Valentino Rossi believes his recent, desperately needed victory in China could prove the perfect launchpad for a sixth world MotoGP title, in the run-up to tomorrow’s French Grand Prix.
The Italian ended a dispiriting, seven-race win drought when he took victory in Shanghai on his improving Yamaha, a performance which moved him into third place overall in the standings, nine points behind 2006 champion Dani Pedrosa and just two behind teammate Jorge Lorenzo. He also enjoys a 16-point cushion over defending world champion and Ducati rider Casey Stoner of Australia.
“China was a very important boost for everyone and a great result for all the hard work that everyone has put in so far this season to get us to this point,” the 29-year-old Rossi said. “Now we have to make the most of this moment and keep pushing like this.”
Rossi has won twice at Le Mans in the sport’s elite class but the last two years have been disappointing with rain ruining his opportunities last year while a tire problem ended his hopes 12 months earlier.
“Yamaha usually goes very well at Le Mans and, although it’s obviously the first time we’ve been there with Bridgestone tires, I am confident that we will be strong there,” Rossi said. “We are nine points from the top of the championship, but our rivals are very motivated too so there is no let-up and we must go for the maximum points again.”
Lorenzo, one of the revelations of the season so far after stepping up from the 250cc class, has been given the all-clear to ride despite damaging his ankles in a fall in China where he still finished fourth.
“I was lucky in China. If I’d have landed differently it could have ruled me out until the middle of the season and certainly prevented me from enjoying myself as much as I am in this early part of the season,” the 21-year-old Spaniard said.
“In China I realized the risks in this sport; as riders we have to take a lot of risks and that Sunday in Shanghai, with my emotions and my feelings, I knew I had to go through it and take risks again because my team were depending on me in the box,” he said.
Pedrosa was fourth at Le Mans last year and believes the first lap will be crucial.
“The most exciting part of the Le Mans track is after the first chicane, going downhill and through the long-right hander,” Honda rider Pedrosa said.
“You need to ride aggressively. The weather can be a worry because it often rains. It’s usually cold as well, so we normally use intermediate tyres,” Pedrosa said.