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It was famous American rapper Jay-Z that once sang about having 99 problems. The MotoGP™ field only has one, and it is with number 99…
With nineteen years of experience reporting on MotoGP™ for Motorcycle News, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2015 season he joins the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.
It was famous American rapper Jay-Z that once sang about having 99 problems.
The MotoGP field only has one. And it is with number 99.
Jorge Lorenzo’s ruthless Italian job in Mugello was his third victory on the bounce and moved him ominously to within just six points of Movistar Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi.
Not even Lorenzo could have imagined when he left Argentina downbeat and well defeated after a fourth straight finish off the podium that he was about to embark on a run of form that the 28-year-old has seldom surpassed in his career.
Mugello though was another perfect demonstration of Lorenzo at the peak of his powers.
Uncompromising and aggressive on the first lap to get to the front as soon as possible and then breathtakingly fast and unerringly consistent to blitz away from a shell-shocked field.
At times he was a second quicker than the chasing pack in the early laps. And barely a third of the race had been completed when it was impossible to get him into the same camera shot as those mounting a futile pursuit.
I spoke to Kevin Schwantz for a forthcoming interview after the race and he summed up Lorenzo’s supreme early charge by saying: “These guys he’s racing are not silly. They are the best in the world and how he is doing that (lapping one second faster) is really impressive.”
He has led every one of the 78 laps over the line in the last three races and Yamaha has now won five out of six races, which is one more win than the Japanese factory managed in the entire 18-round campaign last season.
Of the last 12 races, Yamaha has won nine, and of the 18 podium places up for grabs in 2015 so far, Lorenzo and Rossi have taken half.
Yamaha’s contribution to Lorenzo’s recent domination can’t be underestimated.
The introduction of the full seamless gearbox, which included downshifts for this season, made the YZR-M1 much more stable on corner entry and allows Lorenzo to brake as much as 10 metres later.
The improvements Yamaha made played to Lorenzo’s strengths. He was already so smooth in the braking zone that his braking technique was branded ‘mantequilla’. That means butter in Spanish.
By being able to brake later with a more stable bike underneath him, Lorenzo is faster into the corner and then able to carry more corner speed, which is has always been his key attribute.
The abundance of high-speed second and third gear corners at Mugello were heaven sent for Lorenzo’s riding style, and he exploited it to the absolute maximum.
Lorenzo’s modus operandi is not to everybody’s liking.
His wins have lacked the drama and edge of the seat entertainment provided by Rossi’s late victories in Qatar and Argentina.
But you can only stand back and admire the talent and skill on show. When he’s fast he looks slow, his YZR-M1 ridden with such poise and finesse that it looks like he’s doing 50mph and not 150mph.
In the last three races he’s ridden every lap to perfection and left his rivals wondering how they can stop the onslaught.
As as the series heads to Barcelona next week, the battle between Lorenzo and Rossi for the Championship this year has evoked memories of their epic Catalunya clash in 2009.
Six years ago Rossi prevailed after one of the best duels seen in living memory, with a daring overtake at the final corner delivering a sucker punch to Lorenzo, who thought he had the race won.
Rossi might need another inspired performance to stop Lorenzo from taking a fourth win in a row for the first time in his career.
Bring it on!
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