He’s off to a good start there too, with the Team Sky VR46 squad al­ready tak­ing the Moto3 Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onship last year with Ni­colo Bulega, and with his new team-mate Romano Fe­nati al­ready prov­ing that they’re in Moto3 ti­tle con­tention for this sea­son.

“For me, now our project is to try and ar­rive in Moto2. We have our CEV ju­nior team with one bike that won the ti­tle with Bulega - and the first project is to ex­tend that team to two bikes.

“We have a very good Moto3 team with Sky, with a great part­ner­ship, and they give us a lot of sup­port and a lot of money! But our tar­get is to have a Moto3 team that can win the ti­tle, and then to also have a very good Moto2 team.”

But while the squad is set to ex­pand into Moto2 next year with Fe­nati, Rossi was also quick to dis­miss ru­mours that he was in­ter­ested in tak­ing over the fi­nal grid spot avail­able for Mo­togp for 2017.

“Mo­togp is more dif­fi­cult. But also, I don’t care the same, be­cause our project is to try with the younger riders and when they ar­rive in Mo­togp it’s done! 2002 With the new four-stroke ma­chin­ery comes a new team for Rossi, as Rep­sol Honda ab­sorbs his satel­lite team. He re­wards them with ti­tles in both years of his two-year deal.

‘Maybe I will go ral­ly­ing in­stead − there if you are old you can still be fast’

2010 Rossi signs a one-year deal with Yamaha, as ten­sions in the squad be­come so se­vere that they are ef­fec­tively split into two teams. To make it worse, Lorenzo beats him to the ti­tle. 2011 Once again keen for a new chal­lenge, and the prospect of win­ning on an Ital­ian bike, Rossi makes the ill-fated switch to Du­cati. What fol­lows are two years of lan­guish­ing out­side the top six. 2013 Rossi re­turns to Yamaha – but takes his time to find his pace, fin­ish­ing the first year in fourth with many say­ing he’s too old. He shoots down his crit­ics in 2014 by fin­ish­ing sec­ond in the ti­tle. 2015 Rossi starts a sec­ond twoyear deal with Yamaha, again tak­ing sec­ond in the first year as he uses his con­sis­tency to only just miss out on a record-break­ing tenth ti­tle.

Un­til re­tire­ment do us part. Rossi and the Yamaha M1 have re­newed their vows and will carry on their per­fect part­ner­ship

Rossi’s crew were in­stru­men­tal in his de­ci­sion to stay for two more years MCN Mo­togp re­porter Si­mon Pat­ter­son gets his ap­point­ment with the Doc­tor

Rossi’s con­sis­tency will be key when it comes to catch­ing Marc Mar­quez Young Mav­er­ick Viñales could be Rossi’s 2017 team-mate

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