Viñales bins it, Mar­quez wins it, but The Goat goes top in ti­tle chase,

Motorcycle News (UK) - - FRONT PAGE - By Si­mon Pat­ter­son MCN MO­TOGP RE­PORTER IN TEXAS

While his ri­vals have been fast, but in­con­sis­tent, Valentino Rossi eased into the lead of the 2017 Mo­togp world cham­pi­onship on Sun­day af­ter a bril­liant ride in Austin, main­tain­ing his 100% podium record in 2017.

While both Marc Mar­quez and Mav­er­ick Viñales are cur­rently on an­other level in terms of pace, Rossi has been near fault­less and his con­sis­tency is pay­ing off. But he knows that he has to start winning again.

At Austin the nine-time world cham­pion rode a solid race be­hind run­away win­ner Marc Mar­quez. Bid­ing his time, he set up Dani Pe­drosa for a de­ci­sive move in the clos­ing laps – and with the exit of dom­i­nant team-mate Viñales, who crashed out on lap two, Rossi now leads the cham­pi­onship by six points.

“When I saw ’Viñales out‘ I started to think ‘I‘m on top of the cham­pi­onship stand­ings!’ I felt good and I also saw Dani hav­ing some prob­lems, es­pe­cially on the right hand cor­ners, so I said ‘maybe those four points are im­por­tant’ and in fact it was like that,’” said an ebul­lient Rossi.

Mark­ing the first time since the fate­ful Sepang bat­tle of 2015 that he’s led the ti­tle chase, Rossi couldn’t be in a bet­ter po­si­tion as the se­ries moves back to Europe and his pre­ferred tracks. But the Ital­ian seems prag­matic about how dif­fi­cult it will be to stand on the top step: “For me in all my ca­reer the first tar­get is to try and win a race, and this year is the same. To stay at the top with Viñales and Mar­quez will be very hard, and we have to just en­joy the moment,

Euro­pean in­va­sion

“But now we go back to Europe and ar­rive at a very good part of the cham­pi­onship,” he con­tin­ued. “We have Jerez, Barcelona, Le Mans, Assen, where for me it’s a great feel­ing to race. They’re tracks that give me fan­tas­tic mem­o­ries, are very en­joy­able, and are the real tracks of the world cham­pi­onship.

“Apart from that though, we have to just try to con­tinue like this, to stay con­cen­trated, and to get the max­i­mum from the bike.”

But even with such a strong start to the sea­son al­ready un­der his belt, Rossi ad­mit­ted that his cham­pi­onship po­si­tion has still come as some­thing of a sur­prise.

“It’s a big sur­prise for us, be­cause af­ter the tests we were quite des­per­ate. We tried to think on many things, even to use the old bike again, but in the end we made the right choice. The prob­lem for me and for my team was that we needed more time to un­der­stand the bike bet­ter.

“But the bike has some­thing pos­i­tive about it, es­pe­cially at the end of the race. I can re­ally push there to be strong. In fact, with Cal [Crutchlow] in Ar­gentina and with Dani [Pe­drosa] in Austin I was able to at­tack, and last year I was al­ways fast at the be­gin­ning and suf­fered a lot at the end.”

0.3 sec­onds of conflict

Rossi’s dra­mas didn’t fin­ish af­ter the in­ci­dent with Zarco in Sun­day’s race, with the cham­pi­onship leader then hit with a con­tro­ver­sial 0.3 sec­ond time penalty for ‘gain­ing an ad­van­tage’ when he ran across the run-off, cut­ting the next cor­ner short and clos­ing the gap to Marc Mar­quez. But, speak­ing to MCN, race di­rec­tor Mike Webb ex­plained the logic be­hind pe­nal­is­ing Rossi.

“You can’t gain ad­van­tage by go­ing off the track. That’s in the rule book. But he was off the track thanks to an­other rider. If he’d re­alised that he’d gained an ad­van­tage to Mar­quez and closed the throt­tle enough to give that ad­van­tage back we wouldn’t be talk­ing about it at all.

“He didn’t give the ad­van­tage back so was up to us to do that, but tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion that he was forced off the track, we couldn’t ap­ply a puni­tive penalty like a posi-po­si­tion.tion. So in­stead, we took back the ad­van­tage he gained.”

‘And I tried to thumb a lift, like this, but no-one stopped...’ Rossi needed to drop Pe­drosa by 0.3s to keep sec­ond place af­ter his con­tro­ver­sial penalty

it’s al­ready very good.”

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