Rossi: Leading MotoGP points after Austin “a big surprise”

Valentino Rossi says leading the MotoGP championship after Sunday’s Austin round comes as a “big surprise” given his struggles for pace in pre-season testing.

The Italian rider took over at the top of the table from Yamaha teammate Maverick Vinales, whose winning streak came to an end at the Circuit of the Americas when he crashed out on the second lap. 

Rossi beat Dani Pedrosa to finish second behind race winner Marc Marquez, meaning the seven-time premier class champion – who finished third in Qatar and second in Argentina – now leads Vinales by six points.

“It’s a big surprise,” Rossi admitted. “After the tests we were quite desperate. We were trying to think to use the old bike and everything, but we did the right choice, I think.

“The problem was for me and for my team that we need more time to understand this bike, the way to ride and the way to set [it up].

“The bike has something positive, especially at the end for the races, I’m able to push to be strong. In Argentina with Cal [Crutchlow], and here with Dani, I could attack.

“Last year I was always very fast at the beginning, but after I suffer a lot.

“It’s just three races, it will be very, very hard to stay in this position, especially with Vinales and Marquez who are always very fast, but it’s already great.”

Asked if he felt any pressure to start winning races, Rossi said the upcoming run of European tracks should favour him and allow him to add to his tally of 88 premier class victories.

The 38-year-old won last year at Jerez and Catalunya, and qualified on pole for his home race at Mugello before retiring with a blown engine.

“For me, when I start a season, in all my career, my first target is to try to win a race,” continued Rossi. “This year is the same.

“Now we go back to Europe, arrive at a very good part of the championship because we have Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Barcelona, Assen. This for me is a great feeling to race there.

“Apart from that, we have to continue like this, stay concentrated and try the maximum.”