Valentino Rossi – Riders column
This has been one of the longest winters I can remember, with so little MotoGP testing time, but it has been an enjoyable one for me because I have had time to try lots of different things and when we have tested the 2010 Yamaha YZR-M1 the results have been excellent.
I’ll start off by telling you about some of the car racing I have done, which kicked off back in November following the 2009 season finale in Valencia. I participated in the 19th edition of the 6 Hours of Vallelunga in a GT3 team with Andrea Ceccato and my old friend Alessio ‘Uccio’ Salucci in a Ferrari 430 prepared by the Kessel Team. Unfortunately my first stint in the car was spoiled by fog, which meant that I had to drive behind the safety car, and then we had a few mechanical issues and an outbreak of fire in the closing stages, which prevented us from challenging for victory.
I was scared a little by the fire, but the safety guys were very quick to react. It’s tough, because we came close to victory. There wasn’t a battle at the start because of the safety car, but we all had fun because we ran well and had many fans there – 10,000 of them in total! Eventually we finished third. If there is an opportunity to return next year, I’d be happy to, because when you are at the front only 40 minutes from the end it leaves a bit of a bitter taste.
In the last weekend of November I competed in the Rally de Monza and finished second. Driving a Ford Focus WRC, I took four out of nine stage wins, but two errors on special stages 4 and 5 meant that I missed out to Dindo Capello, who was driving a Citröen C4. I also took part in the Master’s Show, a competition involving all the participants of the rally in an elimination-round special stage. Despite having the best overall time, I only reached the semi-finals and lost again to Capello, having beaten my friend and new MotoGP rival Marco Simoncelli in the quarter final round.
Anyway, I finished the rally by winning the last super special “Grand Prix” test in the rain so it ended in a good way! In recent years the level of the Rally de Monza has risen a lot and in order to win it is not enough just to be fast, it is also necessary to make very few mistakes. I ended my motorsport year with one more appearance before Christmas at the “Bettega Memorial”, a rally show that is celebrated each year as part of the Bologna Motorshow.
However, I was only away from the steering wheel for a few weeks because at the end of January I went to Barcelona for two days of tests with the Ferrari F1 team. Both days started out wet, which made things complicated at the start, but I was able to put more than 600 kilometres on the clock of the F2008, provided by Maranello’s F1 Clienti department, and set a best lap time of 1.21.900 on the penultimate lap – almost over the time limit the team was allowed to use the track! We kept the last three quarters of an hour to try a ‘time attack’ with little petrol and fresh tyres and I was delighted with my speed. Before the test I would have given anything for such a lap time. I had much more fun compared to my last experience with the Ferrari at Mugello in November 2008, mainly because the track is a little bit easier. It’s more effort in Mugello, but Montmeló is really wonderful, with motorbikes and cars, although I have to say that turn 10 is a little tight (the one with the spins) and you’re braking much later.
I enjoyed spending so much time on four wheels over the winter but I was much more excited to be back on two wheels when the MotoGP preseason finally got underway at Sepang. It was always going to be important to make a good start to the preseason because this year we had just six days of testing in which to set the bike and we could not afford to waste any time, so I was delighted with what we pulled out of the box on the opening day in Malaysia. We tried the new bike for 2010, with a different chassis and the new engine, which can do more kilometres, and it was already quite fast. I was inside the lap record and fastest overall, half a second quicker than my nearest rival Casey Stoner. On the second day I completed just 32 laps because of some rain but I finished with a best time of 2’00.925, only half a second slower than my record pole time there. Even though we lost a few hours to the rain at the end we were still able to finish all our work and I was happy to be the fastest overall.
After the test Jorge and I went to Bangkok to take part in a two-day promotional visit for Thailand Yamaha Motor. On the first day we made an appearance at the Yamaha Riders Club, where we enjoyed a meet and greet with Yamaha VIP customers before taking part in an exclusive TV interview with the Thailand Night Show, and on the second day we took part in a press conference with various Thai media before appearing on-stage in front of almost 10,000 fans to unveil the new Yamaha Mio125cc. We made a couple of laps on special 46 and 99 replica versions of the new model and also had the chance to meet Mr. Nagashima, President of Thailand Yamaha Motor, and Mr Yanagi, who will be Yamaha Motor Company’s new president, which was a great thrill.
A couple of weeks later we were back in Malaysia for the next test, where we were able to confirm that the work we did at the first session was good and we made a decision about the right way to go with overall balance of the bike and the suspension settings. We also tried some new electronic maps, to try to improve acceleration, and it clearly worked because this time I was able to go faster than my pole record, which was a good feeling. I did this with an old tyre but we also got the chance to try a very good new tyre from Bridgestone, which I hope we will use from the first race. I also had the chance to try the Japanese test bike, so hopefully the feedback I gave them will help us in the future.
It was good to have set the pace on all four days of testing at Sepang but in many ways the Qatar test was always going to give a clearer indication of our progress because it is not one of mine or Yamaha’s best tracks! In fact, we were fastest on the first night and second fastest overall behind Casey Stoner, who is always very fast at Losail, and that shows what a great job Yamaha has done with the new M1. On the first night I was already able to go faster than last year whilst on the second night we concentrated mostly on race preparation. We did a long run at the end of the session and we got some good information, which will help us in the race, and it feels like we’re ready now.
I have some new rivals this year, such as my new factory colleague Ben Spies and my good friend Marco Simoncelli. Unfortunately I think that Simoncelli is in a bad condition at the moment because he is off the pace and he’s already had two big crashes and in both he hit his head on the asphalt. For me he has good potential and it is possible he will become one of the protagonists of MotoGP but first of all he has to understand why he goes slow and crashes. This year will be very tough but the good thing for us is that we are also in good shape so it will be another good fight. I am still motivated more than ever. I always try to be at the top of my game, improving and trying to adapt to the new bike. I am experienced and I know that you always need to adapt yourself to new machines, to new regulations. If you ever think you are at the top of your performance, then you have a big problem! Every season has its own story, it is more and more difficult and you always have to be faster. This is my passion and I have had a great career with a lot of good results. The way to race for me is to try and win. When I understand that will not be possible, it will be ciao to MotoGP forever!
It is not yet that time, though, so in the meantime it is just ciao for now! See you on the grid in Qatar.