CLASS OF ONE
ROSSI REIGNS Valentino stuns rivals with flag-to-flag victory in Jerez – taking him one step closer to Agostini’s all-time victory record
Just when he looked like he had no realistic answer to the blistering pace of his team-mate Jorge Lorenzo or championship leader Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi produced a vintage riding display to dominate Sunday’s Jerez Motogp race.
The 37-year-old arrived in Spain as a distinct underdog to Lorenzo but instead of being outgunned Rossi was untouchable, taking his first victory since the British GP last year.
His utter control of the race was more akin to a Lorenzo display, where his rivals are forced to watch him disappear and are left fighting for second place. Leading from first corner to last, apart from one very short-lived overtake pass by Lorenzo, Rossi eventually stretched his lead to five seconds despite the Spaniard’s best intentions.
Speaking after the race, an ecstatic Rossi said: “In my mind, I knew I could be very strong at Jerez – but it was more a hope than a prediction!”
There are many reasons as to why Rossi was able to win, but the key factor in such a decisive victory is his clear and growing affinity with the new-for-2016 Michelin tyres.
“I feel so good with the Michelins because I grew up with them,” explained the Yamaha rider. “They feel familiar to me. Bridgestone had a very high level, but I was already quite old when we started using them!
“In the first Michelin era, I was always very fast at this track, but I never got a good result here with Bridgestone. Last year I was struggling all weekend. This time I felt good from the start and we worked very well. It looks like this year I am stronger, especially in qualifying, with the Michelins.”
The tyres suit Rossi’s riding style more than the Bridgestones, which required racers to have unconditional confidence to the front tyre. Despite a DNF at the previous round, he seems better than many of his rivals at understanding the fine line between hero and zero with the new tyres. He may be the oldest man on the grid, but he is almost certainly the wisest, and he’s using his vast experience to get the maximum from the latest technical change.
His pace has been aided by Yamaha’s mastery of the new control electronics. With the team able to commit more personnel to the problem than anyone else but Honda, it remains a key factor in Rossi’s ability to control the Michelins so well.
Incredibly Jerez was Rossi’s first ever flag-to-flag victory in Motogp and he left relishing his achievement: third in the championship standings, just seven points behind Lorenzo in second.
“What I lost a little bit in 2015 compared even to 2014 was the number of laps I spent in front.
“I won four races last year, but I spent more laps in front in 2014. Spending 27 laps at the front in Jerez today was very important for us.”
And that’s going to prove to be a significant worry for Rossi’s title rivals in the coming weeks. With Jerez normally a good indicator for the European circuits that now dominate the remainder of the season, Rossi has now established himself as a title contender with much more authority than he did at this point last year.
There’s another target for Rossi as well, though. By showing the pace to win races once again, it’s telling that when asked about Giacomo Agostini’s all-time win record of 122GPS now only nine wins away, Rossi, who is normally happy to discuss it, fell silent.
“We can’t talk about that!” he told the assembled press with alarm after the race, “I’m superstitious!”
‘ In the first Michelin era, I was very fast at this track, but I never got a good result with Bridgestone’