Trackside Tuesday: How Soon We Forget

05/22/2012 @ 3:37 pm, by Scott Jones16 COMMENTS

All last season, and for the first three races of 2012, when I’ve walked past the Ducati garage and looked in at Rossi’s side, watching for an interesting moment to photograph, I’ve seen pretty much the same thing: Immensely talented people looking immensely frustrated. I stand there for a moment and think, I’ve already taken this photo, many times. When are things going to change in there?

Things changed this weekend at Le Mans. But after three races in a row, I’d elected to be home for some family events instead of away at the French GP. From the perspective of getting different images of the Ducati box, this was bad timing. But in other ways, and not just family-related, it was good timing indeed, because I watched the race with friends at the San Francisco Dainese Store, which was, as one might expect, full of Rossi fans. And being there was a bit like going back in time.

Many Rossi fans have been nearly beaten into submission by the Rossi-Ducati situation. So there were generally low expectations of Rossi’s 7th place spot on the grid, even though the race was wet. But a great start put him into 4th place ahead of the Tech 3 Yamahas on the first lap, and he worked his way up to third place shortly after. What was going on? Could it possibly last?

As he attacked Stoner, there were general murmurs of hope, but no one dared to get too excited, at least in any way observable to the others watching the D-Store’s huge bank of TVs. I too had the sense that it couldn’t last, and when, with 16 laps to go, Rossi lost two places in a few hundred yards to Crutchlow and Dovi, that change appeared to have been inevitable. It just seemed impossible for him to fight at the front, even in the rain.

But the wet track was magic, and the Rossi of old was freed by the rain, which muted the GP12’s problems and allowed Rossi to ride as he had for so many years in the past. Just as Rossi seemed to have settled into 5th, where he ‘belonged’ in these conditions, he fought back to pass Crutchlow, and then went right after Dovizioso. I was reminded of a line I’d heard in college that a grad student had muttered about Shakespeare; in spite of how many people there are who say how great he is, he really is pretty good.

As Valentino fought for that podium position, the excitement in the store grew ever louder, and we seemed as a group to be experiencing a reminder of why this guy with the yellow 46 was known as The Greatest of All-Time. In spite of all the Rossi fans saying how great he is, when circumstances allow him to show the talent that won nine world titles, there it is, plain as day.

Now the Rossi-haters out there are already thinking of rebuttals to this opinion, that he isn’t great enough to tame the bike that Stoner could win on, that he only won all of those races because he was on the best bike at the time, that he had nothing for Lorenzo on race day at Le Mans, even in the wet, and so on. All of that may be true. I’m not a Rossi fanboy so I won’t argue against any of it. But I do recognize a truly great racer, which Rossi certainly is. And it was fantastic to share his return to the podium with a group who had been waiting so long to see that very thing. It was great to see a performance which flew in the face of criticism that he has lost his fighting spirit or the will to win.

Sadly, unless it rains until Valencia, as Rossi has joked about wishing for, we’re still unlikely to see him show these qualities as frequently as we’d like. The GP12 remains a troubled machine in the dry, with Rossi unwilling to take the risks on every corner of every lap as Stoner was. But for those fantastic rainy laps in France, it was great to see the old Rossi back at the front once more, and really good to share that experience with friends in a warm, comfortable space rather than slogging around in the mud, cold and miserable, and wondering what was happening on the other side of the track. Then again, the photos from France probably would’ve been worth it.

Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blogTwitter, & Facebook.

All images posted, shared, or sent for editorial use or review are registered for full copyright protection at the Library of Congress.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

  • Great write up. Let’s hope that Ducati can figure out a better chassis setup so that Rossi can be back at the front soon. I don’t buy into the “he’s old, past his time” statements. I think he can still fight for podium positions, he just needs the bike setup correctly.

  • Nice article. As I watched Stoner and Rossi dicing it out in the closing laps, I was sure that they were both smiling and enjoying the battle. Stoner’s reaction to Rossi in Parc fermé certainly seems to support that idea. Loved it!

  • John O

    Alas, this win points out how bad the problems with the Ducati are and how good Rossi can be.

    In the rain the bike is nowhere near the edges of the performance envelope and so few of the problem the bike has come into play.

    Or, in the immortal words of Rob Muzzy, “all slow bikes handle well…”

  • Kyle

    Great write-up and great race and performance by Rossi.

    What is going on with Ben Spies?

