Rossi faces uphill struggle: Doohan

Valentino Rossi will find it tough to win the MotoGP world title this season as 12 years at the top of the high-octane sport take their toll, warned five-times world champion Mick Doohan.

Rossi has won seven MotoGP titles, including five in row from 2001, and stands just one behind fellow Italian Giacomo Agostini in the list of the most succesful riders of all time in the top class of world motorcycling.

After an injury disrupted Rossi’s title defence in 2010, the 32-year-old switched from Yamaha to Ducati, finishing seventh and fifth in the first two races of this season at Qatar and Jerez.

“He’s a great rider and there’s no other way of saying it,” Australian Doohan, who won five titles in a row from 1994, told Reuters in an interview.

“But I think it’s going to be tough for him — he’s no spring chicken in motor racing terms.

“I think in any sport, you’ve only really got a decade to totally immerse yourself in the top of a sport. He’s in his 12th season so it doesn’t get any easier, especially after you’ve had that success.

“So I’m not saying that his career’s over, but it’s not a downhill ride any more, I think he’s at the bottom of the slope.”

Doohan, whose own career was ended by a crash at the 1999 Spanish Grand Prix, won all five of his top class titles with Honda. Rossi won three more for the team before departing for Yamaha in 2004.

The 45-year-old Doohan thinks Honda got complacent after so much success and failed to put the proper investment into the team or the bike.

Now, however, Doohan believes they have got their act together, which is good news for Australia’s 2007 world champion Casey Stoner, one of three riders at the team this year.

“His platform with the Honda this year is as good as he’s going to get really,” Doohan said.

“Honda lost their way a little bit, and that’s probably why they lost Rossi in the first place, and now they’ve decided to go back racing properly.

“Unfortunately he had an accident with Rossi in Spain but that’s part and parcel of racing. A lot of races to go and this year he’s definitely a candidate for the championship.”

Stoner won the season-opener in Qatar and Doohan said his continued success was good for the development of motorcycling in Australia, where young riders still struggle to make the transition to the top level of the sport.

“The grass roots could always be better, it needs to be reinvented a little,” he said on the sidelines of a Laureus sports foundation event in central Sydney.

“And I think there’s a couple of people trying to work their way through that but like with a lot of federations, change isn’t easy.

“Then again, if we continue to have Casey Stoner and those guys winning, it’s only going to get stronger.”

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