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Randy Mamola: Rossi is ‘The Spin Doctor'

Randy Mamola: Rossi is ‘The Spin Doctor'

Randy Mamola: Rossi is ‘The Spin Doctor'

Valentino Rossi calls himself ‘The Doctor', but I think that from now on we should call him ‘The Spin Doctor' – and not just for the way he rides a motorcycle! After witnessing the race at Welkom last weekend, we all now know that throughout preseason testing and the Grand Prix itself, Rossi was weaving a web of trickery - laying out decoys and traps all designed at destroying the mindset of his rivals, whilst saving a little joker up his sleeve for that first race.

Over the past week since the Grand Prix I have been able to look back and reflect on how he did it, and for me it all started at the preseason tests at Catalunya and Jerez. Yamaha arrived at the tests on the back of a lot of hard work at Sepang and Phillip Island which had already left Rossi in a position to start turning the screw. He surprised everybody with the fastest time at Catalunya, and again in the brief dry spell at Jerez, but he told us that the Yamaha was good for a lap but still wasn't quite ready to go race distance at that pace.

The anticipation as we all waited to find out whether that was true or not was incredible, and when the riders went out for that first practice in South Africa I got a real tingle of excitement. It was in that session Rossi continued his mind games with a tactic straight out of the Mick Doohan book.

The track was dirty, it was the first session of the new season and you can imagine how the riders would be approaching it – taking it easy, being sure to avoid an unsavoury crash by rushing into things and generally getting comfortable with the circuit. All of the riders, that is, except one.

You can be sure that Mick's old chief mechanic Jeremy Burgess was telling Valentino that if he felt okay, he should go out and set a quick time straight away. Valentino clocked a 1'35.7 after just eleven minutes and was instantly almost two seconds quicker than most of the other riders, who will have got a nasty shock to see that when they passed by their pit boards.

I'm sure that any of them could have done that lap time at that stage of the session, but the fact is they just didn't have that mental approach and they had to deal with the psychological effect of seeing Rossi on top of the time sheets for pretty much the rest of the weekend.

By the time we got to Sunday's race, Rossi was still in control but we still didn't quite know what to expect. He had been at the mind games all weekend, and when I studied his consistency during qualifying on Saturday afternoon, I figured his race pace would be in the high 1'33s, eventually fading into the 1'34s. In particular, during the final qualifying session he put together a string of 1'33s but then dropped to 1'34s before sticking on a soft tyre for the 1'32.647 that gave him pole position.

With Rossi still saying that he wasn't confident about race distance, I'm sure Max Biaggi was looking at the timing sheets and feeling fairly confident after doing plenty of laps himself in 1'33, whilst guys like Sete Gibernau, Nicky Hayden, Colin Edwards and Loris Capirossi will have all gone to bed thinking they had an outside chance after setting plenty of laps in 1'33 and 1'34.

However, it turned out to be just another one of Rossi's tricks and in the race he simply blew them away, setting 22 of the 28 laps in 1'33 and carrying Biaggi as his only contender.

Max rode magnificently and we saw a different side to him that could be the key to his season. Usually Max is at his best when he is out in front, lapping on his own and building up to one of those typically dominant victories we have seen so many times from him when the track and conditions are in his favour.

However, at Welkom he was aggressive, ready to mix it up and determined not to let anybody get in his way. When Gibernau came past him in the early stages of the race, Max got straight back in front and stuck to his task of ruffling Rossi with a series of spectacular overtaking manoeuvres. Both riders really wanted it and the result was one of the best shows we have seen in MotoGP for a long time.

A big part of Rossi and Biaggi's dominance was the new Michelin 16.5inch front and the bigger rear tyres, which offer more side grip and, as a consequence, allow the riders to carry more corner speed. For Rossi this is a major advantage because the way the Yamaha loses out to the Honda in terms of power delivery and acceleration out of the corner is compensated, and he has adapted his style accordingly.

The new tyres demand more of a 250cc riding style and, whilst Rossi was of course World Champion, there has perhaps been no 250 rider in history as good as Biaggi. The fact that he was able to set the fastest lap of the race on the last lap of a circuit which is notorious for tearing up rubber is further testament to this.

It will be interesting to see if they use this style again at Jerez, where the rest of the MotoGP field need to come up with a reaction to break Rossi's early momentum.

Although Gibernau stayed close at Welkom before dropping off the pace at half distance, his home race at Jerez presents a huge opportunity to fight back, whilst Edwards and Hayden, who were both fast during preseason and always go better in a race situation, must have been stunned by what happened in South Africa and know they need to come up with something fast.

The need for one of them to establish themselves as Honda's main concern is even greater now, because I honestly think that the great Japanese manufacturer was taught a lesson by Rossi at Welkom. It was a classic victory of man over machine and Honda will now be realising, if they didn't before, that they should value their riders above anything. When you think of it like that, you can understand why Max Biaggi has such a smile on his face.

MotoGP, 2004, Valentino Rossi

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