VALENTINO Rossi will continue to race in MotoGP beyond his 40th birthday.
The nine-time world champion confirmed a new two-year deal with Yamaha that will see him race for its factory squad until the end of the 2020 season.
At that point, Rossi will be three months shy of turning 42 years of age.
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The timing of the announcement matches that of his current deal, set to expire at the end of the year, on the eve of the Qatar season opener two years ago.
“When I signed my last contract with Yamaha, in March 2016, I wondered if that would have been the last contract as a MotoGP rider,” Rossi said.
“At that time, I decided that I‘d take that decision during the following two years.
“During the last two years I came to the conclusion that I want to continue because racing, being a MotoGP rider, but especially riding my M1, is the thing that makes me feel good.”
This weekend marks the start of Rossi’s 19th season in the premier class and 23rd at world championship level.
Though he’s not the dominant force he once was Rossi remains a regular threat for victory, defying his advancing years.
His most recent win, at Assen last year, was the 115th of his career, and came in a season derailed twice by injuries while training; both prior to Rossi’s home races.
He rode through pain from torso injuries to fourth in the Italian GP at Mugello, while a broken leg forced him to miss his beloved Misano GP — but he was back in the saddle 22 days after his injury to race to fifth place at Aragon.
The deal ensures is the next piece in what was expected to be a busy rider contract market for 2019.
Marc Marquez recently confirmed he will stay with Repsol Honda for two more seasons, while Rossi’s announcement means Yamaha has squared away both he and Maverick Vinales until the end of 2020.
“The confirmation of Valentino‘s two-year extension of his Agreement with Yamaha is a great way to start the 2018 season that kicks off officially on Friday in Qatar,” Lin Jarvis, chief of Yamaha’s MotoGP squad, said.
“The news may not be a great surprise because Valentino has made it clear that he wanted to continue to race, but the reconfirmation will surely come as welcome news for his millions of fans around the world.
“It was very easy to reach an agreement together — as a Factory Team we need top riders capable to win and with the total commitment to do what it takes to achieve the goal.
“Despite his many years in the sport and his 39 years, Vale is as committed today as he ever was and there is no doubt he is still a top rider, as witnessed most recently by his second position in the final pre-season test here in Qatar.
“Now it is our job as a team and a factory to give him the best possible YZR-M1 to let him fight for race wins and championship success.”
Rossi said he knows maintaining winning form into his 40s will not be an easy task, but it is one he is relishing.
“Having the opportunity to work with my team, with Silvano, Matteo and all my mechanics, and working with all Japanese engineers, Tsuji-san, and above all Tsuya-san, is a pleasure — I‘m happy,” he said.
“I want to thank Yamaha — Lin Jarvis and Maio Meregalli in particular — for their trust in me, because the challenge is difficult: being competitive until I‘m 40 years old!
“I know it‘s going to be difficult and it requires a lot of effort from my side and a lot of training but I‘m ready, I am not lacking in motivation, that‘s why I‘m signing for two more years.”
Opening practice for the season-opening Grand Prix of Qatar begins on Friday AEDT.