Reigning world Moto GP champion Valentino Rossi – nicknamed ‘The Doctor’ – returns to the Gulf this month to kick off the 2010 season. Chris Anderson finds out more
Time Out Bahrain staff
One of the most successful motorcycle racers of all time, the 31-year-old Rossi has nine Grand Prix World Championships to his name – winning consistently since he first entered the Moto GP class in 2000 – and according to Sports Illustrated is one of the highest-earning athletes in the world. Time Out caught up with him during the Qatar testing, with the first Moto GP race of the year – a night race, no less – taking place in Doha this month.
You must be excited about the 2010 season considering how well your bike has been testing… Are you feeling confident? I am feeling confident, but you never really know until you get into a racing environment, so we will have to wait and see. For sure I am very excited!
What is different about your M1 bike this year? Without giving too much away to your rivals, what tweaks and changes have you been concentrating on? Yamaha has done a very good job, keeping the good things about the old bike and improving the things that needed it. They have worked a lot on the engine, improving longevity because the new rules for this year say we are allowed fewer engines for the season, but without a drop in performance. This is very important. I don’t agree with the engine rule necessarily, but we have to make the best of it.
You were in Doha for pre-season testing during March, and the race here is in April – is it good to be back? It hasn’t been one of the best tracks for me in the past, but after this test I think we can have a good race here.
What sticks in your mind about the Losail Circuit? Is it an easy course? Talk us through it… It’s not particularly complicated, but it sometimes hasn’t suited the nature of our bike. It’s different riding at night as well, even though with the lighting you can see as well as day. It’s fast and flowing, but very flat and often the surface is dusty, which makes it very slippery, but after the bikes have spent some time on track it generally does improve.
You’re the No 1 motorcycle racer in the world – what goes through your mind just before the start of each race? I try to stay calm and get into the ‘zone’. I don’t think about other things – people, problems, just me and my bike and the race.
You’ve seen some of the other teams testing now – who do you think will be your biggest rivals this season? Is Casey Stoner still one of them? For sure, Casey. And I expect Lorenzo [Jorge, Rossi’s Fiat Yamaha team-mate] when he is fully recovered from the injury he picked up during earlier testing. Spies, Pedrosa… to be honest there are so many.
Fitness is obviously a big part of Moto GP, having to control a heavy bike. What is your fitness regime, and how do you prepare? Are you in the gym a lot? I try to run or go to the gym every day - it’s important for me, even though when I was younger I didn’t enjoy it so much.
So do you actually get much time to relax during the off season? What do you do for fun? Have you been snowboarding recently? Yes, I went snowboarding this winter with my friends – it was great fun.
You won your ninth Grand Prix championship in 2009. Is there a real determination now to make it 10? It would be nice, but I don’t think so much about numbers, just about the winning.
The Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar takes place at Losail International Circuit from April 9-11, with the main Moto GP race on April 11 at 11pm. Tickets priced US$30 (Grandstand), US$415 (Losail Club access) and US$620 (VIP Village access). Call 472 9151 or visit www.losailcircuit.com to book. The circuit is located on New Al Khor Highway, approximately 25km from Doha. Bahrain Air, Qatar Airways and Gulf Air all fly between Bahrain and Doha.
Our ones to watch from the 10 teams and 20 riders.
Jorge Lorenzo Fiat Yamaha, No 99 Valentino Rossi’s team-mate, Lorenzo came second to the world champion in 2009, and his 2008 MotoGP debut earned him the Rookie of the Year title. He just gets better, and will be a serious contender this year.
Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro, No 27 Has won for the past three years at Qatar, and even won the title in 2007 before Rossi clinched it back. He led for part of the season in 2009, but dropping out of a few races due to health problems meant he finished fourth overall. He’ll be looking to regain his form this year.
Nicky Hayden Ducati Marlboro, No 69 Hayden’s form has been on the slide since he took the title in 2006. Bike problems plagued his season in 2007, with injuries in 2008 and crashes in 2009. He has consistently finished in the top three in each of this season’s test sessions, however, so he could be back on top.
Ben Spies Monster Yamaha Tech 3, No 11 Of the six rookies making their debut in MotoGP this season, Ben Spies has been the fastest in all the test sessions so far. He’s already tipped to be the Rookie of the Year, so expect him to do well when he comes up against the more experienced riders.