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GP Week : Issue 45
time he wins, need to prove that he and his cohorts aren’t running out of ideas. Because the skyscape of MotoGP stardom is changing, from within Rossi’s own camp – from just over the wall down the middle of the Fiat Yamaha pit. In a career spanning 14 years, Rossi has set new standards in showmanship, in knowing how best to play the crowd. His would- be successor Jorge Lorenzo has watched and studied his technique. And while the impish charm remains entirely Valentino’s own, Jorge taken the showmanship to a new and rather more formal level. He admits he was first inspired by Rossi. Now, noting the increasingly contrived costume scenes of the established lead player, Lorenzo has instead devised a winning victory routine that is both distinctive, and can be repeated endlessly: planting the LORENZO’S LAND flag in a handy gravel trap. Then, from time to time, he puts on a side show, often with identically clad and helmeted doppelgangers joining in, and sometimes involving guitars. In general, however, Lorenzo leans away from pantomime towards theatre. As befits a part-time drama student and would-be future movie star. Compared with Rossi: “I think we have two different characters, and two different jokes,”he told me. Year by year he becomes increasingly grandiose: when he dressed as a gladiator, it was with a genuine costume from the film of the same name. It all seems frivolity, and in Rossi’s case it may have started as such. At the other end of his career, his new challenger has turned the fun deadly serious. To the identically mounted pair, the fame game is as much part of a front- end racing career as late braking and perfect throttle control. Rossi’s technique with serious rivals is to be dismissive. We saw this clearly with Gibernau, when the Spaniard was about the only one who regularly gave him a fight. It’s not going 38 to work with Stoner, who is clearly too fast to be dismissed. Accordingly, Rossi names him as the rival he takes most seriously. A small psychological ploy that immediately puts Lorenzo and Pedrosa on the back foot. In interviews, asked about Lorenzo, he just laughs. “I think Yamaha have taken him when he is too young and inexperienced,”he cackled to this reporter early last season, after Jorge had taken three pole positions and won his first race. Maybe Lorenzo’s subsequent crashes proved the joking assertion to be right on the money. This year, his tune had changed only slightly: “My problem with Lorenzo is that he is so young and so fast,”he said, before the start of the season. It’s one of the oldest racing adages that the first person you must beat is your team-mate. Both Yamaha’s players will have it burned into their hearts. Lorenzo makes light of the syndrome: “I think you can have this thought when you are young, but when you become older, you must respect all the people who are around you.” But Rossi responds with his usual glee: “Yes, exactly,” he told me. “Exactly. But it depends who hunt who. Who is the hunter and who is the hunted, no? We try to be the hunter.” Jorge arrived in MotoGP with the same number of smaller-class titles as Rossi, though his were both in 250s while Valentino had one of each, achieved in one year less. Each won in his first full-size season; Rossi took the title at his second attempt. Which shows that Lorenzo has rather a lot to live up to, if he hopes to catch up in terms of results. Then again, Lorenzo has Rossi to race against, making his position rather different. But who will win the theatre war? Will Lorenzo start to steal significant numbers of fans from the most popular rider in bike racing history? Well, remember this. To put on the show, first you have to win the race. I know who my money’s on, for what may possibly be his final MotoGP year …