Valentino Rossi took to the track today, to assess the state of his shoulder ahead of the resumption of official testing for the MotoGP class next week. Banned from testing a MotoGP bike, Rossi instead tested a WSBK-spec Ducati 1198SP, putting in a respectable 25 laps of the Italian circuit, just a few miles from his home, to judge his strength, mobility and fitness.
The verdict, according to a press release issued by Ducati Corse, is not good, but it is no worse than expected either. "It hurts a lot and isn't very strong," is how Rossi summed up the state of his shoulder after the test, though he added that the test "more or less confirmed what we expected." At Ducati's launch event in Italy, the Italian had told the press that he did not expect to be back at full fitness until May 1st, and this press release confirms those statements.
Just how far these press releases reflect reality remains to be seen, however. Valentino Rossi is notorious for attempting to throw sand in the eyes of his rivals, and many commentators have dismissed Rossi's comments on his shoulder as part of the "mind games" the Italian is notorious for. The theory put forward by the sceptics is that Rossi is trying to downplay expectations, and put the pressure on his rivals. After all, if he is not competitive during testing and at the first race of the year at Qatar, he can claim that his shoulder was the problem; if, on the other hand, Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa all take Rossi's words at face value, they will all be focused on one another, rather than on Rossi, giving the Italian the tiniest crack to exploit. If Rossi can win at Qatar - or at least be extremely competitive - Rossi will hope that his rivals will start to doubt their own abilities, worrying that if Rossi can be competitive with a weak shoulder, how fast will he be once he is fit again.
There is certainly reason to keep a few grains of salt on hand when considering Rossi's statements about the state of his shoulder. Before the Wrooom! event at the Italian ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio, Rossi had said that he would not be taking part in the ice kart race traditionally held at the launch. Yet he did more than that, he also raced a Fiat 500 on the ice, as well as doing a spot of snowboarding while he was there. He seemed to manage perfectly well in these physically demanding activities, and finished the event apparently no worse for wear. Snowboarding and kart racing are not the same as riding a motorcycle at speed, but Rossi's shoulder seems at the very least to hold up better on some days than on others.
All this remains speculation, however. Even the upcoming tests at Sepang are unlikely to produce a clear indication, as Rossi's main focus will be on adapting to the Desmosedici GP11, and testing the truckload of new parts that Ducati's technical guru Filippo Preziosi has prepared for the test in Malaysia. Interpreting the times Rossi sets at Sepang will be difficult, unless he is either very, very fast or very, very slow. Given both Rossi's incredible track record in MotoGP and his dismal result at the Valencia test in November of last year, both of those results are possible.
Below is the official press release issued by Ducati, together with photos from the test provided by Ducati Corse:
VALENTINO ROSSI TESTS AT MISANO WITH DUCATI 1198 SUPERBIKE
Misano Circuit: Seventy-three days after an operation to his right shoulder, Valentino Rossi returned to the track at Misano Adriatico aboard a Ducati 1198 Superbike. On November 14 at Cattolica's Cervesi hospital, the Italian had undergone surgery on the supraspinatus tendon and the long head of biceps tendon, as well as cartilage in the Glenoid Labrum.
The day was sunny but chilly, with a maximum air temperature of 10º Centigrade (50º Fahrenheit) and a maximum track temperature of 15º C (59º F). Valentino arrived at the circuit at around 1:20 and met a team of Ducati technicians that included his own crew's two engineers, Matteo Flamigni and Gabriele Conti, as well as Ducati Marlboro Team Manager Vittoriano Guareschi. A half-hour later, he turned the first laps aboard the 1198 to test the status of his shoulder which, though recovering nicely, is still quite painful, just a few days ahead of the first test in Malaysia with the Desmosedici GP11.
"First of all, thanks to Filippo (Preziosi) and to Ducati, who organized this test," said Valentino Rossi. "Misano Circuit let us use the track on a day when Mattia (Pasini) was planning to ride in order to confirm his own condition. The track more or less confirmed what we expected: the shoulder is painful—especially under braking, when the front area hurts, where they stitched the tendon. Movement is stable enough, and we're also doing not so bad with endurance, but apart from that, it hurts a lot and isn't very strong. Let's hope it gets a little better in these next few days before the test in Malaysia. Once we're there, we'll work with the riding position in an effort to make the most of the situation and collect important information with the Desmosedici, even though I'm not in top form. Today I did a total of 25 laps on the 1198 Superbike, which is sort of a 'historic' motorcycle for Ducati: beautiful and fast. I liked it!"