R�O HONDO (AFP) – Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi hopes to celebrate 20 years as a world championship rider with a second successive Grand Prix of Argentina victory on Sunday.
The 37-year-old Italian made his debut in the lower 125cc class in Malaysia in 1996 before winning his first world title the following year.
A 250cc world crown followed two seasons later with seven in the elite class of the sport placing him comfortably amongst the greats.
Into his third decade, Rossi has claimed 112 victories, 211 podiums, 61 pole positions as well as 92 fastest laps.
Victory at Argentina s Rio Hondo track 12 months ago set Rossi on his way to what looked increasingly like it would be a 10th title until his season imploded in the closing stages and Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo snatched a third world title instead.
“Last year, we had an excellent race,” said Rossi, who fought wheel to wheel with bitter Honda rival Marc Marquez in an intriguing duel which ended with the Spaniard falling off his bike before coming home in second.
“It will be difficult to repeat the same result this year but we are going to try.
“I couldn t get onto the podium in Qatar (last month s season-opener where he finished fourth) but I still had a good race anyway. We worked well throughout the weekend.
“In Argentina we will have to do the same thing, but we ll have to do better in the race, and try to get on the podium. I really like the Termas track and we will try to do our best.”
In Qatar, 28-year-old Lorenzo started on pole and won the floodlit race in the Gulf for a third time, with Andrea Dovizioso on a Ducati taking second and Marquez in third.
For Lorenzo, it was a 62nd career win and 41st in the elite class.
However, he has struggled in the two races held in Argentina — he was fifth in 2015 and third in 2014.
“I want to race at a circuit where in the past we struggled a bit. On the other hand, we need to keep our feet on the ground,” said Lorenzo.
“We started the championship in a perfect manner but we still need to understand what the behaviour of the bike is like for different track layouts.”
Marquez, the 2014 winner in Argentina, remains optimistic of another triumph on Sunday.
“It s a circuit that I like,” said Marquez, who revealed he had taken 60 hours to reach the venue from his Spanish base. “We are always quick here.”