Rossi and Bayliss dominate but have to wait
Valentino Rossi and Troy Bayliss have dominated the two top world motorcycling championships this season as completely as Michael Schumacher has dominated Formula One.
But while the Ferrari driver has already wrapped up his fifth world title, Italian Honda rider Rossi -- the winner of eight of the nine grands prix -- went into MotoGP's mid-season break with much work yet to do.
Australian Ducati rider Bayliss, meanwhile, still faces a tough battle with American Colin Edwards for the world superbike title despite having won 14 of the 20 races.
"I think with Bayliss and me and Schumacher this season, it is a case of the best man with the best machine," said Rossi, when asked to explain this season's dominance.
With 25 points on offer for every MotoGP race and 50 over the two superbike races in each round, the title contests take a lot longer to wrap up than in F1 where the winner gets just 10 points.
Bayliss and Rossi are both defending champions and have dominated their respective championships this year but they will have to wait until after the mid-season break is over before they can celebrate back-to-back titles.
Rossi's season resumes on the weekend of August 25 with the Czech Grand Prix at Brno.
That is followed by the Portuguese GP at Estoril, the first race where the Italian could wrap up his fourth world title. He has a 96-point lead over his Japanese team mate Tohru Ukawa with seven races remaining.
Bayliss takes his 39-point lead over Edwards to Oschersleben, Germany, for the 11th stop on the 13-round championship on September 1.
This year is the first that bigger four-stroke bikes have been allowed in the grand prix world championship, replacing the old 500cc category.
Rossi's masterful handling of the new 990cc Honda RCV has left many wondering how he and Bayliss would match up head-to-head.
The good news for fans of motorcycling -- and more than a million of them have watched MotoGP races this year while a record crowd of 126,000 turned up at Brands Hatch last Sunday -- is that it looks like they will find out next year.
Ducati will be entering a prototype in next year's MotoGP championship and, if paddock gossip can be believed, it will be a major surprise if Bayliss is not the rider spearheading their challenge.
"I've won the world championship," Bayliss told the Times newspaper last week. "Things are going well again and I need a new challenge. Racing in GPs is something that's attractive."
Both men are very quick and great competitors but their backgrounds and lives off the track are very different.
Rossi, 23, comes from a family imbued in motorbikes -- his father Graziano raced grands prix against the likes of Barry Sheene in the 1970s and early 1980s -- and by the time he was 18 he had already won his first world title, the 125cc crown.
Bayliss, 10 years Rossi's senior, grew up on a farm in Australia, spent his teenage years surfing and cycling and did not start road racing until he was 23, finally entering the superbike world championship at the ripe old age of 31.
The flamboyant Italian is single and a fixture on the night-club scene in London, the city which became his adopted home after he left Italy to escape the attention that stardom brought.
Bayliss, by contrast, is very much the family man, spending as much of his time as he can with his wife of nine years Kim and their two children. They live in Monaco, not for the glamour, Bayliss says, but for the schools.
Rossi started grand prix racing at 17 and rose up the ranks through the 125cc, 250cc and 500cc series, winning the title in his second year in each category and culminating in the final 500cc crown last season.
After several years in Australian domestic championships, Bayliss won the British superbike title in 1999 but he was still a surprise choice to replace Carl Fogarty at Ducati after the four-time world champion's career ended with a crash in 2000.
In his second full year in the series, Bayliss took the title from Honda rider Edwards.
Both, however, showed the courage of true champions in July after crashes which would have left lesser mortals confined to their beds.
Bayliss collided with his team mate Ruben Xaus in last Saturday's qualifying for the European round of the superbike championship at Brands Hatch and was thrown over his bike on to the crash barrier, taking a glancing blow on the head from the Ducati 998R.
"When I came to a standstill lying on my back in the dirt ...I seriously thought my season -- maybe even my racing career -- was over because the pain was so intense in my back and my right foot," the Australian told this week's Motor Cycle News.
Despite a broken rib and severe bruising, Bayliss got back on his bike and somehow managed to qualify on the front row of the grid for Sunday's races, in which he finished third and second.
"What a guy," said Edwards after the race. "I already have high regard for him but to come here and race today feeling like he is, he really is an iron man."
Likewise Rossi, who had a bad crash at Friday practice at Donington Park earlier in July and, still suffering from a headache and fractured finger, was back on his bike to win the British Grand Prix on the Sunday.
"I'm lucky not to have got hurt bad," he said after the crash. "I hit my head hard and have had a headache all weekend."
Bayliss is going to need every moment of the mid-season break for recuperation.
"My back isn't good at the minute," he said. "I feel like I've been rolled, bowled and sat on. But now I've got a month off before the next round and then the season will be over before we know it."
© Reuters - By Nick Mulvenney