Round two of 2019 MotoGP was a steamy, sweaty and demanding affair at Termas de Rio Hondo: ripe conditions for a 40 year old legend to make his presence felt. Slicing off a long period of eleven races without a podium trophy, Monster Energy Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi finally walked into the fine and sickly sweet spray of Grand Prix champagne after an audacious last-lap move to snare the runner-up position in Argentina.
The Italian missed out on the top three by fractions of a second three weeks ago in Qatar and this time attacked countryman Andrea Dovisiozo on the final circulation around the fast and dirty Argentine asphalt to break the undesirable dry spell with a coating of bubbly.
“I knew I had to brake so precise…without a mistake of one centimetre,” Rossi said of his tactics. “Overtaking on the last lap is always special this one especially so because I did very good braking.”
The achievement was like a mini breath of fresh air and among all of Valentino’s vast haul of 233 GP podiums carried a slice of special significance. “Is a life,” he grinned on the unwilling abstinence of silverware. “It has been a long, long time. In the last races of 2018 where I was first or second and didn't make the podium: it was difficult to finish the championship like this. We arrived from a difficult period and for that I’m really happy.”
On a weekend where Rossi’s longevity was celebrated thanks to the 23 year gap (to the day) back to his debut as a gangly teenager at the 1996 Malaysian Grand Prix (he finished 6th), the veteran proved – again - that he still has the class and the ability to front MotoGP.
“We worked very well from Friday morning; we made the right tyre choice and modified the setting. We are a good group. Yamaha work, and the challenge is difficult but it’s important that we go in the right direction.”
“I’m happy and proud,” he said of his two-decade existence at the highest level. “To stay here is great. I feel good and I want to try and fight like this for some years.”
There was drama elsewhere as Franco Morbidelli collided with Maverick Viñales to send both Yamahas into the gravel only corners before the flag and LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow, who was a permanent fixture in the top three fastest riders for most of the weekend, was adjudged to have jumped the start and his Ride Through penalty scrubbed him out of the running for the podium.
Full props to Lorenzo Baldassarri who is ‘2 for 2’ in Moto2. The tall Italian – one of Rossi’s roaming, potent VR46 Academy graduates - won a close battle with Australian Remy Gardner for spoils in the intermediate class.
Next up: Austin and the Circuit of the Americas. The weaving American layout was described as “one of the most difficult and technical of the season” by Rossi. Will anyone be able to dent the 100% record held by World Champion Marc Marquez?