MotoGP’s season finale at Valencia was a better nail-biting cliffhanger than Game of Thrones, albeit not quite as erotic. The he-said-he-said soap opera of 2015 ended when the season-long heroics from the sport’s golden boy (pictured above) came to no avail when the come-from-behind win failed to materialize. The 2015 championship is now in the record books, but the underlying drama of accusations, mistrust and treachery continue percolating below the surface, waiting to rear in 2016 given the opportunity.

In one week’s time, we’ll get our first taste of the 2016 MotoGP season when pre-season testing commences at Sepang. While the riders have been dormant, unallowed to test during the mandatory winter break, team engineers have been working feverishly. Were any of them able to solve some of the issues of the new Michelin tires and standardized ECUs? During the final test at Valencia in November, all the fast guys reported essentially the same thing: the Michelin fronts lack grip and feedback, while the new electronics belong to a 2008 time capsule.

I’m thinking Rossi may have an advantage when it comes to being more proficiently adaptable to the Michelin tires and standardized electronics. Whatever shortcomings or change in riding style the new rubber or ECUs demand, Rossi possesses the experience and skillset to overcome the challenges.

He’s the only man in the paddock to have ridden for three different premier class teams (Ducati, Honda, Yamaha), in each engine displacement category (990cc, 800cc, 1000cc) on both Michelin and Bridgestone tires, and, let’s not forget, his first two seasons were aboard two-stroke machinery. Huh? A two-stroke grand prix bike, you say? Please explain.

rossi2

Rossi at speed aboard the Honda NSR500. Dragging an elbow wasn’t compulsory to winning championships in 2001.

Ah, yes, 2016 marks the 15th year since motorcycle grand prix racing doubled its strokes from two to four. For any johnny-come-lately MotoGP fans, you’ve known only the four-stroke experience. In only his second premier-class season in 2001, Rossi managed to secure the last two-stroke premier-class world championship title aboard the Honda NSR500. The NSR was as trick as a grand prix motorcycle could be at that time, but nothing like the two-wheel supercomputers the kids are riding these days. Back then, traction control was a measure of how fast the computer between your ears could process and send a message to your right wrist before a rear-wheel slide became a high-side. Rossi was good at this, he was real good.

Some quick math reveals that Rossi’s been a competitive force within the premier-class ranks for what will be his 17th year. Doesn’t that make him old? Vale turns 37 prior to the 2016 MotoGP season getting underway, while his Spanish nemeses Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Marquez will be 30, 28 and 23, respectively. Kobe Bryant is retiring at age 37, Jordan did at 36, and all those two did was play basketball – a tiresome sport with a lot of running – but nothing close to piloting a two-wheel missile around a racetrack.

Rossi’s biggest self-imposed hurdle is grid position. Seven times last year he started a race from the third row of the grid. Twice he won the race from the third row, the other five times he did not. He has the consistency – finishing all but three races on the podium – but he needs more wins (four last year) to take home the championship. Lorenzo started on the front row every race except for three and won seven times.

rossi

According to Bwin.com, Rossi is currently a third-place underdog to Lorenzo and Marquez for winning the 2016 MotoGP championship. Pedrosa is not far behind Rossi, and then there’s everyone else. A winning bet placed on Barbera, de Angelis or Laverty and you’d amass a small fortune.

If last year provided any insight into 2016’s MotoGP championship, it’s that for Marquez to be successful with his knife’s edge riding style, the bike needs to suit him, not the other way around. If Honda is unable to adapt the RSV to Marquez’s riding style, might he have a harder time keeping a front Michelin from washing out than Rossi? Marquez was fastest at the November test, but he also crashed. If Marquez didn’t learn in 2015 that 2nd or 3rd place points are better than no points, it could be Groundhog Day for MotoGP’s youngest-ever champion.

A lot will be revealed when the teams converge at Sepang for the first of three tests prior to start of the season (Sepang Feb. 1-3, Phillip Island Feb. 17-19, Losail March 2-4). Circumstances might change between now and the first race, but it’ll at least be interesting to see if riders or entire teams are struggling to come to terms with the new tires or computers.

If last year isn’t a recent enough reminder, I’ll reiterate here that when it comes to racing, anything can happen. Another top-three finish for Rossi is a bet I wouldn’t hesitate to make. To win it all will require every ounce of skill and determination he had in 2015 as well as the same amount of luck, times two.

  • 12er

    cant wait to find out, at least supercross is back on ending the drought.

  • JMDonald

    Go Rossi.

  • Ryot Gant

    If Marquez does what he did last year! maybe.
    If Lorenzo breaks a leg maybe.
    Joking.
    But If something happens to the tires and JLo is not comfortable its a good chance for Rossi.

