Valentino Rossi toasted his first Ducati podium in Le Mans yesterday after the Italian finished the French MotoGP race in third position. The 32-year-old just failed to defeat compatriot Andrea Dovizioso for the second successive race, but Rossi was still jubilant to show the increasing potential of the factory GP11 machine.
Using a new carbon fiber frame he first tested in Estoril earlier this month, Rossi spent most of the 28-lap race engaged in an exciting tussle with Dovizioso’s Repsol Honda and the factory Yamaha of reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo. He missed second place by just over 0.3s but the nine-time world champion said he racing so closely with Honda and Yamaha had been a valuable exercise in helping understand more how to race the Ducati GP11.
Rossi, who came from ninth on the grid, said: “The Ducati and the Yamaha are the two most different bikes to ride in MotoGP. They are the complete opposite. What is good with the Yamaha is quite bad with Ducati and what is quite bad with Ducati is good with Yamaha. Now you need to have a more stop and start style like you’re riding a 500. In Yamaha you have to ride very smooth, all with the front. It is interesting because in one race like this you learn more than in five days of testing. I think I rode the Ducati like never before. We don’t have a lot of tests and in all the tests I don’t have enough power for the shoulder. I already know the Yamaha and a bit the Honda, but in a race together with the other guys you understand more when you push a lot about the way to improve your riding style. I’m not at the maximum and I still have to ride this bike in a better way. But one race like this together with Yamaha and Honda is like gold to understand the limit of the bike and in which way you have to ride to go at the maximum. I felt the bike in the right way, so we have to work more. We need more time but we are in a good way.”
Rossi (46) battled Dovizioso (4) after getting around rival and former teammate, Lorenzo, but had to settle for third.
Dovizioso’s second place though relegated Rossi down to fifth in the overall standings, but he added: “It was a great race and I enjoyed it a lot. We improved the setting of the bike compared to the rest of the weekend. I didn’t think it was possible to fight with Dovizioso but maybe I can stay with Lorenzo. When I was behind those two I tried to resist and make some good lap times. It is only the first step because we have to improve the bike in some parts but it is a special taste because it arrives after a difficult period for my physical condition. At the end the battle was great because Jorge tried to escape and I gave 100% to go with him. Passing him was a great taste and a little bit of revenge after what happened last year in this race. I didn’t expect Dovi would arrive but I tried to push and with one lap to the end I made a mistake because I wasn’t sure if it was the last lap. Anyway I ran wide so Dovi passed me another time. For sure second is better than third but this podium for us is so important.”
Rossi had urged Ducati to make further improvements to its factory GP11, and was boosted entering Le Mans after position test sessions in Estoril. Even more improvements are expected, and Rossi could use a further updated chassis in the forthcoming Catalunya race in Barcelona early next month. And the revised engine spec he tested in Portugal that has made the initial throttle opening much smoother should be available in Catalunya too.