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Ask even the most fervent MotoGP™ fan what happened on October 25, 2009 and the response maybe nothing more than a wild guess or shrug of the shoulders. It was the day in Malaysia when Valentino Rossi last won a MotoGP™ World Championship.
Ever since, the question of whether Rossi can win an elusive 10th title has been asked a gazillion times and then some. As the wild celebrations subsided in the early hours of October 26, 2009, nobody thought for a nanosecond that nearly a decade later, Rossi wouldn’t have managed to take his title tally into double figures.
Valentino Rossi: 20 years, 20 bikes
Likewise, very few waking up with tired eyes and sore heads in Kuala Lumpur could have envisaged Rossi maintaining the desire and motivation to be attempting to capture wins and titles less than a year from his 40th birthday. But here we are counting down the hours to Qatar, with Rossi poised to start his 23rd season in the World Championship, and the end of his illustrious career nowhere in sight. The old warhorse is still clinging onto a dream that he can gallop to one last title success before new pastures beckon.
So, will that dream have a fairytale ending, or was the final chapter of Rossi’s MotoGP™ title success written nine years ago in Sepang?
As American author Mark Twain once famously said: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Age has not dulled Rossi’s competitive edge. At a stage in life when most riders have hung up their leathers, Rossi continues to defy age and logic. His voracious appetite for speed and competition means he is widely tipped to sign a new two-year deal with Yamaha to race until the end of 2020. By then he’ll be 41!
Celebrating 9 World Titles with Valentino Rossi
The broken bones of 2010 and 2017 and the shattered dreams of 2015 haven’t diminished his love for racing. Anyone doubting how far his passion for MotoGP™ extends need look no further than last September’s MotorLand Aragon round when he heroically raced to a top five finish just 24 days after smashing his right leg in an enduro accident.
It might be that Rossi’s age and speed aren’t weak links in his title challenge in 2018, but it’s clear that mentally and physically Rossi is still on his A-game. And he undoubtedly still has the speed after concluding the last pre-season test in Qatar with the second fastest time.
But is Yamaha ready? The last time a YZR-M1 won was Rossi’s success in Assen last June. The M1 still stresses the rear tyre too much, which means Rossi runs out of grip in the crucial latter stages of races.
Stressing the rear tyre compromises durability and generates wheelspin. That means more traction control cuts, which kills Rossi’s acceleration. Worryingly for Rossi, there has been no progress made by Yamaha during the off-season to improve tyre life and acceleration with the controlled Magneti Marelli electronics. Not negligible progress, but zero progress.
Yamaha’s woes may have dampened his optimism about the start of 2018, but nothing can suppress his insatiable enthusiasm. And only a fool will dismiss Rossi as a genuine title threat.
Rossi is no fool himself though and he’s not oblivious to the monumental task he faces to win that 10th title. Of his astonishing 89 premier class wins, only 12 have come in the 139 races since he was crowned World Champion in 2009. That’s a winning average below 10% and only one win more than the 11 achieved by Marc Marquez on his way to title success in 2016 and 2017. Since Marquez began blazing his way through the MotoGP record books in 2013, Rossi has won 10 races compared to the Spaniard’s 35. And Andrea Dovizioso won the same number of races (6) in the last 13 of his breakthrough 2017 than Rossi did in the previous 51. If Rossi is to win that elusive 10th title in 2018, then those stats alone prove it will be his greatest accomplishment.
But if 2018 is not the year The Doctor has an appointment with a 10th title, well there’s always next year. And the next.
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