CN III IN THE PADDOCK
BY MICHAEL SCOTT
TIME AND THE JOKER
uperheroes never get old.
They go on forever. Or until the public tires of them.
Then if they're lucky (i.e. Batman), they get re-invented.
Racing has as many superheroes as fiction, but less pity. Any
re-invention has to be with the
same ingredients that created the
stature in the first place: speed,
victories and championships.
Valentino Rossi's re-invention
has massive public support. The
fans still love him.
It also has the support of a forgiving Yamaha, who welcomed
him home again two years after
he'd walked out in a huff.
It's matched by his own efforts: remaining cheerful – even
exultant (at least outwardly) when
Marc Marquez stuffed him with a
copy of his own merciless move
at Laguna Seca's Corkscrew.
And he keeps on trying.
Trouble is, the momentum is
proving elusive. More than half
the season has gone, and aside
from a burst of glory at Assen,
time has turned Rossi into a
I don't believe his fans will ever
desert him. Hope not, anyway.
He's done enough and more to
enshrine himself in the gallery
of all-time superheroes. All the
while concealing his deadly killer
instinct behind a personality dripping with charm and humor. But
the fourth places are chipping
away at his pedestal.
His nemesis is three-fold. Two
of his rivals were there already:
Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo,
with the former looking increasingly likely to fall off his perch.
The third, most appropriately
if we seek to continue the Superhero image, has a smile exactly resembling that of Batman's
archenemy - the Joker.
Marquez the Merciless, the
Marvelous, the Mesmerizing. At
the time of writing he's won four
races in a row, and five so far this
year. No class rookie has ever
done that; not even Kenny Roberts in 1978, when he became
the last newbie to take the title
at his first attempt. Unless something disastrous happens to him
at Silverstone, which falls between deadline and publication
for this column, the 20-year-old
Repsol Honda rider seems well
placed to repeat this feat. He's
faster than the rest. Simple as
that. And still learning.
Rossi hasn't run out of talent,
as his old rival Casey Stoner
might like to put it. He's been
sabotaged by technicalities.
Most particularly tires. The softconstruction Bridgestone fronts,
introduced last year to halt a
spate of cold-tire crashes, are his
biggest problem. They came to a
chorus of approval from all riders
except Pedrosa and Stoner. And
now Rossi, who said recently: "I
was against the tire at the time,
but I was in the shit anyway."
The trouble is his style. He hits
the brakes harder, apparently,
than other riders. At that point,
instead of containing the forces
and giving him precise feedback
about grip and the limit, the tire
carcass collapses. The main