SEPANG, MALAYSIA, FEB 5 – Five laps into his return to Yamaha Valentino Rossi knew he’d made the right decision.
After a two year career setback that saw his reputation tarnished by a mostly unraceable Ducati that’s ruined more than one career, Rossi was back on the motorcycle on which he had his greatest success and the one on which he won most of his premier class world championships.
Right from the start Rossi put his name among the leaders at the Sepang test and stayed there. He finished with the fourth fastest time and only 0.383 seconds off the pacesetting mark of Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa. Just behind Pedrosa were Yamaha’s world champion Jorge Lorenzo and the surprising Marc Marquez, the Moto2 World Champion who was only 0.044 seconds from the fastest time.
Much had been written about whether Rossi had lost his touch during his two miserable years at Ducati. Rossi answered that question for both himself and his fans with a quick strong showing. He was quickly at or near the top of the Sepang test time charts, and stayed there throughout the seasonably warm, humid day.
“Big relief,” Rossi said after day one of the Sepang test. “Yeah, because you know after two season like this is difficult to…you have a lot of question marks, a lot of doubt. I’m still a rider, I’m still a top rider, because I’m still able to arrive at the limit with the bike, because, you know, in the last two seasons the results were quite bad. But especially the difference compared to the top guys was huge, you know. So it was not half a second, it was two seconds or one second and a half. So for me is a great relief today, because I think that for sure the level is so high and for me is for sure difficult because I have to try to beat (Jorge) Lorenzo and (Dani) Pedrosa that I think they are at the top of their career. I am already more old, so I need to do more effort, but we are not so far.”
Within five laps he was comfortable with the “feeling on the bike, the position on the bike and also the way to work on the bike and improving step by step, very clear modify, very easy. This is better, this is worse, so is like a line. Is very clear. In the last season was very frustrating because you try everything but always the same. So like this is better.”
What he most noticed on the first day of the Sepang test with the Lorenzo-developed Yamaha YZR-M1 was the riding position, front grip and engine character. Rossi said the bike was better than the one he’d last ridden in 2010—and he gave credit to his teammate.
“I think Yamaha with Lorenzo and his team make a very good job, also without me, because the bike is better. Clearly,” he said. The electronics are “a lot more easy and especially is a lot more easy to work on the system. It’s very clear what you have to do from the bike. And also the front feeling is also more than 2010 and for sure the engine have more power because it’s 1000, but this is more normal.”
Rossi continued about his feelings after day one of the Sepang test. “Yeah. I’m a bit surprised, but what I understand in my career is that the feeling after ten laps is very important, because after you can work, you can improve, but the base of the first of the ten laps is that. So I was very, not worried, but waiting for the first lap for understand more or less where I can go and i was straight in the top three. So this is important. When I try the Ducati in Valencia after three laps I understand that for sure will be very, very hard. After you know, you try to don’t give up too, but the first impression is important.”
Rossi’s first impression was made on a 2012 Yamaha using a set-up similar to Lorenzo’s with some small modifications.
“I use, like for make an example, one rank harder front spring, so we start from the base of Jorge with my small modify. But at the end the setting are very similar,” he said.
A number of journalists tried to entice Rossi to denigrate Ducati. He didn’t bite, but he was clear about what had happened at the Italian firm.
“You know, I won more or less every challenge of my career except the Ducati challenge, so one loss,” he said with a smile. “So after these two seasons I’m more young and I’m more motivated. For sure if I remain in Yamaha at this time I arrive more tired. But after two seasons with Ducati I’m more young.”
MotoGP Sepang test Day One results:
1. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Honda 2:01.157
2. Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) Yamaha 2:01.165
3. Marc Marquez (SPA) Honda 2:01.201
4. Valentino Rossi (ITA)Yamaha 2:01.584
5. Stefan Bradl (GER) Honda 2:01.789
6. Cal Crutchlow (GBR) Yamaha 2:01.881
7. Alvaro Bautista (SPA) Honda 2:01.981
8. Katsuyuki Nakasuga (JPN) Yamaha 2:02.968
9. Kosuke Akiyoshi (JPN) Honda 2:02.972
10. Nicky Hayden (USA) Ducati 2:03.336
11. Wataru Yoshikawa (JPN) Yamaha 2:03.456
12. Bradley Smith (GBR) Yamaha 2:03.460
13. Andrea Dovisioso (ITA) Ducati 2:03.535
14. Aleix Espargaro (SPA) ART/Aprilia 2:03.782
15. Randy De Puniet (FRA) ART/Aprilia 2:04.283
16. Andrea Iannone (ITA) Ducati 2:04.500
17. Ben Spies (USA) Ducati 2:05.086
18. Takumi Takahashi (JPN) Honda 2:05.154
19. Hector Barbera (SPA) ART/Aprilia 2:05.469
20. Yonny Hernandez (COL) ART/Aprilia 2:05.656
21. Karel Abraham (CZE) ART/Aprilia 2:05.694
22. Danilo Petrucci (ITA) Ioda/Aprilia 2:05.753
23. Hiroshi Aoyama (JPN) ART/Aprilia 2:05.919
24. Claudio Corti (ITA) FTR/Kawasaki 2:06.426
25. Michael Laverty (IRL) FTR/Kawasaki 2:06.507
26. Lukas Pesek (CZE) Ioda/Aprilia 2:07.015
27. Bryan Staring (AUS) FTR/Honda 2:07.044
28. Colin Edwards (USA) FTR/Kawasaki 2:08.206