Rossi and Viñales beam­ing while Honda rid­ers strug­gle with en­gine is­sues

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

The 2017 sea­son could be Valentino Rossi’s last chance at tak­ing the most elu­sive prize of his ca­reer – a tenth world ti­tle. Win­ning the cham­pi­onship would se­cure his sta­tus as the Great­est of All Time in the sport and af­ter a highly suc­cess­ful open­ing test of the year at Sepang last week, his odds of mak­ing his­tory are bet­ter than ever.

Be­fore even a wheel has turned in anger, the cham­pi­onship has been thrown into dis­ar­ray. Three times Mo­togp champ Jorge Lorenzo has left the proven win­ning for­mula of Yamaha to ride for Du­cati, while Marc Mar­quez con­tin­ues to be plagued by en­gine prob­lems on his Honda. With his two big­gest rivals hav­ing is­sues to over­come, Rossi re­mains not only fast, fin­ish­ing 6th quick­est in the test, but de­lighted with the progress made by his en­gi­neers in im­prov­ing the race long per­for­mance of his Yamaha M1. Mean­ing that the Ital­ian might well be in his best po­si­tion to strike for ti­tle glory one last time.

But with the cham­pi­onship as com­pet­i­tive as it’s ever been – there were nine dif­fer­ent win­ners in 2016 – Rossi says he doesn’t ex­pect it to be easy when the sea­son starts in Qatar next month.

In­ter­est­ing, not easy

Speak­ing at the Sepang test, Rossi ex­plained: “I think on paper it’s not eas­ier or harder this year, but it de­pends on me and the team. We need to ar­rive ready in Qatar and to stay con­cen­trated for the whole sea­son. That’s very im­por­tant, be­cause last year I had good speed and was com­pet­i­tive at a lot of dif­fer­ent tracks, but I made mis­takes and I was un­lucky.

“It’ll be a very in­ter­est­ing sea­son, be­cause three top rid­ers have changed bikes, and Lorenzo’s move to Du­cati in par­tic­u­lar is a his­tor­i­cal one af­ter nine years at Yamaha, and it’ll be in­ter­est­ing to un­der­stand his level of per­for­mance. Also, Viñales with the Yamaha and Ian­none with the Suzuki will be very in­ter­est­ing as well – but not more easy!”

But it is the im­prove­ments Yamaha have made to the M1 that will be cru­cial in Rossi mount­ing a se­ri­ous year­long ti­tle cam­paign. Fast in the open- ing part of races last year, both Rossi and Lorenzo strug­gled to­wards the end to take the fight to their op­po­si­tion – but with a key chas­sis change ar­riv­ing for the Sepang test, Rossi now says they’re in a stronger than ever po­si­tion while their op­po­nents con­tinue to strug­gle.

“It was an im­por­tant test for the new frame, be­cause it’s good and I liked it. It’s eas­ier to ride the bike, and es­pe­cially in the sec­ond half of the race. It puts less stress into the tyres. I feel good with it now. In the end, the test was pos­i­tive. We found a lot of good things, all the new stuff that Yamaha brought was good.”

Heal­ing wounds

It’s taken well over a year, but Valentino Rossi has fi­nally ad­mit­ted just how much his now in­fa­mous race clash with Marc Mar­quez at Sepang in 2015 af­fected him. In a surprise rev­e­la­tion, the 37-year-old said that the in­ci­dent both­ered him so much it even com­pro­mised his early 2016 sea­son form.

“To have a pos­i­tive feel­ing, it needed to have not hap­pened what did hap­pen at the end of the 2015 sea­son,” he said to MCN. “But it’s very im­por­tant now to re­main calm and quiet, and time is the best healer. More time has passed, so I’m more re­laxed, and now I need to try and stay serene and con­cen­trate on the work to be done.”

‘It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to un­der­stand Lorenzo’s level of per­for­mance’

Gal­busera’s in­put con­tin­ues to drive Rossi on

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