2005. That is the last time Valentino Rossi was on pole at Jerez. Eleven years ago. If you wanted an illustration of just how remarkable Rossi’s career is, then the dramatic way he snatched pole position on Saturday afternoon is surely it.
At the age of 37, after the incredible emotional blow of 2015, Rossi reinvents himself for the umpteenth time, learns how to qualify better, makes it three front row starts in a row – for the first time since 2009 – and takes his fourth pole position since the start of the 2010 season. Motivation, thy name is Valentino Rossi.
We shall talk about how this happened later, but first, back to 2005. There are so many parallels with that weekend, it is impossible to resist the temptation to explore them.
In 2005, there was this fast Spanish rider who dominated almost every session. It was only during qualifying that Rossi seized the initiative, putting nearly half a second into Sete Gibernau.
Race day was even more dramatic. Rossi on the Yamaha, and Gibernau and Nicky Hayden, on two different factory Hondas, broke away from the pack. Hayden could not match the pace of the two others, and had to let them go.
A tense battle unfolded in the laps that followed, Rossi stalking Gibernau for most of the race, taking over the lead with a few laps to go, then handing it back after making a mistake into the Dry Sack hairpin on the last lap.
The pair swapped positions with audacious passes through the fast right handers leading on towards the final corner.
The infection of the MotoGP paddock is almost complete. At Jerez the last of MotoGP’s factories fell to the winglet virus. Aprilia debuted some massive double decker items on the nose of the fairing.
Suzuki brought a more modest pair, sitting below the bike’s nose. And Honda’s case of winglets grew more severe, the tiny side-mounted winglets replaced with much larger versions, akin to the early Yamaha ones.
The only holdouts are most of the satellite teams, and even they are starting to look longingly at the mustachioed factory bikes.
Why is this happening? Because the winglets provide a tangible benefit. Not huge, but big enough to make a difference. As Valentino Rossi put it, after also succumbing to the winglet infection, “small wings, small help.”
That had been the tenor of rider comments on winglets from the moment they first started to appear at the start of last season.
But at Jerez, we finally heard from a rider who was unashamedly enthusiastic about the wings. Aleix Espargaro had spent Thursday night pleading with Suzuki engineers to be given a chance to try the winglets during the weekend, instead of waiting until the Monday test, following the original plan.
It has been three years in the making. Ducati have been chasing Jorge Lorenzo for a very long time, almost since the moment Gigi Dall’Igna took over as head of Ducati Corse.
Dall’Igna came to Ducati with a master plan. “Ducati had a plan when we started with Gigi at the end of 2013, which was to develop a competitive bike and – once the bike was competitive – to attract one of the top riders,” Ducati MotoGP boss Paolo Ciabatti told a specially convened press conference on Thursday.
The candidates who qualified as “top riders” (for the linguists, this is the English phrase the Italians use where English speakers would use the term “alien”) are few and far between. Ciabatti made it perfectly clear what he meant.
“With all due to respect to all the other riders, including the two Andreas, there are a few riders who have been showing their potential. They are able to win championships. Obviously if you look at history in the last six years three times Lorenzo, twice Marquez and once Stoner. So obviously to be sure to be in a position to fight for a world title we needed to aim for one of the two riders which are Lorenzo and Marquez.”
It’s the worst kept secret in the MotoGP paddock right now, and the flat refusals to talk about it, by those involved, hasn’t helped the matter either. What are we ranting about? Jorge Lorenzo moving to Ducati Corse next year, of course.
There’s been so much smoke around this fire for the past two weeks, and it was obvious in the pre-event press conference that the MotoGP press was hungry for some confirmation to the speculation that has been circulating recently. We were sadly disappointed.
But, that hasn’t stopped more intrepid scribes from peddling around strongly supported rumor as fact, as virtually every MotoGP journalist expects Ducati Corse and Jorge Lorenzo to unveil their marriage when MotoGP lands in Europe next week.
It’s very easy to jump to quick conclusions during the early stages of a season. Momentum swings from one bike to another, and while some riders are ascending, others are having an off weekend.
However, the third round of the Superbike World Championship has definitely shown that Chaz Davies and Ducati are the form package at the moment.
The Welshman and the Italian bike claimed their first wins of 2016 in Aragon, but having been in the thick of the fight for five wins in the opening six races, their pace has not been in question.
What had been in question was top speed. While the Ducati MotoGP bike is a verified rocket, the WorldSBK specification Panigale R has traditionally struggled to keep pace with the Kawasakis on straights.
In the opening rounds we saw this when Davies was easily overtaken by Rea in both Australia and Thailand. Last weekend the tables were sensationally turned.