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Blame it on Rossi | COLUMNS | GASSIT GARAGE

Much is being made about the Troy Bayliss return to national Superbike racing.

The three-time world champion, and only person to win both a WSBK and MotoGP race in the same season, didn’t just slip back into the sport. He chose the biggest stage for his return, under the microscope in three support races at the Phillip Island opener of 2018 World Superbike Championship.

After a torrid weekend, where he qualified third, Bayliss finished second, fifth and sixth. He now lies fourth in the title chase, less than 10 points behind the top three. In the process, the 48-year-old has become the Peter Pan of motorcycle racing.

This has got us former-Seventies longhairs wondering if the 2000s are ‘the age of the oldies’.

Perhaps this age started with the 2006 film The World’s Fastest Indian. An unexpected battle cry for the Boomers, the film would have flopped if it had been released any earlier.

Director Roger Donaldson had been working on the script since 1979 and although it took 25 years to get the finance, the timing was perfect. Imagine if it had been released in the late 1980s or early 1990s? There wasn’t much interest in what older people were doing back then.

Fast-forward to 2007 and 69-year-old mountaineer Werner Berger makes headlines for climbing the world’s seven summits. In 2013, 41-year-old Chris Horner wins Spain’s version of the Tour de France, becoming the oldest ever winner of a cycling grand tour. That year 34-year-old Valentino Rossi has his best result in MotoGP since 2010, finishing fourth overall.

In 2016, aged 37, Rossi finished second. He was lying fourth in last year’s title chase before he broke a leg. Rossi, who entered his 40th year in February, has said he “will probably race for the next two years” when discussing his future in a press conference during the recent test in Qatar. Will this Peter Pan retire when his age matches his racing number?

Another older rider has signed a new deal. Battered TT legend John McGuinness, 45, joins Norton for this year’s TT, saying the new deal with one of the sport’s oldest marques has given him “a new lease on life”.

Sports psychologists say motivation is key. Long-term success requires the athlete to actually enjoy the tiring, tedious and sometimes traumatic grind involved. Back in 2014 Jeremy Burgess, who guided Rossi to his seven 500cc/MotoGP titles, explained the difference.

“Valentino loves the whole process of going racing and enjoys the riding almost as much as winning,” he said. “To me it’s all about winning so to stay there in MotoGP to go through that experience of not winning is a vastly different world to what I’ve lived in for the past 34 years.”

I asked Bayliss to explain his return to racing.

“Two months ago, I was pointed in that direction as a good option for sponsors and publicity,” he replied. He was under no illusions about the possibilities of becoming national champion.

“The only winner on the Panigale has been Shakey Byrne in the UK,” he said, referring to the veteran 41-year-old rider who has won the BSB title for the past two years. “It seems to suit dicky little tracks.”

Ducati hasn’t won a WSBK riders’ title since 2011 with Carlos Checa on the 1098R, a version of the bike Bayliss dominated on in 2008.

Chaz Davies is the only Ducati rider to consistently win World Superbike races, finishing runner-up in the past two seasons. Surprisingly, Bayliss qualified just two-tenths of a second behind Davies in his wildcard ride for Ducati when it visited Thailand for the first time in 2015. He finished ninth and 11th in the two races. The Bayliss racing return shouldn’t be a surprise.

At the opening of Ducati’s flagship store in Abu Dhabi back in 2013 the brand ambassador revealed his true feelings: “When I go to the races I don’t really enjoy that too much because I just feel like tearing the bike out of someone’s hands and having a go myself!” 

By Hamish Cooper

Bayliss and Rossi, Dutch MotoGP, 2003