x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Sweet six for Rossi

After two years of being away from the top prize in motorcycling, Rossi reclaims his rightful place by winning the world championship at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The Italian rider Valentino Rossi speeds past the chequered flag to win the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi and secure his sixth MotoGP title and eighth world title.
The Italian rider Valentino Rossi speeds past the chequered flag to win the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi and secure his sixth MotoGP title and eighth world title.

It was inevitable in the end for Valentino Rossi. Greatness could no longer be denied. After two years of waiting, arguably the best talent in his generation took his rightful place back at the top of the pile in MotoGP racing yesterday in Motegi. Rossi overcame a disappointing qualifying session to win his fifth race in a row at the Japanese track and secure his sixth MotoGP title, and eighth world championship.

"It is difficult to say which world championship is better, but this is great," the Italian said afterwards. "I feel very good. The battle this year was very tough especially with [Casey] Stoner and [Dani] Pedrosa. It was a long season with a lot of hard racing and hard battles. "I have won a lot of difficult championships, like the first one with Yamaha in 2004, but I think this one is the one that I put more effort into to win. I worked a lot in the week of the races, but also out of the races I also try to stay concentrated and very strong."

The popular Italian had won five world championships in his first six years in the top echelon of the sport, winning races with audacious passing manoeuvres, and then celebrating in colourful fashion to become a favourite with crowds across the globe. Life appeared easy for the rider nicknamed "The Doctor" as he almost seemed to win at will, firstly on a Honda bike, then on a Yamaha. But then a shock came around in 2006 as he was beaten to the title by the American Nicky Hayden.

In a way, that setback may well have been the making of Rossi in terms of keeping his interest up in the series. He had tested for the Ferrari Formula One team and there had been serious rumours he was on the verge of crossing over from four wheels to two. But the defeat to Hayden made him sit up again and take notice. It should, in all truth, have been a sixth successive title, as despite a number of uncharasteric errors that hinted of a rider with a wandering mind, he had still led the points standings going to the final round in Spain.

But Rossi crashed in Jerez and gifted Hayden the title. Clearly disappointed he vowed publically and privately to win back his title and he knuckled down with Yamaha. He didn't get anywhere near the championship last season, but no one else did either as the Australian rider Stoner and Ducati proved to be a dominant package. But the Italian never gave up. He rode hard and won four times and recognised the tyre disadvantage he and Yamaha had as Bridgestone seemingly had the edge on the Michelins he was competing on.

Last winter, after much pressure, he managed to get Yamaha to controversially move away from a Michelin contract and give him Bridgestones, saying it was what he needed to be competitive again. Having had his demands met he didn't let his team down. The Honda of Dani Pedrosa and the Ducati of Stoner proved to be strong foes and in the first half of this season Rossi didn't have things his own way.

But like a great racer he didn't panic as Stoner won a hat-trick of races in mid-season. He focused, concentrating on picking up points when victory was not an option and most importantly kept the pressure on Stoner. The Australian rider had won his maiden title at a canter, but now having the presence of Rossi close to him, it was a different ball game and he twice crashed out as mistakes (and a wrist injury) began to mount.

The mark of a great champion is scenting when to attack and knowing when a win can become available. Rossi raised his game at exactly the right point and proved to be far too good for his rivals in the end. Going into yesterday's Japanese Grand Prix, Rossi needed only to finish on the podium to be the champion again. But he was never going to settle for just doing that. He ran fourth early on, but he passed Hayden and Pedrosa before overtaking Hayden on lap 14 as he raced on to take the 70th MotoGP victory of his glittering career.

"Today was a great battle, it was a great race," Rossi said. "I felt confident with the bike and winning the race and world championship is fantastic. "My team deserve the championship. We work hard every weekend and we are very fast." Stoner is a tenacious racer and he admitted his focus is already on challenging Rossi next season. "We gave it a good go but hopefully over the next few races and next year we come back stronger," he said.

Pedrosa was third, while Rossi's Spanish teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who had started from pole position, had to settle for fourth. gcaygill@thenational.ae