Most keen observers of the sport acknowledge that Valentino Rossi is the master of the psych-out. Nobody plays the mind game better than Rossi; witness his ruthless demolition of Sete Gibernau that ruined the Spaniard’s season and, ultimately his career. And most keen observers acknowledge that this pass on Casey Stoner during the 2008 USA Grand Prix at Laguna Seca marked a turning point of huge significance in the on-going battle for supremacy between the two that had raged since Stoner had lifted the title in 2007. Shortly after this pass, Stoner, obviously rattled by the move, dropped the bike at the last corner and, while he remounted and still finished 2nd, his comments about “clean racing” at the Press Conference afterwards showed that his equilibrium was well and truly upset. Stoner was to crash twice more in succeeding races, both times unforced errors while in the lead, handing the title to Rossi.
But the question above is still worth asking. What made Rossi think of doing that? Apart from the fact that every racer is always looking for an “edge”, why did he choose to go down the Corkscrew on the gravel, a sensationally risky manouver? You can see that Stoner is off-line also, on the rumble strip, trying to upset Rossi’s line; is that what brought it about? I don’t believe so. I believe the answer lies here.
The scene is the final of the Champ Car World Series (yes, I know) at Laguna Seca (Dry Lake in Spanish) and the leader is Brian Herta. Alex Zanardi in the Ganassi car, has been shadowing Herta for most of the race and the laps are running out. In fact, the drivers have seen the white flag, indicating one lap remaining. If Zanardi can win the race, he will finish runner-up to his team-mate, Jimmy Vassar, in the 1996 title chase, so, dropping down onto the Corkscrew, Zanardi aims for a gap that isn’t there, scuttles at barely-reduced speed across the gravel, showering Herta with stones and rocks and pulls away to win the race. I can still remember the astonished commentary as it all unfolded. In car racing circles, it is still referred to as “The Pass” even today.
Did Rossi reach back into the memory bank and recall this daring move by his fellow Italian superstar? I think it’s highly likely.
Here’s a video of “The Pass”
photos courtesy of vfrdiscussion.com