  • Slangbuster

    Nice Job Scott and good to see Rossi at the front again. Too bad for Crutchlow falling off, as I think he would have made things very interesting at the end. Is it true that Speed Channel will be showing Spies’s (nice save by the way) and De Punet’s start on Dumbest Things on Wheels? Poor guys.

  • Bryan

    Phenomenal is when he does what he did on the weekend, against the odds, in the dry. Any one can have a good day in the wet over others.
    He is without doubt one of the top 3 of all time. But I, with all others want to see the greatest comeback of all time from this legend. I don’t want it cheapened by building Sunday’s opportunity up to anything more than what it was: “A special chance” Rossi stated.

  • Tony

    It was a great victory for Rossi and Ducati. My only problem with Rossi is when he comes in 10th on a 5th place bike and tells the public, he did not see any reason to try if he has no chance for victory. I am sorry, the GOAT should be fighting for 4th on a 5th place machine. Else, why go out on the track at all? If he fought a war with the other riders and come in 4th or 5th or hell even 10th, if that was the best then ok. But if he comes in 11th like he did earlier this year, with Hayden and the satelite team ahead of him and complains oh well he saw no point in trying, then WTF. If I told my employer I did that, my employer would take my job away no matter how good I or my legion of followers said I use to be or still could be.

  • GBell

    I wish I had known that a group watches races at dainese store and more importantly asphaltandrubber was/is local. I love this site and spend hours with my cousin debating every article – hope to see you guys soon.

    Well written like all other articles here.

  • @Tony: I don’t think I can recall Rossi ever saying that he didn’t see any point in trying, only that with that particular bike he often didn’t feel confident in pushing at the limit. If the bike is giving him (a lack of) feedback such that he feels that he’s constantly about to crash, it’s hard to blame him for not wanting to push. I strongly suspect that Spies is suffering exactly that problem with the new Yamaha this season; that bike was engineered for Lorenzo and Spies doesn’t seem to get along with it at all.

  • Calisdad

    VR46 has rekindled the fire of victory so dampened by an unresponsive sponsor. Perhaps they have taken notice. He will again climb the podium and it won’t have to be in the rain. No one who watched him tame that shuddering beast can doubt his brilliance. BS11 will be up there too. He hates to lose, has more than enough talent and if anyone prepares more they are keeping it a secret.

  • Thank you all for the considered, well-mannered comments. I appreciate hearing any opinion if expressed with respect for the community here at A&R.
    @GBell–The SF D-Store shows WSBK and MotoGP on race Sundays and it’s a great crowd, very social. Hope to see you there if I’m not away at the race.
    @Calisdad–Sorry to nitpick, but I think Rossi has received very good support from his sponsor, as I understand Marlboro has been spending and spending to try to fix the bike. The situation is more that Rossi’s crew’s extensive experience has not seen the expected success when working with a machine that is fundamentally too different from those they’ve worked on in the past to make the Ducati responds as Rossi wishes it did. In other words, I don’t think it’s a lack of effort in Bolonga, just a lack of successful effort. But perhaps the new engine will be a step in the right direction, at least as far as it can help. I don’t think it will solve the front end problems, but if the aggressive acceleration can be tamed, that would help overall.
    @Bryan–fully agreed about the qualifying effort in the dry, very impressive given the circumstances.

  • Hopefully this result transfers over to the rest of the season not only for Rossi but for Nicky also… Great race between the top 5 and thank godness for some passing in MotoGp!! Think the turning point might be that Burgess and Rossi finally stop trying to set up the GP12 short and tall like the M1…

  • Pingback: Baltimore Grand Prix()

  • Jake

    I love this picture Scott. The only thing that keeps me from ordering a framed print and hanging it in my living room is knowing the disappointing history surrounding it.

  • Oh, don’t let that stop you. Think of it as a triumph of spirit to celebrate! ;-)

  • Dave

    @Train and Tony,

    I believe VR said something to the effect of “I’m not going to risk my life for 6th place” to the Italian media. VR has a right to be frustrated, but I think his comments were more to do with posturing to get Ducati to listen to him/Burgess than about him not trying.–part of the whole Rossi/Ducati divorce media sensation.

    It WAS great to see VR duke it out for 2nd place. The best quote I’ve seen so far was when somebody in the media said to VR something like “Motogp needs Valentino Rossi on the podium.” To which VR responded, “Valentino Rossi needs Valentino Rossi on the podium!”

    I also did not know this blog is made from peeeps in SF. I’m in SF and watched the opening round at the D-Store. I had no idea I might have been sitting next to folks who write this thing! Great stuff.