Valentino Rossi’s championship defence was compromised by a broken leg, but as Matthew Clayton writes, the Italian superstar still looks a good chance to extend one of his more remarkable records at the Island
What were you doing on October 5 in 1997? Personally, I haven’t a clue where I was – but I know where Valentino Rossi wasn’t, and that’s on the Phillip Island podium. Why is that newsworthy? Because October 5 in 1997 was the last time ‘the Doctor’ didn’t finish in the top three of an Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at the Island – and while his 2010 has been an injury-interrupted pause from his usual excellence before he joins Ducati next year, you’d get good odds on him not being in the top three here again this year.
Printing all of Rossi’s eye-popping statistics could fell several forests worth of trees, but his record in Australia might be the more impressive of them all. Yes, there’s the nine championships, five straight titles from 2001-05, his seven consecutive wins at home at Mugello, but to be on the podium at every race at a circuit for 12 years … that’s almost impossible.
While there have been some rumblings out of the Rossi camp that the Italian may miss the last couple of races of the season to allow his lingering shoulder injury to completely heal, he’ll be tempted to ride at the Island – and you can see why when you consider his record there.
Rossi has won at the Island in all sorts of ways – from pole, from the third row of the grid, and perhaps most memorably in 2003, when he received a 10-second penalty for overtaking Marco Melandri for the lead under yellow flags and won by more than 15 seconds, making the penalty irrelevant. He’s taken the chequered flag first on seven occasions here, including five times in a row from 2001-05. But it’s some of his other podium results at the Island that leave you shaking your head.
In 2006, the first time MotoGP had held a race under the white flag rule that allowed riders to change bikes to a wetter set-up in changeable conditions, a cautious Rossi dropped back as far as ninth in the early stages before mounting a startling comeback that saw him pass old foe Sete Gibernau on the final corner of the final lap for third, keeping his streak alive. Two years later, the remarkable run looked to be over when Rossi crashed in qualifying and started 12th, and began the race the next day from his worst grid slot of the 2008 season - and with a splitting headache. Again, he left it late, but ensured himself a Sunday afternoon champagne shower when he passed Nicky Hayden for second at Turn 1 on the final lap, extending his sequence of appearances on the rostrum.
While Jorge Lorenzo’s charge to a seemingly inevitable premier-class title this year has been hugely impressive - and has featured some Rossi-like post-race victory celebrations to boot – you can’t help but feel that his championship chase has lacked a little drama because of Rossi’s broken body and wandering mind.
Truth be told, the Spaniard had the upper hand on Rossi even before the Italian broke his leg in practice at Mugello in round four, and by the time he came back three races later, his thoughts would surely have been more about his move to Ducati for 2011 than the rest of this season. Rossi has repeatedly stated his wish to test his new-for-2011 bike as soon as he can after his 2010 campaign finishes at Valencia on November 7, and with this season a write-off, you can understand his shift in focus. Nine-time world champions don’t race to make up the numbers, and while Rossi hasn’t had his customary body language since he returned from his accident, that’s not to say he won’t be going all-out at the Island if he decides to ignore the pain from his shoulder one more time.
Rossi has repeatedly (and without being prompted) stated his affections for the Australian circuit, and, with several Aussies in his pit crew and with his leg getting stronger by the week, he’ll be keen to do well here. He’s also a man with a firm sense of his place in history at one of the world’s most revered tracks, and he’ll want to make sure his podium run extends to 13 straight years.
While Lorenzo has to start as an odds-on favourite to continue his superb 2010 season and as Casey Stoner guns for four straight Island wins, make sure you put Rossi in any trifecta you’re considering for the weekend. History would suggest you’re backing a good thing.
The views in The Inside Line are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation.