Struggling with a bum shoulder and Ducati ride that’s looking up at the Honda and Yamaha, Rossi has set himself perhaps the greatest challenge of his career.
Valentino Rossi blamed a first corner mistake and a lack of strength in his right shoulder for his failure to finish higher than seventh position in his much anticipated factory Ducati debut. Rossi made a lightening start from ninth to take second at the first corner but immediately ran wide under braking. He fought Texan Ben Spies for sixth until Lap 16 but tired quickly as the shoulder he first injured in a motocross training accident nearly a year ago left him struggling to maintain his pace.
The 32-year-old said: “For sure we’re not here to get seventh-place finishes, but there are also positive things from this race, starting with the times, because we were lapping pretty quickly. I had a great start, and that was a nice feeling because the horsepower that this bike has really helps it to launch. Then I made a small error in the first turn, which is a shame because I got stuck behind Barbera for a few laps. Otherwise I would have been closer to Simoncelli and Dovizioso, since anyway there was a period when I lapped with them. I wouldn’t have beaten them though, because at the end of the race, I’m no longer able to ride like I have to.
“I’m not referring to the Ducati because even last year, after I hurt my shoulder, I had the same problems in the latter parts of the races, and since the two bikes are so different, it means that it’s really a matter of me not being physically right. It’s not just that. We also have to improve the bike because the others have clearly made a step forward since last year. Still, I learned a lot in this test and in this race, and we’ve already given very specific instructions about what must be done in the long term, in order to improve for the second half of the season.”
Earlier at Qatar Rossi said he was looking forward to an injection of new parts from Ducati after he could only qualify in ninth position – one place behind British rookie Cal Crutchlow. Rossi said he needed some help from his Ducati GP11 and is eagerly awaiting upgrades that he’s expected to assess at the post race test in Estoril on May 2.
The Desmosedici needs some help, but The Doctor is in need of improvement too. Rossi’s injured shoulder still causing problems during race-long stints and not at 100%.
“We have two or three important and interesting ideas to improve the bike and in Ducati they have already started to work for the break after the next two races. Some new stuff will arrive and I think we can improve three or four tenths with the gearbox.”
Rossi was making reference to the new gearbox on the Honda RC212V, which has dramatically improved upshifts. Rossi added: “If we can have the same gearbox we can improve but I don’t know if it is possible during this year.”
Kevin Schwantz is in no doubt that Valentino Rossi will be a force to be reckoned with in the 2011 MotoGP world championship. But the Texan legend doubts Rossi will be in a position to win on the new Ducati GP11 until the second half of the season.
Rossi’s pre-season preparations were hindered by the slow recovery of the right shoulder injury he carried for almost the entire 2010 campaign, which also gave Rossi trouble on Sunday. Schwantz, who won the 1993 500cc crown for Suzuki, says it will hard to make a judgement on Rossi’s potential until he is 100% fit again.
Before the race Schwantz spoke from the home of Ben Spies in Texas saying: “I think Ducati are just going to wait until he gets comfortable with his shoulder so they can find out exactly what he needs to get that confidence back in his riding. You always hear him talking about how much time he’s leaving out on track in himself. But you can’t get the information you need to make the bike better if your guy is not 100% on it. They are going to have to wait until Valentino says he’s ready and he’s riding the thing as hard as he possibly can.
“We know what he and Jerry Burgess are capable of doing that but I think JB is gun shy at making changes to a bike when he knows his guy is not at 100%. But I see him winning races just after mid-season. I think they’ll lose enough early on with Valentino’s fitness and the development direction of the Ducati. But once they get comfortable and confident I think they will start making progress on the Yamaha and Honda. I know Valentino is not at Ducati just to collect a pay check. He wants to win and I think he’s still got world championship winning ability left in him.”
Third-year Ducati man Nicky Hayden had to recover from a horrible start to salvage a disappointing ninth at Qatar.
Nicky Hayden targeted a big improvement at the second round of the MotoGP world championship in Jerez next month after a dismal start to the 2011 on Sunday night. The American struggled home in a distant ninth position at the Losail International Circuit, a track where he narrowly missed the podium less than 12 months ago.
Struggling to make any impression on the new factory Ducati GP11, Hayden’s race was tough right from the lights going out. He made a sluggish start and then got tangled up in the first lap incident that saw Pramac Ducati rider Randy de Puniet crash. The Frenchman’s GP11 struck teammate Loris Capirossi on the left hand and the Italian veteran was forced to retire on the second lap.
The incident dropped Hayden back to dead last and he said: “I can’t be satisfied with ninth place on this bike in this team. It’s not good. I got a terrible start. I had a little problem this weekend with the clutch. After the warm-up, I did a practice start leaving the pits to start the session and barely got back to the pits, so was a little bit nervous for the race and got a terrible start. Then I picked off a couple people and when Randy crashed, somebody split him and there was his bike right in front of me. I did all I could to dodge him and his bike and went back to last again. I was so far behind but I picked some guys off and worked my way through and started catching Colin (Edwards) pretty good at the end. I actually going faster once I had clear track and did my best lap on the last lap of the race. I’m not too thrilled with it, but that’s the way it went, so move on.”