A test at Brno following the GP continued on the team's earlier progress. The team concentrated on rear grip and stability, and tested yet more new Michelins.
With the end of the season fast approaching, Rossi had to amass as many points as possible and hope for the opposite from Hayden. There were others between them, but Hayden was the most consistent.
Rossi believes that Pedrosa has more potential than Hayden, but that Hayden is the better rider at the moment. "In 17 races, I think Nicky is better. And Nicky's more versatile. Pedrosa is-if it's all perfect, it's all OK, he's very fast. But Nicky [has] more experience, and is also more able to use the bike with more problems." And he didn't see Hayden folding under the pressure of leading the world championship. "When I speak with him or when I saw him in track, he don't feel a lot the pressure."
Hayden and Rossi respect each other. It dates back to their days as teammates in the 2003 season. Rossi campaigned for Hayden to join him at Yamaha in 2007, a move Hayden considered with mixed emotions. "It made me nervous that these guys wanted me to come down there," Hayden said. "I guess, you know, it's like you keep your friends close and your enemies closer."
There was another change in Rossi this year that didn't go unnoticed. He was spotted jogging on the racetrack late into the evening. Never a formidable physical specimen, the slender Italian has always maintained a deceptive level of fitness.
"This year I train more, especially I run more than the past," he said. "I always make training, but not a lot of running. This year I am already 27 years old, so I need more breathing, and also now when I am at home I have some friend that come with me. When you never run, is a big problem. When you start is like a passion. After you go more and more."
Rossi on his Yamaha M1
A nasty practice crash at...
A nasty practice crash at Assen was yet another setback for Rossi.
Unfortunately, he thought...
Unfortunately, he thought it was the rear tire causing the vibration, and the mechanics changed the wrong wheel (inset).
When the lights went out to start the race in Valencia, the final race of the year, Rossi held an eight-point lead. But something didn't feel right in the first few laps. He was slower than the satellite Honda of Casey Stoner on the straight and had to push hard to keep up in the infield. The result was the same as Laguna Seca; the bike began to overheat. Rossi crashed by himself in Turn 2 on lap five, a slip seen as rarely as Halley's Comet. He remounted, but was riding a damaged motorcycle and was too far down the field to get to a point where Hayden would have to worry.
"You're never going to win a race from giving away 24, 25 seconds," Burgess said. "The competition is so strong. If you're going to claw your way back, history has shown us that even a Valentino Rossi, as we saw again in the Jerez race, is only going to get you back into the last three or four positions. End of story. The race was over once he fell off."
Rossi wanted to win the championship because it was the last for the 990cc MotoGP weapons. He'd won the last 500cc title and all four previous MotoGP crowns. Only 27, the Italian from the small town of Urbino is fast approaching records that no one thought would be broken. With 10 more premier class wins he'll equal the 68 held by the legendary Giacomo Agostini. Ago's last win came as a 34-year-old in the final race of the 1976 season.
"Yes, for sure, first I race just for my personal fun and for my personal satisfaction, because this is the thing that I like and I have a lot of fun," he said. "But when you start to come close to Agostini, Angel Nieto, Michael Doohan, this type of names, you start to look also at the records. Is not the main reason for sure. But become always more important."
As for not winning the '06 championship, he put it in perspective. "For me, I don't have to win. I won a lot, I am seven-time world champion. I am 27; if I don't win this year, I try another time next year."
Rossi and Burgess on 2007
Valentino Rossi isn't looking forward to the 800cc era. Pushed through by Honda in a failed attempt to cut speeds, the 800s were breaking lap records in end-of-season testing while still in the very early stages of development.
"I think the lap time is, I think from the beginning is very close, but unfortunately for the rider is a lot, lot worse, because a lot more spin, a lot more control in acceleration with the throttle, especially in the first year, I think," he says. "Maybe after the power come back more or less at the same level. But when you take out 50 horsepower, it's like the bike is broken."
Rossi isn't sure that Dani Pedrosa's light weight will be an advantage. Certainly it will help with tire life. "He put less pressure, so he have better tire at the end. But sometimes is also the opposite." And it won't help the diminutive Spaniard in wet conditions, where he already struggles. "So we need to understand. I think, anyway, the level of the riders don't change a lot between 1000 and 800. I mean, Pedrosa is fast with this and he's fast with the 800, and the same for Hayden and for Capirossi."
Crew chief Jeremy Burgess doesn't see the rider's weight as that large a factor. Suited up and ready to race, Rossi weighs about 165 pounds, according to Burgess. He thinks Hayden is similar. But Hayden believes he needs to lose weight to be competitive with his much lighter teammate Pedrosa.
"If I was Nicky," says Burgess, "I wouldn't be focusing too much on that. I'd be focusing on if you start to lose too much of your own physical body mass, you start to make your life pretty miserable. I'd rather see Nicky concentrate on not shredding kilograms here and there, but actually focusing on beating his teammate. And not only his teammate, but everybody else. I don't think a kilogram here or there is going to save him. Otherwise, I could be world champion if it's all down to shedding weight.
Rossi and Hayden test their...
Rossi and Hayden test their new 800cc MotoGPmachines following the final '06 race at Valencia, Spain.
"At that level, if Nicky feels he's got a few kilos he could lose, well good on him, let's lose them and still get on with the job. I think he's got good people around him; I think he's got a good trainer. I don't think he'll have any problems at all in that respect."
Burgess says that they're starting "with a clean sheet of paper, and we're all aiming for the same thing. We're very keen to correct the deficit.
"I think if you average out the points versus wins over the last 10 years and you look at the graph, you'll see that the Mick Doohan and the Valentino Rossi era is very strong, and then you have these glitches of Alex [Criville] and Kenny [Roberts] Jr. and also Nicky now. When you divide maximum points by races, there's some serious anomalies in the actual graph. I'd like to put that graph back where it should be and see the guy that wins five or six races be the world champion.
"In no way am I taking anything away from any of those riders on their way through, because they have scored better than anybody else in the season. From the purist point of view, I feel we've let the sport down, not us personally, but the rest of us. We need to push that average as high as we can. You need to finish first or second or first, first, first, first to be the genuine champion. That's pretty much how Honda drilled it into me over the years."