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For as long as Matthew Birt has been covering MotoGP™, Rossi has been winning and in Jerez The Doctor showed he’s not out of tricks just yet
With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock
It seems like an eternity since I covered my first MotoGP™ race at Jerez back in 1996.
I remember it well for the dramatic finale involving Mick Doohan and Alex Criville and the fact that I was able to walk away with only a cracked bone in my elbow and concussion after a truck tried to convert the Motor Cycle News hire car into a matchbox.
In those two decades since, I’ve seen the dreams of a gifted few fulfilled and the dreams of hundreds and hundreds of others fade without trace.
MotoGP™ has changed immeasurably during that time, but only one thing has remained constant.
Valentino Rossi at the top.
He just missed the podium that day when he finished fourth in an epic 125cc race behind Nobby Ueda, who ironically denied him a career first podium by just 0.046s.
If you had told me on May 12, 1996 that on April 24, 2016 I would be witnessing an ageless Rossi still winning in MotoGP™, well my response might have been laced with more than one expletive.
Rossi’s brilliant win last weekend in Jerez was just the latest chapter in a career that has bridged generations and continues to defy logic.
He is a force of nature. A master of reinvention, who aged 37, is still capable of performances that almost render you speechless.
Sunday’s win was his 87th in MotoGP™, yet the first time he’s led every lap from pole position to take a win in his illustrious premier class career.
This is an old dog you can teach new tricks to. Rossi has quickly adapted to the different characteristics of Michelin’s tyres and his wealth of experience means he’s a master in the art of tyre management now the unified software has lessened the influence of rider aids.
Rossi comes from an age before MotoGP™ machines became the laptop guided missiles of the modern era. Back in the day, your right hand was your traction control and in a Spanish Grand Prix where hot conditions turned the race into an examination in controlling wheelspin, Rossi simply coped better than anybody else.
Even Lorenzo’s crew chief Ramon Forcada admitted that after checking data, Rossi had handled the wheelspin issues better. The spinning issues were so severe that a few riders felt like they were riding in the wet. They’d all had to moderate throttle opening on the straight to get drive, and it was MotoGP™’s shrewdest operator that prevailed over its smoothest.
Sunday’s conditions seemed to play to the strengths of Lorenzo and his famed smooth style. Yet The Doctor gave him a taste of his own medicine.
Rossi’s longevity in a sport that demands so much of the mind and body is truly remarkable.
And 2016 has again shown how his willingness to embrace new ideas to help him remain at the top.
The recruitment of double 250cc Luca Cadalora as rider coach might have initially raised a few eyebrows.
What can anybody coach a talent as peerless as Rossi’s? Yet Cadalora’s advice from his eagle eye observations trackside were mentioned by Rossi in the euphoria of his post race celebrations in Jerez.
To put Rossi’s latest and almost unfathomable achievement into perspective, his latest teen protégé Nicolo Bulega is comfortably young enough to be his son.
Bulega was born in October, 1999. Rossi was already a 125cc and 250cc World Champion by that stage and preparing for his first crack at the premier class.
Former friend and now bitter foe Marc Marquez was just three when Rossi was tearing around Jerez with the likes of Peter Oettl, Lucio Cecchinello and Jorge Martinez in 1996.
Oettl was 11th in that race and he now has a 19-year-old son carving out his own reputation in Moto3™. Philipp Oettl was just nine days old when Rossi beat his father in Jerez. Amazing.
It is not only how long he has been racing that you have to admire, but the fact that he has been at the top throughout that almost beggars belief.
Rossi’s desire and motivation to still want to be racing, to still be dragging himself to the gym on a daily basis, and to risk paying the ultimate price in pursuit of pleasure and glory is what blows my mind.
His deflating defeat to Jorge Lorenzo in last year’s World Championship will never be completely erased from his memory. You park those difficult life events in a certain compartment of your brain, but you never completely get over the crushing disappointment.
But Rossi’s ability to rebound in adversity and pick himself and carry on the fight is astonishing. He did it after the Ducati debacle of 2011 and 2012 and he’s doing it again.
Anybody that doesn’t understand his commitment and hunger to be the best should watch back the aftermath of last weekend’s Moto3™ race.
Following Bulega’s brilliant first and certainly not last podium, Rossi went to Parc Ferme to congratulate him. The MotoGP™ warm-up session had finished well over an hour before that, but Rossi was still in his leathers.
He’d been sat diligently with his crew carefully calculating the electronics and set-up master plan to be ready for a much hotter track surface that was to throw up a completely different challenge to the one posed in practice and qualifying.
And there he was, the old warhorse at work, rolling back the years with a performance so brilliant and commanding that he must have felt like a teenager again.
Watching him from the commentary box certainly felt like I was being transported back to 1996 when he first burst onto the scene.
The controversy and tension of the conclusion to 2015 has left Rossi with nothing but contempt for Lorenzo and Marquez.
His mauling of the pair of them on Sunday must have felt extra sweet. Having to stand next to a triumphant Rossi milking it on the podium in front of their home crowd, well that must have been the bitterest pill for Lorenzo and Marquez to swallow.
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