Valentino Rossi ranked his 80th MotoGP victory in an enthralling Assen race yesterday (Saturday) as one of the best of his career after he rolled back the years to win for the first time since 2010.
Winless since the Sepang race in Malaysia 32 months ago, Rossi controlled the 26-lap Dutch TT from the sixth lap to notch an incredible 106th career success.
Doubts about whether he was too old, too slow and permanently scarred by a disastrous two-year spell at Ducati were emphatically quashed in front of 90,000 fans.
Rossi himself had doubted whether he could recapture the winning form that took him to 46 wins at Yamaha in his first stint with the Japanese factory between 2004 and ’10.
But with factory teammate Jorge Lorenzo severely restricted by a left collarbone he broke only 48 hours prior to yesterday’s race, Rossi seized the chance to notch a rare success that so many thought they would never witness again.
The 34-year-old said: “This is one of the most special victories of my career. It is one that I wanted rather than expected. I put this race on the podium of my wins because it is so long since I won and I hope this can raise my speed and level and fight with these guys every weekend.
"Sincerely I wasn't sure if I could win again because it is a long since my last victory in Sepang, but also a difficult time. I had two very difficult seasons, very frustrating with a lot of bad results. The positive thing was that Yamaha gave to me another chance to ride the factory M1, so a big thanks to Yamaha.
"I like this moment but I don't fully understand it very well. I need to watch the race a couple of times to see when I cross the line in first position."
After a sensational return to Yamaha in Qatar in April when he lit up the night race with a stunning charge from seventh to second, Rossi’s form had deserted him and he had not finished on the rostrum since.
Unable to find a confident feeling with the softer casing front Bridgestone tyre rolled out during 2012, Rossi arrived in Assen optimistic after a big breakthrough in testing at the Motorland Aragon track last week.
Front fork tweaks helped him brake and enter the corner better and he said: “I needed time to be at 100%. The first race was a very good result and after that I struggled a lot and I could not use my style. From the test in Aragon we made a good step and I was very fast in all the practice here and I felt good.
"We didn't change anything between the warm-up and the race and this is the first time since 2002. Before the race I thought I had to win and that it was my day.
"Jorge was injured and not at 100%, so I had to try and win and the race was perfect. I did a great start and passed Cal (Crutchlow) and Stefan (Bradl) on the first lap and then I was with the two Hondas.
"This was my target because I knew that Marc (Marquez) and Dani (Pedrosa) were strong on pace. I was a little faster and overtake Marc but I needed some more laps with Dani and once in front I kept my rhythm.
"At one moment on the mega-screen I saw Jorge very close and I though, f**k, if he arrives in front of me with a broken collarbone it will be a big problem!
"When I saw on my board Marc instead of Dani in second I understood that I could win. We were not sure we could win again but we never gave up. One week after Qatar is was Valentino is young again but after Austin it was Valentino is finished.
"I have stayed at the same level but to be at the top you need everything 100%. I was riding like this last year but I arrived 30 seconds behind.
"The important thing is to stay 100% concentrated and physically and mentally prepare for the races and try my best. I won't win every week but I still have the potential and the passion and strength to fight every week."
For more exclusive reaction to Rossi’s return to the top step of the podium in MotoGP, see the July 3 issue of Motor Cycle News.