VETERAN RIDER: Veteran Valentino Rossi is determined to show age is but a number... Image: AP / Rafa Marrodan
Buenos Aires - Valentino Rossi races in a record-setting 350th grand prix in Argentina on Sunday determined to prove that at 38 he will not be overshadowed by teammate Maverick Vinales, who blitzed the season-opener in Qatar.
Rossi, a nine-time world champion, was third in the rain and wind of the Qatari desert after starting from 10th on the grid on a weekend when Vinales, 16 years his junior, dominated on his first outing for Yamaha.
Nothing to prove
Rossi: "It wasn't an easy start to the championship but I was very happy to be able to get on the podium.
"Now we go to Argentina. This is a track that I like very much and I'm happy to go there. I hope that there are good asphalt conditions because last year it was difficult for us."
Rossi came home in second place at the dusty and hot Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina last year having taken victory 12 months earlier.
His former team mate Jorge Lorenzo, whose decision to move to Ducati opened the door for Vinales at Yamaha, believes that the flying Spaniard could end up making Rossi feel his age this season.
Lorenzo told www.motorsports.com: "It's nothing easy for Valentino to keep racing MotoGP at his age."
"The second oldest rider is maybe 32, and he's 38. I guess when you become 38 every season is tougher than the one before; that's something Rossi recognises himself. You don't see many 38-year-olds as fast as Rossi.
"It's not something easy and even less when you have an outstanding and strong team mate like Maverick."
However, former Suzuki pilot Vinales, who became the second youngest rider to win in the premier class for two different manufacturers, just behind Mike Hailwood with his Qatar triumph, recognises that he is already a marked man.
He said: "We have the difficult challenge to continue getting good results, Qatar was only the first race of 18.
"I can feel the pressure a little bit because the level of my rivals is very high, but that motivates me even more to keep working hard. We have to be cautious, work step by step and race by race."
The Argentina race is also a key test for defending world champion Marc Marquez after the Spaniard managed just fourth place in Qatar on his Honda.
"I must fight for the podium," said Marquez , a two-time winner at the race and world champion in 2013, 2014 and 2016.
World motorcycling championship standings ahead of 2017 Grand Prix of Argentina at Termas de Rio Hondo:
1. Maverick Vinales (ESP/Yamaha) 25 pts
2. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA/Ducati) 20
3. Valentino Rossi (ITA/Yamaha) 16
4. Marc Marquez (ESP/Honda) 13
5. Dani Pedrosa (ESP/Honda) 11,
6. Aleix Espargaro (ESP/Aprilia) 10
7. Scott Redding (Ducati Pramac) 9
8. Jack Miller (AUS/Honda Marc VDS) 8
9. Alex Rins (ESP/Suzuki) 7
10. Jonas Folger (GER/Yamaha Tech3) 6
1. Franco Morbidelli (ITA/Kalex 25
2. Thomas Lthi (SUI/Kalex) 20
3. Takaaki Nakagami (JPN/Kalex) 16
4. Miguel Oliveira (POR/KTM) 13
5. Alex Marquez (ESP/Kalex) 11
1. Joan Mir (ESP/Honda) 25
2. John McPhee (GBR/Honda) 20
3. Jorge Martin (ESP/Honda) 16
4. Aron Canet (ESP/Honda) 13
5. Romano Fenati (ITA/Honda) 11