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It’s hard to believe it has been seven years since Rossi took back-to-back wins, but Matthew Birt believes that could all change in France.
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 is just one month shy of seven years since Valentino Rossi did something that MotoGP™ title rivals Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez have done for fun in recent history.
You have to go all the way back to Rossi’s epic and enthralling last gasp win over Lorenzo in Catalunya in 2009 and the following showdown in Assen for the last time the Italian won back-to-back races in the premier class.
Rossi won three more races after his Dutch TT success on the way to clinching his last title in 2009. But since then he has only made sporadic visits to the top step of the podium.
In fact, since the beginning of 2010, he’s won in just 10 of his previous 107 starts.
Yet I think he has his best chance to record back-to-back wins for the first time in a long time in France this weekend, even though he hasn’t triumphed at the legendary Le Mans track since 2008.
Rossi does have 11 MotoGP™ podium finishes to his credit in Le Mans, making the stop-and-go venue of the happiest hunting grounds of his career.
And it’s also worth remembering that two of his three visits to Parc Ferme on the brutally unforgiving Ducati GP11 and GP12 both came at Le Mans.
I think it will be Rossi’s current mood and confidence though that could propel him to follow-up success after his breathtaking performance last time out in Jerez.
I doubt the nine-times World Champion has come off cloud nine since that win in Spain. I’m still trying to digest the fact that the 87th win of his MotoGP™ career was the only time in his premier class career that he won after leading over the line in every lap of the race.
After Lorenzo and Marquez had bossed the opening three races, it was a timely reminder from Rossi that he’s still going to pose a major threat in the destiny of this year’s title.
I honestly can’t see beyond Rossi or Lorenzo for the win this weekend and I despise writing anybody off before we’ve seen a wheel turned in anger in FP1.
But Rossi arrives in France buoyant and eager to inflict another humbling defeat on Lorenzo and Marquez to keep the pressure on in the early title chase.
Lorenzo boasts a 50% winning record in MotoGP™ at Le Mans, and he rode an inch perfect race one year ago to win for the fourth time in the premier class. And anybody that saw his post race interviews in Jerez should be in no doubt that the Ducati-bound reigning World Champion is looking for rapid revenge on Rossi.
I strongly fancy the Yamaha duo to do the business because Le Mans is a track dominated by low gear hairpins and braking stability and grip under hard acceleration are absolutely essential.
And right now, I think the Yamaha YZR-M1 has the advantage over the rest in both areas.
Honda’s main weakness remains a lack of acceleration grip caused by a combination of an aggressive RC213V motor and a slower transition to the new unified software.
And the lack of grip from the rear puts Marquez on a knife edge with front tyre grip and endurance too. To make up for the lack of acceleration grip, Marquez has to try and make up his time in the braking zone. For a rider that is already hailed as one of the most aggressive and late brakers in MotoGP™, pushing hard to mask the rear grip issue, Marquez abused his front tyre too much in Jerez’s hot conditions.
It will be cooler in Le Mans, but the hard braking nature of the track will place Marquez into the danger zone again in terms of overworking and overheating his front tyre.
I’ve been impressed with the Spaniard’s willingness to go into damage limitation mode this season when he’s not had the pace to win.
Last year, he just went into damage machine mode in races like Catalunya and Aragon when he got caught out pushing too hard on a bike that simply wasn’t ready.
I think the Marquez of 2015 might have been picking gravel out of his boots again in Jerez last month had he not clearly learned from last season’s unforced errors.
He’s clearly thinking about the bigger picture of the World Championship than just the immediate glory of a race win.
Rossi really needs another win quickly to try and further reduce the 24-point deficit he has to Marquez. I got a real sense after his Jerez win that he was really regretting his Austin crash that he feels cost him 20 crucial points. Without Lorenzo’s blunder in Argentina too, the World Championship would have a very different look to it.
Credit to Marquez again because he is the only rider in the top four not to make a big mistake.
We all want to see a close title chase, so another Rossi win in Le Mans or return to winning ways for Lorenzo would help massively in that respect. I’m sure the Mugello promoter will love it if Rossi wins again on Sunday.
Can you imagine Rossi heading to his spiritual home in Mugello on the back of two successive wins for the first time in seven years? I think I might just join the queue to get in now!
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