Rossi makes case for three-way title race

Valentino Rossi completed a perfect weekend at Jerez on Sunday and laid down the marker for his own title challenge this season.

As MotoGP returned to European soil for the first time in the 2016 season all the talk in the paddock was on one man and one man only.

Jorge Lorenzo had dominated the headlines after announcing his big money move to Ducati in the build-up to the Spanish round but Rossi was in no mood to make it a perfect week for the 28-year-old.

On a track that Lorenzo himself picked up his first win of the season last year, leading from flag to flag in the process, the Italian matched the feat this time around.

Jerez signalled a turning point for Lorenzo in 2015 as he went on to claim the MotoGP crown after a difficult start and Rossi’s showing on Sunday threatens to cause a repeat.

The Italian has had a mixed start to the year with a fourth, a podium and a DNF to his name but much like Lorenzo just a year ago, the 37-year-old found form as soon as he touched down in Spain.

The six-time MotoGP champion became the oldest pole sitter since Jeremy McWilliams at Phillip Island in 2002, but maybe more worryingly for the rest of the field, it was the first time Rossi had led every lap from pole position and won.

The weekend wasn’t damaging for Rossi’s title foes, Lorenzo and Marc Marquez, in terms of points but a clear message has been sent out by the Doctor, who was surgical on Sunday afternoon with Jerez as his operating table.

Claiming the fastest lap on his way to an emphatic victory, something in which has been missing in recent seasons, Rossi looked as strong as ever.

After last year’s disappointment of losing out on a seventh world crown to Lorenzo at the final round in Valencia, Rossi looks to have dispelled any notion of a hangover and on Sunday announced his intention of making this year’s championship a three-way battle.

Marquez sits atop the standings with 82 points to his name, while Lorenzo trails by 17 points and although Rossi sits 24 back from the Repsol Honda man in first, it appears it is very much game on for the Italian.

Before the weekend kicked off, Rossi’s campaign was threatening to unravel before it had even begun after a disappointing visit to America, where he left with zero points.

But, if we have learnt anything from Rossi’s illustrious career, it has been to never write him off no matter the situation. And, at the weekend, he responded in fine style in the only way he knows how.

Rossi is back and with a bang as we head to central France for race number five of the season. If the Doctor decides another Sunday operation is on the cards, well, the MotoGP paddock may well just go into overdrive.

Joe Urquhart