Valencia may be the last race of the season for most MotoGP racers, but it is not for Valentino Rossi. The Italian always has one final event to compete in before the winter break. As a keen rally fan, Rossi always takes part in the Monza Rally, an exhibition race in which many top stars from several different two- and four-wheeled disciplines compete.
As it is an event which takes place entirely on four wheels, I do not cover it on MotoMatters.com, a website devoted entirely to racing on two wheels. (Indeed, so little do I care for four wheels that I have not owned a car for nearly 15 years, relying solely on motorcycles for transport.) However, as the Monza Rally takes place in a more informal atmosphere, there is a chance for Rossi, and some of the others around him, to speak a little more freely.
Our friends over at GPOne.com did go along to the Monza Rally, and provided very full coverage of the event. They used that opportunity to speak to Valentino Rossi, as well as Yamaha team boss Maio Meregalli and Rossi's friend and Sky VR46 team boss Uccio Salucci about the way the private Yamaha test at Sepang had gone, and how Maverick Viñales had been received in the team. Those conversations revealed some fascinating insights.
Lifting the veil
There had been virtually no news out of Yamaha's private test at Sepang, apart from an Instagram post by Viñales saying he was "very happy". There were some unsourced and unattributed times posted on Facebook, which had both Rossi and Viñales posting times in the very low 2'00, with Rossi the fastest of the two by a few hundredths of a second.
At the Monza Rally, both Maio Meregalli and Valentino Rossi gave a bit more detail about the results of the test. The weather had been favorable, Meregalli told GPOne, allowing the Yamaha riders two full days of testing at the track. More interestingly – and providing more hope to the team and Yamaha fans – Meregalli said that they had found some solutions to the problems they had at Valencia. "I don't deny that there were some doubts in Spain, but in Malaysia we dealt with those. Both riders had the same material available and chose the same," he told GPOne.
Rossi was a little more guarded in his comments. He agreed that the Sepang test had helped sort out some of the issues found at Valencia. "The situation is a lot clearer now. We were able to go into more detail with the 2017 M1 and I have to say it has greater potential than the 2016 bike," he told GPOne.
The trouble with teammates
Ahead of the event, Rossi also appeared on an Italian radio station, where he spoke of his relationship with former teammate Jorge Lorenzo, and with his new teammate Maverick Viñales. His relationship with Lorenzo had deteriorated at the end of 2015, after the pair had a heated argument. But Lorenzo had come in to Rossi's garage after the Spaniard's last race with Yamaha at Valencia, and told the Italian he had always respected him. "It was a nice moment," Rossi said.
As for Viñales, Rossi joked that he had hoped the Spanish youngster would be a smaller problem than Lorenzo, the man he replaced, but testing had shown that was not going to be the case. "After the first tests, I realized it would be more or less the same." Rossi would have preferred someone older, like Dani Pedrosa, he said, but it was not his choice to make.
Maio Meregalli also had some words on Viñales, and told GPOne he had been left impressed by the Spaniard. "I knew he was fast, but I didn't expect him to be so quick immediately. He could well be as fast as Lorenzo, but better in terms of his character," Meregalli said. Viñales calm and methodical way of working had made an impression, as well as his outright speed.
Will seeing a fast young rider take the place of a fast older rider as teammate to Valentino Rossi cause problems for the Movistar Yamaha team? Meregalli was not too concerned. The team had managed a very difficult situation throughout 2016, he said, and did not expect the relationship to be as bad as between Rossi and Lorenzo.
At the moment, however, all this is still idle speculation. We will see the unadulterated truth at the first official test of 2017 at Sepang. There, all parties – including Maverick Viñales and Jorge Lorenzo – will be able to speak freely.
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