Sunday’s Grand Prix of the Americas at Circuit of the Americas in Austin is shaping up as a crucial benchmark for Valentino Rossi and his future in MotoGP.
As Rossi contemplates his desire for a 20th season in Grand Prix racing in 2015, he knows he must continue the age-defying form he showed at the opening race in Qatar.
Rossi, 35, was at his sparkling best coming from 10th on the grid to engage the flashy 21-year-old Marc Marquez in a breathtaking duel in Qatar.
Marquez won the race but Rossi’s dynamic second-place suggests that he is fitter and faster than he has been in many seasons. And aiming to meet his June deadline to assess his willingness to extend his Yamaha contract.
The Texas GP, the second race of the season, will be a benchmark race for Rossi.
He started 2013 in similar sparkling style with second-place in Qatar but then faded to finish a distant sixth at COTA last year.
Apart from a single win at the Dutch TT, Rossi’s 2013 campaign featured eight fourth-place finishes as the Spanish trio of Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa headed him in the championship.
“Now the key is to continue like this (at Qatar) because last year I also made a great start to the season but then in the other races I had some problems,” Rossi said. “But now I feel stronger and I ride the bike in a better way and work in a better way with the team, so from Austin I want to try and stay in front. I know it is difficult with the Hondas and Marquez, but I have to try.”
Rossi is keen to show that he can be a more consistent threat for wins and podiums against the younger Spanish squadron, a process that would also convince him to race on in 2015.
And while Rossi is guarded on his chances of winning an eighth MotoGP crown, his bosses at Yamaha are talking up his title hopes while readying a new contract offer for the summer.
Yamaha feels that Rossi can carry the title fight to the new generation, based on his form in Qatar.
“Frankly, I think he’ll be looking to capitalize on this as much as anyone,” said Yamaha MotoGP boss Lin Jarvis. “He has changed a lot his approach during the winter, his riding style, his training and his focus. Last year he was coming from two difficult years at Ducati and he was happy to back home (at Yamaha). Now he knows he is at home and he wants to win. He has come into this season giving his absolute maximum concentration and attention to detail, a change of crew chief, and we have seen the results.
“I don’t think we will see the same dip as last year. I believe Valentino will be there. His ambition is no doubt to go for the championship, and we’ve seen him be a very close second to Marquez, so based on that he is absolutely a title contender.”
But Rossi warns that his teammate and twice World Champion Lorenzo should not be written off despite his bad start to the season with a first-lap crash and zero points in Qatar.
“For sure, Jorge will be strong and be very competitive in Austin,” Rossi said. “It was a great pity that he crashed Qatar because it would have been very interesting to understand his potential in that race.”COTA, Grand Prix of The Americas, MotoGP, Valentino Rossi