Rossi is Back on Yamaha, and Back on the TopStep

The last 2 years have been rough for fans of nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi. And who isn’t a fan of the charismatic Doctor, one of the most successful motorcycle racers of alltime (second in overall wins only to the great Giacomo Agostini)? When Rossi left Yamaha-where he won four MotoGP championships between 2004 and 2010 — to join Ducati for 2011, it seemed like a match made in motor racing heaven: Italy’s greatest racer on Italy’s greatest motorbike. Instead, it was an unmitigated disaster.

Hopes were high when Rossi returned to Yamaha this year, but early results weren’t promising. Going into the seventh round at the Netherland’s TT Circuit Assen, Rossi had only visited the podium once (the season opener at Qatar) and had yet to challenge his teammate — and defending World Champion-Jorge Lorenzo in qualifying or a race. At age 34, and lacking his characteristic overconfidence after two disastrous seasons at Ducati, did Valentino Rossi still have the winning edge?

After Assen, however, where he ended his 3-year win drought by decisively defeating an injured Lorenzo and the Repsol-Honda wrecking crew of rookie phenom Marc Marquez and current championship leader Dani Pedrosa, there can be no doubt that Valentino Rossi still has both the speed and the skill to win many more races. Rossi entered Assen feeling more positive than he had in years. A new tire and other front-end changes restored his cornering confidence, and the second-quickest times in wet practice on Thursday had pundits predicting Rossi was positioned for another podium appearance, especially if conditions remained questionable. But Rossi didn’t need any advantage, atmospheric or otherwise.

Rossi went on to dominate the race-and under near-perfect conditions. After starting fourth, he was third by the end of the first lap. He passed Marquez on lap four and Pedrosa on lap six, then led unchallenged to the finish-setting fastest lap in the process-where he beat Pedrosa by a credible 2.1 seconds. This was Rossi’s first race win since the 2010 Malaysian GP; it was his 80th victory in the premier class, his 106th GP victory overall, and his eighth win at Assen.

The weekend’s only “what-if” was Lorenzo, who finished fifth despite having shattered his collarbone in a 150-mph highside during practice. It should only take a few weeks for Lorenzo to heal and get back up to speed; it now looks like the once fierce Lorenzo/Rossi rivalry could make a comeback, too.

Rossi isn’t ready to settle into an elderstatesman role just yet. The Doctor told that the good result at Assen has given him a “new spirit”. May be the infamous paddock wall dividing the Factory Yamaha pit garage will return before the season is through as well.

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