There has been no greater on-track fantasy in MotoGP over the last decade than the ultimate Italian motorcycle racer, Valentino Rossi, slicing through the tracks and rivals of the world on the ultimate Italian motorcycle, Ducati.
That dream became a reality in 2011 when Rossi joined Ducati Corse, and the result was ... a nightmare.
Seven-time MotoGP World Champion Rossi went winless for the first time in his 16-year Grand Prix career. Think about it: The last time Rossi didn't win a World Championship race came when Alanis Morrisetteheard of her lately?topped the global music charts with her raging PMS anthem, "You Oughta Know," and long before the world even knew of a randy White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.
What was more stunning about Rossi's fall from the pinnacle in 2011 was that neither he nor Ducati was even close to threatening Honda, Yamaha or fellow aliens Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa. If Rossi's season was a Rubik's Cube, not even one side would feature aligned colors.
Rossi finished on the podium just once, a third-place finish at Le Mans. He also never came close to starting on the front row, with a best grid spot of sixth. He ended up tied for sixth in the standings, the worst finish of his Grand Prix career since he finished ninth in his debut season in 125cc, in 1996.
Many expected Rossi and longtime ace crew chief Jerry Burgess to quickly adjust to and refine the carbon-fiber frame of the Ducati GP11, which used the engine as a stressed member unlike the traditional, alloy-based frames used by their two previous employers, Yamaha and Honda. After all, the unpredictable front end of the Ducati would be easy to fix in the hands of two men who transformed the Yamaha M1 from a lead-sled to world-dominating machine in 2004.
|If Rossi's season was a Rubik's Cube, not even one side would feature aligned colors.|
But Rossi and JB never came to grips with the GP11 or the characteristics of the Bridgestone front tire. Ducati rushed different designs of the GP11 to Rossi during the season, including a previously unthinkable addition of aluminum parts to the front of the chassis. But the magical tweak never was found.
Some also muttered that Rossi's early-season struggles were due to lingering effects of the shoulder and leg injuries he suffered in 2010. Stoner even asked Rossiwith a huge dollop of sarcasmin a memorable post-race confrontation at Jerez if The Doctor's shoulder injury caused his ill-timed passing attempt of Stoner, which launched both into the gravel trap.
But Stoner knew better. He rode the Ducati from 2007-10 and knew its finicky, evil ways. He took perverse pleasure knowing the GP11 would be a beast for even a healthy Rossi to handle, with little hope on the horizon. Sure enough, Rossi's only podium came in the fourth race of the season, and his form bored further beneath the surface of respectability even more as the season wore on.
Failure took a heavy mental toll on Rossi. Spears of doubt pierced his previously impenetrable confidence. It became a too-common occurrence in MotoGP paddocks and worldwide TV feeds this year to see Rossi sitting in his chair in the Ducati garage, gesticulating wildly with his hands to Burgess and mechanics and then staring blankly into nothing.
Gaunt. Ghostly. Lost.