  • Michael Howard

    With every Spaniard affiliated with MotoGP conspiring against him, how does he stand a chance? 😉

    • Ryot Gant

      Including that Brit on the Yam who wants his Ride!

      • Old MOron

        You think Bradley would resort to conspiracy? Nooooooo.
        On the other hand, that traitorous, back-stabbing younger Espargaro… :-)

        • Ryot Gant

          Asparagus did not give rossi a hard time in the last race but braders did!

          • Old MOron

            Well, you’re right about the Ginger Ninja. But the original post was about conspiracy. That doesn’t seem Brad’s style.

  • Old MOron

    Many riders, including Rossi and Marquez, are using dirt track to enhance their training. I expect them to adjust well to the new software and tires. But the factories and teams will play a crucial role. The better they can adapt the bikes to the new rules, the fresher their riders will stay over race distance.

    If Marquez hadn’t been working so hard just to ride the bike last year, he probably would’ve done a better job assessing risk and making decisions. The season may have turned out differently.

    If this season comes down to fighting the bike, managing traction, incurring risks, making split-second decisions, keeping a cool head, I think Valentino is in a strong position. I expect Marquez will learn from his mistakes of 2015. Similarly, Lorenzo won’t be sucked out of his ride by the likes of Scott Redding again. But since Valentino has the most experience, I expect him to be in the strongest position. That’s what I hope, anyway.

  • Old MOron

    Where’s Bruce Allen?

  • Vrooom

    The real question is will Lorenzo’s manservant be able to stop him? I suspect Marquez will crash a lot this season, Lorenzo and Pedrosa are going to be in the mix, but I’ll bet Rossi’s consistency does it, again presuming Marquez isn’t riding to pleasure his countryman.

  • John B.

    A New Year’s Resolution precludes me from participation in this discussion. Hopefully, I’ll break it before Qatar!!!

    • Old MOron

      Did you see Spiff’s comment below? You going to jump in and defend your boy, or do we have to say something about his mama?

      • John B.

        Saw it – Yes;
        Going to jump in – No!
        Comments re mama… meh!
        2016 – Leaving MotoGP commentary to the experts.
        PS – If ever I go on a diet you’ll be the last to know!!!
        Enjoy!

        • Old MOron

          Ha ha, I wonder if reverse psychology could work in “dieting” situations.

          You: “That does it. I’m swearing off women!”

          Your buddy: “Hey, what’s a matter, man? We’re gonna come round at twelve with some Puerto Rican girls that’s just dying to meet you! We’re gonna bring a case of wine…”

          • John B.

            That’s exactly how it works OM! Friends often undermine our efforts at… self improvement. That’s probably one reason recovering addicts must change their milieu.

  • john phyyt

    When the flag drops the BS stops.
    Packaging will be critical ; this year more than ever. Yamaha seems supreme; with Honda ( perhaps) losing a little focus. Dakar Honda’s were disappointing, and production MX , SBK, SS, and naked bikes being 2nd or 3rd best . Autos seem lackluster as well. Maybe need MoJo replacement.

  • spiff

    Okay, here we go. Go Rossi!!! I enjoyed the read, but I really hope Bruce is still on board for week to week. If he is not call him, someone has to make the first move. :) Rossi will be Rossi, capitalizing on any and all opportunity. Lorenzo will be looking for the perfect setup. Marquez will think he can do it (and no doubt he might). Pedrosa will show brilliance, I just don’t know if he can string enough brilliance together. I want to see Vinales and Iannone show up.

    ps
    Marquez sucks. He was not racing at the end of last year. He was the guy at the bar making sure you didn’t get laid. We have all been there, and have known him. He should have been a good Honda employee, and tried to win races, that is what they pay him for, but nope he was the ass hat protrayed in most eighties movies. I actually thought he was alright until he did that crap, and it doesn’t matter who he did it to. He did it. We missed what could have been an epic battle for a championship.

    • Old MOron

      Hey, Spiff! Actually, Bruce was around not too long ago: http://blog.motorcycle.com/2016/01/18/manufacturers/yamaha/yamaha-presents-2016-motogp-team-video/#comment-2465293584 I have a theory that he has submitted plenty of Moto GP stories already, but they’ve not been pro-Rossi enough for a certain behind-the-scenes MOronic editor named Maria :-)

      If you read to the end of the page I linked, you’ll see that someone was wondering after you, too.

      • spiff

        It’s nice to be missed.

        As far as the pro Rossi stuff is concerned, I’m on board. That said we should still let Bruce rant and rave.

  • martin collins

    I’ll go out on a limb and bet on Marquez taking the 2016 title. Rossi may just make the top 3 but I doubt it. He was lucky in 2015 and his opponents had some poor luck. The chances of that repeating are slim.