ON TOP OF THE THE WORLD
Rossi and Viñales beaming while Honda riders struggle with engine issues
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.”
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’