Deep in the heart of Texas, at a new venue for the sport, the drivers of the IndyCar Series put on a fantastic weekend at the state-of-the-art Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Still regarded as the greatest of all time in grand prix motorcycling, nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi will celebrate his 40th birthday today, in the midst of preparing for what’ll be his 18th season in MotoGP.
There are few elite athletes in the world who are still competing at the highest level in their respective arenas at that age. The likes of Roger Federer come to mind, who is still claiming grand slams in the tennis world and the recently crowned six-time NFL champion in Tom Brady.
Rossi now joins a unique list of champions, who continue to compete and do so at the very top. Signs of the wily Doctor slowing down are nil at this stage, which is great for his legion of supporters worldwide – who continue to ignite yellow flares trackside globally.
Already, the Yamaha rider has beaten the record held by Aussie Troy Bayliss, to become the oldest rider to win a MotoGP race – which was achieved in 2017 at the Dutch Grand Prix.
Though the question begs to the asked, even of the greatest rider of all time and that is; will Rossi ever be a champion again?
It wasn’t something that one would have pondered following that agonising 2015 season, which saw the mercurial Italian defeated by his former Yamaha teammate and nemesis in Jorge Lorenzo – by a mere five points.
Since the disastrous spell at Ducati and his return to Yamaha in 2013, Rossi demonstrated in that 2015 campaign that he still had the means to fight off the new generation of champions – the likes of Lorenzo and the unflappable Marc Márquez.
Subsequently, in tandem with Yamaha’s own performance woes and wrong development direction, The Doctor has been unable to really challenge the now 25-year-old Márquez who has clinched the last three titles.
Despite finishing third overall last year through his consistency, Rossi endured his first winless season since the dark days at Ducati, which was accentuated further by his teammate Maverick Viñales’ sole victory at Phillip Island aboard the same Yamaha M1.
The entire Yamaha squad looked rudderless in 2018, all while their factory rivals at Honda and Ducati were winning at will. Though early signs from pre-season testing in Malaysia have indicated progress for the Japanese manufacturer.
Lorenzo, now partnering Márquez at the Repsol Honda outfit has outlined his old teammate to be an absolute contender for the championship in 2019, alongside his teammate and defending champion, Viñales and the galvanised Andrea Dovizioso of Ducati.
Whether this is just bluster from the Spaniard, who was a part of one of the fiercest rivalries in Rossi’s career, as well as the most intense teammate rivalries in modern motorsport – the romantic will always envision the day that the Italian equals his compatriot Giacomo Agostini for eight titles in the premier class.
With a glass half empty though, it is difficult to see The Doctor add another plaque to the Tower of Champions. The extra-terrestrial in Márquez has been defying the odds and rewriting those records set by the great Italian himself and Ducati as a marque are technically superior to Yamaha at present.
Contracted until the end of the 2020 season, the realistic expectation for Rossi will be that he can win multiple grand prix and at least end his racing career as a winner – unlike most of his motorsport peers, who end up fading away aboard uncompetitive machinery.
The legacy that the familiar 46 will leave behind will be unforgettable and with team management of his own Sky VR46 outfit in his future – Rossi won’t immediately be lost upon the sport, especially with a number of his protegees rising through the ranks, including his half-brother Luca Marini.
Ultimately, the twilight of the GOAT’s career rests within Yamaha’s hands now and whether they can produce and develop an iteration of the M1 bike, which can sustain itself against the RC213V and Desmosedici challengers.
Having achieved all that he has, seeing Rossi continue to ride on at the highest level in such a demanding arena at the age of 40, is immensely satisfying as it is. Though while titles may just be a pipedream, winning grand prix is not out of the question.