Wayne Rainey described an out-of-body experience when he was so totally in the zone on his race bike that his timing and his lines were perfect. Rossi has talked about the same type of zone, and referred to it as making a “poem” on his motorcycle.
By hiring Valentino, Ducati not only gains, perhaps, the greatest rider of all time, but much more. The timing, as I will discuss, is also perfect, and Rossi can leave Ducati with a valuable legacy a few years down the road.
Nicky Hayden is an important part of this story. Sure, Nicky has often struggled since engine displacement in MotoGP was limited to 800cc a few years ago. He loved the power and the handling characteristics that went along with the 990cc motors, and it was during that era that he won his World title. Nearly everyone agrees that the shift to 800cc benefited greatly the riders brought up on two-strokes, while making it more difficult for the riders developed in the United States on four-stroke machinery. The heavier four-strokes, particularly at 1000cc, favored a point-and-shoot style of riding, rather than a 250cc GP-style where the riders carry higher mid-corner speeds and learn to push the front tire to its limits.
You can bet that Nicky Hayden and Ben Spies are both chomping at the bit while awaiting the return of 1000cc bikes to the MotoGP grid in 2012.
What does this have to do with Ducati’s signing of Valentino Rossi? Plenty. Rossi is a great rider, but equally great at developing machinery for his employer. Having signed for two years, Rossi will be around to fully develop the 1000cc machinery that races in 2012. This will give Ducati a huge advantage, of course, and help it exploit Nicky Hayden’s riding style.
Rossi, of course, can ride a motorcycle fast any way you choose. He can win on a 1000cc bike as well as an 800cc bike. Hayden is younger, of course, and Ducati no doubt realizes his riding style better suits the larger displacement bike arriving in 2012.