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Rossi "happy to be strong" at "hardest race of the season"

The Doctor’s rostrum dreams didn’t quite unfold but it was a nevertheless a great weekend for the nine-time Champion

Sunday at the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix was another reminder that there’s plenty of grit and determination in Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) yet.

P4 doesn’t tell the whole story of the race at the Sepang International Circuit. Desperate to earn his first podium since the Americas GP, Rossi had been strong all weekend onboard his YZR-M1 machine and having qualified P6, a podium attack was definitely on the cards. And it materialised. A cluster of high-level riders on an array of manufacturers were battling for the rostrum places in the opening exchanges as teammate Maverick Viñales broke clear at the front. Losing time at the first corner, Rossi soon picked his way through to P4 behind Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso as the two Italian veterans went toe-to-toe in Malaysia.

"I wanted to try for the podium but I couldn't beat Dovi"

Ducati vs Yamaha then played out. Two contrasting motorcycles on a track that boasts characteristics that supply advantages to both Rossi and Dovizioso’s machines. Rossi tried numerous times to get beneath Dovi at the tight Turn 9 left-hander, but Dovi’s Desmosedici acceleration and straight-line speed down Sepang’s monster straights ultimately meant Rossi couldn’t do anything about beating the Ducati. Settling for P4 wasn’t what the nine-time Champion wanted, but it was virtually impossible for Rossi to make a pass stick as Yamaha’s downfall was once more their top speed. A silver lining? Rossi set a new race lap record in Sepang. But the podium is what the Italian was ultimately after.

“Yeah I’m happy anyway because for us it was a good race, especially considering our speed and our result in the previous race,” began Rossi, relating to his P8 finish at Phillip Island last week that briefly saw him lead the race. “I wanted to try for the podium, because for sure the podium is another story, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to beat Dovi. But the race was good, I did the fastest lap also, I did the lap record, this is good. So I felt good with the bike, I rode well. For sure I was coming from a little bit of the rear on the grid, so I lost a bit of time at the beginning because I was fast. But I enjoyed (it), it was a good weekend.

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“Dovi in braking was good. He was strong. But also I was faster in the long corners for example,” continued Rossi, explaining the battle he had with Dovizioso. “I tried a few times but after on the straight he always re-passed. I was at the maximum. For sure I tried the maximum because third and fourth is very different, being on the podium is a lot better. But anyway, it was a good race.”

I’m sure most don’t need reminding about what happened in the 2018 Malaysian GP. Rossi crashed out of the lead having controlled the entire race from the front, and his pace again a year on – as well as Viñales’ formidable victory – is a great indication that both he and the Yamaha go well at the circuit. But why is the Yamaha suited to Sepang?

“I’m very happy to be strong because also, physically, it’s for sure the hardest race of the season. This is important. The layout of the track is good for the M1 because you have a lot of long corners, fast. In those places our bike is good. We need to work. Our bike is very good in qualifying with the new tyres, we are very strong. After, in the race, we suffer a little bit more because we do the lap time on the edge so for sure we stress the tyres more. And also we have a lack of speed so when you fight with the faster bike, it’s very difficult to manage when you are not alone. But Yamaha are working hard, so maybe we can improve.”

In 15 mins: Malaysian Grand Prix MotoGP™ highlights

One final 2019 fling awaits in Valencia, before the MotoGP™ riders and teams get their teeth stuck into 2020. A Rossi rostrum at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo will be a fantastic way to end a slightly difficult campaign, before testing begins - for Rossi's 25th Grand Prix season - just a couple of days later. Can Yamaha find some extra top-end performance to give Rossi, Viñales and Petronas Yamaha SRT duo Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli a chance against the likes of Ducati and Honda down the straight, without losing their superb mid-corner ability? It’s a question on everyone’s lips.

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