Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Rossi’s secret

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


Rossi’s secret

He’s old and he’s fat

I’m joking, of course, but not entirely

Valentino Rossi’s 113th Grand Prix victory was historic and much more. It was the success that brought him to within ten wins of Giacomo Agostini’s record of 122 victories, which for many decades was presumed forever impregnable. Hard to believe, but his 87th premier-class win was also the first time in 17 seasons in the big class that Rossi had led from pole position and from start to finish.

Rossi won his first Grand Prix in August 1996, three months after his first decent GP result, a fourth-place finish, just metres shy of the podium, at Jerez, funnily enough. After that race sidekick Uccio Salucci said, “that’s when I thought, hmm, maybe it’s possible that something good comes out of this, not just one victory or one podium, maybe something more…”

To attempt to fully understand the enormity of Rossi’s unique career it’s worth rewinding to 1996 to remind ourselves what else was going on in the world at the time.

Moto2 and Moto3 stars Alex Rins and Romano Fenati were born, John Major was British Prime Minister, Boris Yeltsin was President of Russia, Prince Charles and Princess Diana got divorced, the CIA’s role in importing crack cocaine into the USA was revealed, Osama bin Laden wrote his ‘Declaration of Jihad’ and the Ramones played their last gig.

Meanwhile Rossi just keeps on rocking. And, believe it or not, the 37-year-old’s new-found speed has plenty to do with his age. Rossi spent his first eight seasons in the premier-class riding Michelins, so he feels much more at home with the French rubber than do Jorge Lorenzo, who rode only his rookie MotoGP season with Michelins, and Marc Márquez, who has known them only for a few months.

The Michelins have changed since Rossi last raced them in 2007, but not so much. During last year’s post-Valencia tests he explained that the DNA of the French tyres will never change, just as the DNA of Yamaha’s and Honda’s MotoGP bikes has remained essentially the same over decades. After Rossi lost the front and crashed at Austin he explained that he doesn’t expect the front tyre to really change, so he thinks it’s up to teams to set their bikes to get the best out of the tyre and it’s up to riders to fully understand its limits.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Total votes: 92
Total votes: 120

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Comments

In my opinion, still in his early 20's with the experience of a veteran that gets motivation from people putting him down on his age. 37 isn't "old", but it is old enough when you have been on the top of the premier game for 20(!) years and still going strong, being still, in your prime. Remember Troy Bayliss though...

Makes you think about yourselves in your 30s, reflecting back on what you've "done" and might do, doesn't it?

Total votes: 101

I wasn't watching MotoGP in 2006 Unfortunately, but I have seen the Valencia race and Troy's wildcard win on the Ducati.....was that as big of a deal back then as it would be today for a wildcard to step in for a race and dominate the proceedings? Would that be equivilant to Stoner stepping in for a race and winning? I wonder...I'm sure you would have a good insight David.

Total votes: 90

Thanks Mat for another read, which I enjoyed thoroughly.

Impeccable, Boring, Procession, Hammer and finally unlike Vale. 

Have I enjoyed the race? Yes I did...

Michelin's seem to favor Vale's style more than Vale liking Michelin. I hope for more of Hammers from Vale, which I believe is not that big a thing to ask. I can see Vale winning a handful of races from now on. Championship is something I am not sure how will it pan out.

Vale said that this race tells the level of championship and how competitive a rider can be throughout the European rounds. I hope Vale is right. 

I hope to read greater article about the Great rides in the coming rounds. Cheers to Vale and Mat.

Total votes: 101

Everyone (fans, journalists, commentators) were saying the same about Jerez: "We'll know where everyone really stands after Jerez, no doubt!"

That was until it was Rossi who dominated, now it must be a tyre anomoly... The backtracking and unknowns continue. 

Total votes: 91

"“I understand I need to change my style because I make very much crash with the front tyre,” he told me years ago. “Until this race [Rio] I was quite fast but I ride like I ride a 250. The perfect line is stay wide, wide, wide and after you close the line and go in inside, slowing a little bit to the apex. With the 250 it’s possible to do this and if you make like this with the 500 you are very fast but when you go to close the line after several laps you lose the front and you crash. So it’s necessary go inside a little bit early and a little bit more, use less speed in the corner and after pick up the bike and accelerate. So I change very much the first part of the corner.”

Thus Rossi won five 500cc and MotoGP titles in five seasons by never asking too much of Michelin’s front."

What a great write-up! Thanks Matt

Total votes: 92

Is it just me or can you guys also "see" when Rossi is pushing hard?

If you didn't look at the leathers, his aggressiveness looked more like his rivals.

Then in the second half he looked more like his usual smooth calm self, then ramped it back up again when Lorenzo closed the gap some.  It's an aggressiveness with which he turns the bike from side-to-side.  I have to say I haven't seen that from him since the Spring of 2010.

Total votes: 85

As Aristotle said, "one swallow does not a summer make".

Expecting this season to be one of ups and downs for all riders.

BTW, is that the first race Rossi's bike has had the ailerons (little wings) fitted?

Total votes: 92

So we take away some of the electronics, have a slower race and see who can manage the tyre/throttle. Interesting maybe Stoner will want to ride again, isn't this what he has been asking for all along. ☺

Total votes: 82

It is the reason why Rossi was so eager to ride this season with the knowledge of changes in electronics and tyres. Well, i understand those basics but i am by far a techie. Can someone explain to me how engineers can (easily it seems) shift the balance of a bike? I know Yamaha is experimented with placing the fuel tank at a different position but that is obviously not what Oxley is refering to in his article. At least, so i think.

Total votes: 100

Rossi is a Gladiator, thriving under the roar of the mob, all screaming his name and baying for the destruction of his rivals. He loves the thunder of the Colosseum, and truly excels when hordes of gathered spectators are all behind him.

Il Dottore was visibly upset the year he punted Gibernau off the last corner in Jerez, and climbed to the top of the podium to boos and hisses from the Spanish mob - one of the only times he has ever been booed, if not the only.

He was surely taught a valuable lesson in that moment:

  As a modern-day sportsman, it is better to be loved than feared.

(Inverse of Nicolo's advice to his Prince when both - being preferable - is difficult to unite.)

I think Valentino also got a good idea in Andalusia that day, which he took all the way to Malaysia with him a decade later.

But if Vale does have a secret, I believe it is the knowledge that in a highly commercial and politically influenced activity, which relies upon public sentiment and the endorsement of 'higher' powers for ultimate success, being the undisputed favourite has many, many advantages.

Valentino once said that among the only times he has ever cried in a movie was during Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator'. I wonder, was it because of Maximus' sacrifice and beautiful ascension, or just the sheer beauty and brilliance of Proximo's simple advice:

  "Win the crowd, and you will win your freedom."

In his fairytale life, I think Valentino Rossi has won a lot more than just the crowd.

Total votes: 75

Thanks again Mat, really enjoy your pieces, you have a great understanding of history.

Total votes: 84