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10 days ago
By Matthew Birt

Nice guy turned nine guy: Dovizioso back on top

MotoGP™ commentator Matthew Birt looks back at the Malaysian GP, and raises a glass to winner number nine

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.

Ever since Dani Pedrosa became a record-breaking eighth different winner in eight MotoGP™ races at Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, the eyes of the racing world have been transfixed on Andrea Dovizioso.

As the list of candidates to become a historic ninth winner in an utterly unpredictable 2016 season dwindled, Dovizioso found himself thrust into the limelight, which is a position he has seldom sought or appeared overly comfortable in. But, Dovizioso’s last six weeks have gone something like this: eat, sleep, race, answer question about being ninth winner in MotoGP™: and repeat.

The growing media obsession was hardly deflected when Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez all publicly backed Dovizioso as the outstanding and obvious candidate to be the ninth different victor in nine races at Motorland Aragon.

Such was the infatuation with Dovizioso winning for the first time since Donington Park’s British Grand Prix in 2009, it felt like we had reached a point where it was almost demanded of him to deliver. So when Motorland Aragon, Twin Ring Motegi and Phillip Island came and went and Dovizioso didn’t come close to registering a momentous ninth win, I was resigned to the fact that the craziest of crazy MotoGP™ seasons wasn’t going to get any crazier - eight different winners in eight races had already cemented MotoGP’s status as the greatest motorsport show on earth. But, we all wanted the remarkable run to go on so we could continue to wax lyrical about a golden era for the sport we love.

"Eight different winners in eight races had already cemented MotoGP™’s status as the greatest motorsport show on earth. But we all wanted the remarkable run to go on."

Eight winners is awesome, but a ninth would simply give us more ammunition to boast about MotoGP™ being the most spectacular, adrenaline-fuelled and high octane Sunday afternoon motorsport therapy there is going. It is rare you get to witness a once in a lifetime event, and a ninth winner in MotoGP™ is just that, with it never previously happening in the illustrious 68-year history of the World Championship.

So I was happy on two counts that we left Sepang with a bang last Sunday.

Highlights: Delight for Dovizioso in Sepang classic

Firstly, I felt massively privileged to be commentating when yet more history was made because I very much doubt I’ll be still walking this planet when such an incredible feat is matched or bettered. To think we have seen nine different winners in 2016 is almost hard to fathom. I thought I’d see pigs flying and hell freezing over in the same week before I’d see such a remarkable run in MotoGP™.

Secondly, I was properly pleased to see Dovizioso be the man to take MotoGP™ to such astonishing landmark.

"...tears of relief and joy for a rider who has given blood, sweat and more tears to unlock the door back to the top step of the podium for himself, and for Ducati..."

I wasn’t surprised at all when he said the tears were flowing on the final lap of a soaked Sepang race. They were tears of relief and joy for a rider who has given blood, sweat and more tears to unlock the door back to the top step of the podium for himself and for Ducati. Dovizioso has been an instrumental figure in helping drag Ducati out of the doldrums and his contribution to steering the Bologna factory back to winning ways can’t be downplayed.

Dall'Igna: "I'm really proud of the season"

When he joined in 2013, a Ducati ride looked like a fast track to a career dead end. The famous brand was in disarray and turmoil after a two-year stint with Valentino Rossi left Ducati management with faces as red as their fairings. That first year was brutal. Dovizioso finished inside the top six in just two races and in only once race was he within 20 seconds of the winner. And in some races he was humiliated by being two seconds off the pace. In that period of crisis though, Dovizioso never threw in the towel. Famed for his methodical and analytical approach, Dovizioso embraced the tough challenge of helping Ducati arrest their slide into mid-pack obscurity. He’s always been intrigued by the nuts and bolts of racing. Colin Edwards was the same. Turning a racing motorcycle into a winner was almost as rewarding as the winning itself, so Dovizioso and Ducati seemed tailor-made for each other.

"Turning a racing motorcycle into a winner was almost as rewarding as the winning itself, so Dovizioso and Ducati seemed tailor-made for each other."

Ducati knew it would be a hard road back, but they also knew they had a rider in Dovizioso who was never less than 100% applied to the task, and if they took a wrong turn, it was not in his character to lambast them and throw them under a bus. Sure, there were times of immense frustration and times when his patience must have been pushed close to breaking point. But he never let his guard down in public. He always said the right things and any dig was done so subtly that it never came across as stinging criticism.

The arrival of Gigi Dall’Igna in 2014 only put more fire into Dovizioso’s belly. The former Aprilia boss spoke frequently about how essential Dovizioso’s development skills as a rider were to help him get Ducati back to the days of the glorious Casey Stoner era when the Desmosedici posed potent opposition to Honda and Yamaha. So it was understandable to see Dovizioso so deflated and dejected when Ducati’s long barren run without a victory, which stretched back to 2010, was ended at the Red Bull Ring by his teammate Andrea Iannone.

Highlights: Iannone takes Ducati’s first win since 2010

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rider so crushed to finish second in a MotoGP™ race as Dovizioso did in Austria.

Not only was he beaten to that famous win by a rider he appears to have very little time for, but he then had to hear people saying Ducati had replaced the wrong guy to accommodate Jorge Lorenzo in 2017. For me, Austria seemed to summarise Dovizioso’s MotoGP™ career in 21 laps: he’s a blindingly fast talent but there’s always somebody that fraction quicker on the day.

As a person, I have always found Dovizioso to be nothing but engaging, polite, pleasant, intelligent and articulate.

As a rider he is calm, measured, consistent and fast.

Perhaps he does lack that ruthlessness and killer instinct that makes the likes of Rossi and Marquez such formidable opponents, and too often he’s been the stalked prey rather than the predator. Which is why I think you’d be hard pushed to find anybody in the paddock that begrudged Dovizioso his opportunity to put himself on cloud nine as MotoGP™’s winner number nine in Sepang.

Disaster for Ducati as double podium slips away

This year has been one of the toughest of Dovizioso’s career in many respects. He was denied a podium in Argentina by the recklessness of Iannone’s kamikaze move at the penultimate corner. And just a week later another podium went begging when he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when Dani Pedrosa turned his Repsol Honda RC213V into an orange and blue torpedo. And all of this was happening against constant speculation and gossip about which Andrea Ducati would choose to partner Lorenzo next year.

Perhaps Dovizioso should not have kept us waiting so long for only his second premier class victory when you look at the fact that he led in Assen, Sachsenring, Red Bull Ring and Brno but failed to get the job done. Thankfully he didn’t have to wait too much longer to get that unique taste again of what it feels like to win at the pinnacle of world motorcycle racing.

It was a success that was certainly long overdue when you consider the amazing statistic that Sepang was his first victory for 2653 days. But his win means we now head to Valencia dreaming of a 10th winner in 18 races. Surely it can’t happen, can it?

For now I’m going to be content that we’ve seen nine and see how it unfolds in Valencia.

Congratulations again though to Andrea Dovizioso. Nice to see MotoGP™’s nice guy be MotoGP’s nine guy.

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