Wayne Rainey Looks at Rossi-Lorenzo Motegi Battle

Henny Ray Abrams | October 5, 2010

BROOKLYN, NY, OCT 5 – Wayne Rainey knows a thing or two about close, hard racing.The rivalry he had with Kevin Schwantz in the late 80’s and early 90’s is one of the all-time great rivalries in motorcycle road racing. It began in the AMA Superbike Championship, moved to the epic Match Races in the UK, and continued through their years in the 500cc World Championship. They ran in close quarters on some of the most evil-handling machinery ever built. The pre-Big Bang 500cc two-strokes were notorious for their violence. Couple that with tire technology that couldn’t keep pace, every corner was an invitation to a high-side. Traction control was in its earliest form. The rider’s right wrist was state of the art when it came to TC.Rainey still follows road racing avidly and remains part of the Yamaha family. He’s heavily involved in the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix and attended last year’s Red Bull Indianapolis GP. Jorge Lorenzo, Ben Spies, and a host of others attended the annual party at that he and his wife, Shae, host at their house in the hills above Monterey on the eve of the Laguna Seca grand prix. Rainey also watches the GP’s live and keeps in touch with old friends in the paddock. Knowing that, I thought it would be instructive to get his thoughts on the Lorenzo-Valentino Rossi dust-up on the last two laps of last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix

“I just think it was good hard clean racing,” Rainey said. “OK, they bumped. That’s the way I remember it, the way you’re supposed to race. I don’t know  everybody’s saying, but I just thought it was a great race.” That was also Rossi’s view, but Lorenzo thought Rossi was being too aggressive and vowed to retaliate. “When I have won the title you will see the crazy Lorenzo,” he said. “I will not react to this like (Sete) Gibernau and (Casey) Stoner.”The action came on the final two laps of a race in which Lorenzo needed to finish second to assure himself the championship this coming weekend in Malaysia, should Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa not show up, which is likely. Pedrosa fractured his collarbone in Friday practice and returned to Spain where he underwent successful surgery to plate the broken collarbone. Had Lorenzo finished first or second in Japan, he would have arrived in Malaysia with enough points that the title would be his as soon as Pedrosa didn’t qualify. Instead, he’ll need to score six points, a tenth place finish or better, to keep the title at Yamaha for the third year in a row and return it to Spain for only the second time and first since 1999.”That’s the way racing should be, the way I see it, I think if you’re going to race hard. I just see that as hard racing. OK, it happens to be between two teammates, but Lorenzo decided to race Rossi there at the end and it looked like Rossi saw there was an opening and he went for it and then they bumped.”Rainey raced that hard with a number of riders. Schwantz, Lawson, Doohan, and Gardner come to mind. The difference was that, with the exception of Lawson in 1990, none of them were his teammates.”I kinda see both sides of it. They both race for Yamaha,” he said. “So, in the end, you don’t want to knock each other down, especially when you’re on the same team. Rossi’s leaving the team and Lorenzo’s racing for a world championship. So Lorenzo, when he chose to race Rossi there at the end he should’ve expected Rossi to retaliate, to get him back. I don’t think there was any kind of team orders before, other than to not knock each other off. I would imagine if Lorenzo wasn’t racing for the championship, he would’ve retaliated a little bit more aggressively. But Rossi knows that they chose Lorenzo and he knows he’s going to be riding for a different team next year. He’s also thinking, if Lorenzo races him hard, maybe he makes a mistake and Rossi gains a bunch of points.”But you’ve got to remember, though, I’m sitting on a couch, I’m not on the bike, I can’t see the angles that those riders see. And sometimes what cameras show you is not what it really is according to what the riders say. I did see where Lorenzo thought he raced him a little bit hard, but I think also Lorenzo’s thinking about that championship in his head and I think he, for sure, would’ve responded differently if he didn’t have such a big lead. If he would’ve thrown it away, everybody, including himself, would say, ‘What did I do that for?'”The point was made that Lorenzo chose to race with Rossi, to counter his every pass, that he could have backed off and taken a safe fourth.”Exactly,” Rainey agreed. “Your competitor’s on a couch in Spain. If I was in that position where Lorenzo was in, I’d probably would’ve picked my moves a little bit different and made sure that if I did make the pass that Rossi couldn’t have gotten me back. But Rossi came by him a couple times. So he obviously left enough room for Rossi to get by a few times.”Rainey pointed out that Rossi “has nothing to lose in that situation. Lorenzo has everything to lose. So in the end, I thought Lorenzo rode smart because he stayed on two wheels and he got fourth place and he got the points he needed. The racer instinct in you, sometimes you go out there, you try to make a pass, you try to make it stick and for Rossi to come back like that, I wasn’t surprised by that. That’s what you do. This is racing motorcycles. It’s not a marathon here. There’s just a few corners left. You’re going to do what you can to try to get the result.”Lorenzo so objected to Rossi’s tactics that he complained to Lin Jarvis, the head of Yamaha racing. Rainey knew that Yamaha had no choice but to “back Lorenzo. That’s their guy. Rossi’s gone. I think it’s good that Yamaha showed to the public that they’re going to back their guy, but they’ve got to expect Lorenzo to pick his battles.”

Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.