IT IS EASY to feel out of place in the company of people who are considerably younger, especially when some are just more than half your age. Not
Valentino Rossi, though. The Italian showman, in the twilight of his career at 38, is still very much at home on a race track, shining bright like the fluorescent yellow No.46 on his Yamaha 2017 YZR M1.
When Doha Stadium Plus asked where he found his motivation to perform like he was doing even at this age, Rossi just shrugged his shoulders and said “boh... I don’t know”, before bursting into laughter.
But what he knows backwards and forwards is how to make his bike do unbelievably crazy stuff, and how to win races and world championships, which is what he has been doing for the last two decades.
When he won his first race, his now team-mate Maverick Vinales, the talented Spaniard with a delightful first name, was a toddler, taking his first baby steps. It was 1996 and Mick Doohan was ruling the roost in MotoGP, then known as 500cc.
Grand Prix motorcycle racing has gone through sea changes, from engine capacity to tyres to race classification, since Rossi first made his mark. The ‘Doctor’, as he is known, moved from 125cc to 250 before making the premier class his bastion.
New riders have come, some made their presence felt for a while and exited, and some, with outrageous talents are threatening to dominate.
For now though, Rossi, the real maverick, is still the most household name in the sport.
Nine-time world champion Rossi, with 114 race victories to his credit, has not won a world title since 2009. He finished as runner-up in the last three years, twice behind Spanish superstar Marc Marquez, who rides a Honda.
He is not getting any younger while his opponents are becoming stronger.
As the new season starts on March 26 at Losail, where he has won four times including in 2015, the signs have not been that great.
“I’m not able to be strong like last year, so we need to find a better balance. We’re not at 100 per cent because I don’t have enough of a feeling to push the front end,” said Rossi after the first day of final testing at Losail.
He found a glimmer on the second day in Qatar, finishing just behind his team-mate Vinales, who look destined for bigger things.
But Rossi would be more worried about his recent nemesis Marquez and fellow-Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo, his former team-mate at Yamaha.
Both have won three World Championships each in MotoGP, and have played a key role in stopping Rossi from winning the title for the last seven seasons.
What sets Rossi aside from his rivals, besides his longevity and success, is that he never puts himself under undue pressure.
Deep down, he must be well aware that the odds are heavily stacked against him, but he has proved time and again he enjoys dealing with obstacles.
“I hope for something miraculous in the next two weekends, or I can say something else: we know exactly what we need to do, but we wanted to keep it hidden,” he joked.
Ex-rider Loris Capirossi, who is now the FIA Safety Advisor to Dorna Sports, recently said his former rival could never be counted out despite his not-so-impressive performance in testing.
“Vale is a calm rider who does not need to try for the fast time straight away. He prefers to prepare the bike for the race,” said Capirossi, who thinks his compatriot will be able to benefit from Marquez’s battle against Vinales. “Valentino is like a fox and he would take advantage of the race. To tell the truth, I don’t know where he finds all the motivation at 38 years old.”
Maybe, the secret lies in Rossi’s insatiable thirst for success.