What next for Valentino? (Part 2)

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The new tech challenge – Michelin tyres and Dorna control electronics

n July 2014 Valentino Rossi signed his latest Yamaha contract – for the 2015 and 2016 seasons – and explained that he wanted to keep going into next year because he is curious about how the bikes would change.

The latest rewrite of MotoGP’s technical regulations – most significantly Dorna electronics and Michelin tyres – gives us the greatest transformation of premier-class technology since the big four-strokes took over from 500cc two-strokes in 2002.

It is still too early to predict exactly how things will change, but engineers and riders are already working hard on adjustments to machinery and riding technique. The big question is which bikes and which riders will work best with the new kit from the start of the 2016 season?

In theory, Rossi could profit from the changes. Like Marc Marquez, he is one of those riders who prefers less help from rider-aids. The new Dorna software is six or seven years behind the latest factory code, so it’s certainly less high-tech than what riders have been used to. Will that hurt Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, who use a lot of electronics to allow them to ride the way they used to ride 250s? Possibly. Or possibly not.

Rossi believes the old-school software may at least give us even better racing. “At first you are angry because the bike is more difficult to ride,” he said after his first test with the Dorna software. “But for the racing this will be good because it will be more difficult to always make the same lap time, so the battles will be better and more fun.”

Like most riders at the post-Valencia tests he was shocked by the difference in tyre performance between the Bridgestones and the new Michelins. Even before the introduction of the control-tyre system in 2009, most riders had already become accustomed to the Bridgestone front’s astonishing grip. The switch to Michelin – which means a worse front but a better rear tyre – may require a major adjustment in riding technique.

“The front tyre is the big difference, so we need to understand how much load to put into it to turn the bike at the maximum,” he said. “It changes a lot and we are starting again from zero.”

Again, in theory, Rossi may profit more than others from this change. He rode his first eight seasons in the big class using Michelins and he says the front tyre’s DNA remains essentially unchanged, so all he need do is delve into his memory banks and remember how to get the best out of a Michelin front.

All this is guesswork, of course. Riders like Marquez have an almost superhuman ability to adapt. During the soaking 2013 French GP – Marquez’s first in the rain – it took him just eight laps before he was faster than anyone else. So, however, good or bad it’s looking for Rossi, next season will be as tough as any he has already raced.

Will the 2016 MotoGP season be his last?

Rumours abound of Rossi already having decided to retire from MotoGP at the end of 2016. They sound very similar to the post-Valencia rumours, which told us he had decided to quit with immediate effect. In other words, don’t believe a word of it.

Rossi only races for enjoyment so he will only walk away from the MotoGP grid once he stops enjoying himself.

Last season he was competitive and happy. If he is still fast and still having fun during 2016 it’s difficult to see him wanting him to stop next November. As he said after Valencia, “I will try again next year, then I will decide my future.”

Of course, he has plenty of options between leaving MotoGP and retirement. Firstly, World Superbikes. Rossi has said he would love a crack at WSB and there would be no better time for that than 2017, when Yamaha’s latest R1 will have had a year’s development at the hands of Lowes and Guintoli.

And then there’s a foray in to the world of car racing. Rossi was in his element at the Monza Rally – laughing, joking and winning – and for some his future on four wheels at some point remains a given.


 

Words: Mat Oxley Photos: Gold and Goose/2 Snap

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