Argentina runner-up Valentino Rossi says there is still a ‘long way to go’ before he can challenge team-mate Maverick Vinales for MotoGP victory.
Vinales made it two wins from two as a Yamaha rider to stretch his World Championship lead to 14 points over Rossi, crossing the line almost three seconds ahead of the Italian at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit.
Rossi got the better of a battle with Britain’s Cal Crutchlow to take second place and was happy with the result, but the 38-year-old – competing in hsi 350th GP – says he is playing catch-up against Vinales after a ‘disastrous’ pre-season.
“The problem for me is that Maverick did a fantastic pre-season and is always strong. Also today I was not so far but he was a bit faster, so we need to work,” Rossi said.
“When I finished at the line I thought it was less than 2.9 [seconds] but it is 2.9, so we have a long way to go still. But anyway it is OK and starting from seventh, it is good. I was behind Cal and he had fantastic pace so I didn’t think if I can catch Maverick before I overtake [Cal].
“The pre-season for me was a disaster and I was very sad. The important thing is just the Sunday afternoon when you cross the line. In my long career I learn that you must be concentrated and never ever give up because a lot of things can happen,” he added.
“The race in Qatar gave me a good feeling, a good vibe, because I started to know the bike better and also I know that if I suffer, I can be competitive on Sunday. I’m happy because it’s a good result and also because I have more points than last year: I had a better race in Qatar than last year and a better race in Argentina than last year.”
Rossi said he expected to be involved in a battle with Crutchlow following practice but The Doctor always felt he had enough in hand during the race to come out on top, eventually making his move seven laps from the end on the brakes at Turn 5.
“It was good because I had a good start, a good first lap, but especially because I can push to the end and I felt comfortable with the bike. I felt better with my physical condition because I worked very hard and in Qatar I arrived more Qatar, but here I can push,” he said.
“Also the fight with Cal was great because Cal was very fast. I know that I have to fight with him to arrive on the podium after the practice, but when I followed I saw that I had a bit more and it was an important second place – also for me and my team but for all the team because Yamaha has a one-two – and also for the points in the championship.”
Another big plus from the weekend for Rossi was the improvement in braking on the factory M1, and he has also hailed the extra speed of the 2017 Yamaha.
“This weekend I was always struggling in the braking but we improve the balance on Sunday and today in braking I was very strong, especially after the back straight,” he said.
“Also great work from Yamaha because it looks like this year our engine is more competitive and we suffer less in the straight. We have always good driveability but also good top speed.”
After a testing weekend, Rossi once again showed that he is the man for the big occasion on a Sunday but he would much prefer to be higher up the grid rather than having to work his way through to the front.
“Also for me I suffer because when I struggle in the practice the situation is not under control. This is the way and all the riders now are able to push from the beginning and are able to be strong and make great lap times. In the race I was able to improve but we try to work to be stronger in the practice.”
Looking ahead to the third round of the championship, Rossi is eager to make amends for his mistake last year in Austin when he fell while holding second place behind Marquez.
“Austin for me is very hard but is a track that I like. Last year I was very strong and after the warm-up I was the only one who had the pace to try to stay close to Marquez. But unfortunately in the race I did a big mistake and I crashed, so I want to try and make a good race also there.”