Rossi: a title with Ducati.

Valentino Rossi's first day of "work" this year was on the snow of Madonna di Campiglio, a much cooler climate compared to the humid heat awaiting him in Malaysia. Wearing his now trademark yellow and black hat, along with a red and white team jacket, the Italian rider addressed the media with a smile and a relaxed disposition. Any specific questions about the new Desmosedici were, however, deflected until tomorrow: "It will be Filippo Preziosi who tells you about the new bike – Rossi confirmed – so far I have only seen it on a computer screen, but I can tell you it's beautiful." 

    What are your expectations for the new bike?

    "The bike has changed fairly drastically, and Ducati have made a big effort to have it ready in time for the first test. I'm not worried, but rather optimistic and confident. Once we start testing, we'll know what point we are at and how much we've managed to improve. I'm not expecting the bike to be perfect from the first test, but I think we will be able to understand if we have worked well. We have created a more organized and clear work plan for 2012." 

    So what happened in 2011?

    "Last year was a lot worse because from the first test we understood that the season will be very tough and difficult. After three laps we understood we could not win the first race, but now the situation is better – because I am fit. Today I am in shape physically, and we have two or three weeks ahead of us. I am ready for the first test. Trying to win the first race is just a dream, and realistically we are still too far away, but maybe the new bike will be a miracle." 

    And what happened during the season?

    "We tried to speed everything up, and that's why we debuted the GP12 as early as possible; we realized the old bike was going to have us struggling. Unfortunately we also ran into problems with the new bike, which we then started to work on. In the end it was a hybrid between the two bikes, the old and the new, but now Filippo Preziosi has designed a completely new bike." 

    Can you fight for the title in 2012?

    “I do not want to say from the start that I cannot fight for the championship, but I have to be realistic. In the end there was 1.5 seconds we have to recover, and our target is to get close to the others and be able to race with them and fight with them. This is our goal. We know we need time, but we work well together. It is nice to work with Ducati, even if unfortunately the results have been under our expectations. The atmosphere is nice and we all believe in what we are doing.”

    What areas have you focused on with the new bike?

    "One of the most important things for going fast is to make the tires work like they are supposed to, so together with Filippo, we've tried to come up with a bike that will let them perform as well as possible. We'll see if we've managed it. Hopefully Bridgestone will also work with us in this direction. We don't need a huge change from the tires; just a small modification will be helpful for the riders. We only need a little help from their part, and it should be possible: in 2007 they already proved they could make the best tires in the world, so that doesn't need to be their goal anymore."

    This season also sees the return of 1000cc engines, what do you think about that?

    "The new bikes will be more fun to ride, but unfortunately they are more similar to the 800's than the old 990's; there are many electronic aids and the tires are very different to five years ago. The bikes are very strong though, and bigger engine is more interesting to ride and allows for some sliding, so I think it's an improvement. I also hope the more powerful engine helps bigger riders like me and Hayden, because we were losing too much to the lighter riders on the 800's." 

    Your contract with Ducati expires at the end of this season, what will you do?

    "I think we will discuss it during the season, but I don't want it to become too much of a distraction from the championship. It will be interesting because all the riders contracts are up so cards could be reshuffled. I would like to help Ducati achieve something, to win another title, and then maybe stop. But I would like at least one more contract, another two years.”

    Would you rule out a return to Yamaha or Honda?

    "The situation with the rider market will be interesting, but it seems highly unlikely that I'll be back on a Japanese bike." 

    So you are still fully motivated to race?

    "My hunger for success is the same as before, and I still feel very fast. The only thing that has changed, naturally, is my age; now I'm part of the older generation. But I'm still interested in racing and I think I'm very competitive. I just need to be in the right circumstances to demonstrate it. This is something both Ducati and I are working on. I'm competing with very strong riders that are younger, and now it's harder to make the difference by winning 10 or 11 races in a season." 

    Honda was extremely strong in 2011.

    "Last season Honda decided to win, and they put out a budget that nobody else could match, making an incredible bike in the process. I think this technology will pass on to the 1000, but I hope that we and Yamaha can be more competitive and make the championship more balanced." 

    Do you see any four wheeled activity on the horizon, especially with Ducati having some automobile sponsorship?

    "Rally racing has always been my big passion, and fighting with Loeb at Monza was really fun. I think that when I stop racing bikes, I'll try to do something in that area. Probably not an entire championship, but some races for sure. In 2006 I also tried a Mercedes DTM car, and that was one of the funnest I have ever driven. I'd like to do some races there too, but these are all plans for when I stop riding. I don't have any four-wheeled plans for this year, but a lap of the old Nurburgring would be great."

    Considering the injuries to Hayden and Dovizioso, what do you think about motocross training?

    "It's part of our job. We need to be on a bike to train and improve our riding style. It's always dangerous when you ride, and especially on a motocross bike, but it's important that we train on those types of bike, or even a flat track, to improve our feeling with the slides. You just need to be careful and lucky." 

    Last week there was some controversy about a statement from Paolo Simoncelli that you haven't been around much since Marco's funeral. How do you respond to that?

    "I have a great relationship with both Paolo and Kate, Marco's girlfriend, who will come and work for my company. I frequently see Sic's friends, and I'm working with Mauro Sanchini on a film with some never before seen footage from our training area. I think this is a case of the media taking a half word and blowing it up to make a headline, but it's a controversy that never existed."
 

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