US MotoGP: Valentino Rossi plays down podium hopes

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Valentino Rossi has played down hopes that he can claim a rostrum finish in this weekend’s American MotoGP race at Laguna Seca.

Rossi arrived in California in bullish mood after his remarkable comeback from injury during last weekend’s German MotoGP at the Sachsenring.

Racing just 43 days after he suffered a compound fracture of his right tibia in Mugello, the 31-year-old was under four-tenths-of-a-second away from a fairytale podium return.

The Fiat Yamaha was only denied third by a last corner attack from factory Ducati rival Casey Stoner.

But while confident he will be physically stronger for this weekend’s 32-lap Laguna Seca race, the nine-times world champion told MCN it would be tough to claim his fourth podium of the season.

Rossi, who missed four races after breaking his leg in practice at Mugello earlier last month, said:

“I have to try and do better and tomorrow I will start in a condition that I understand because in Germany at the end I was quite good for the race distance.

"But to arrive on the podium you have to beat one of Jorge (Lorenzo), Dani (Pedrosa) and Casey (Stoner) and they are all very strong in Laguna. So to be on the podium you have to be close to 100 per cent.

"Then there is Ben (Spies) and also Nicky (Hayden) with the Ducati which is stronger than last year and he is always fast in this track."

Rossi is still unable to get around the paddock without the aid of crutches but he said he suffered no physical reaction after his stunning return in Germany.

He added: ““I’m quite happy because the leg didn’t give me any extra problem. It didn’t swell up or give me an extra pain than normal. I felt good on Monday and I could do another two days of working on the leg.

"I’m sure I’ll be more or less like Germany, not worse. But psychologically I know have enough power to make a good race. I enjoyed the first and the second race in Germany and I made a lot of overtakes.

"I made a great lap time when I caught Casey and it was a great battle. Unfortunately at the last corner I made a mistake and I missed the podium but I made best lap time of 22.0 and arrived so close to the podium. And what I hear from the bike and my body is so positive.”

Rossi said the fact that Laguna had seven left corners and only four rights would help him with the right leg still some way short of 100 per cent strength.

He added: “Tomorrow it will be very important to understand if Laguna gives me more trouble, especially the leg, compared to the Sachsenring because there are a lot of up and down sections.

"And at the Corkscrew you have to put a lot of pressure on the right leg to change direction, so I’m quite worried and I need to understand. If I can ride like in Sachsenring then it is possible to do a good weekend.

"Before I rode the bike in Germany I didn’t expect this help but on the track in Sachsenring all the left corners help me a lot because I have more pain on the right. Hopefully here is the same situation and I hope before Brno I am better. Brno has a lot of right corners but I expect to be quite fit by that point.”

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt