Marco Melandri has insisted that his spectacular car racing debut in the Speedcar Series at Losail in Qatar at the weekend – in which he came within just four laps of a major upset – was not the precursor to a switch from two wheels to four. Well, not yet anyway.
The Italian stunned Speedcar regulars – esteemed ex-Formula 1 stars Jacques Villeneuve, Jean Alesi, Johnny Herbert, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Gianni Morbidelli amongst them – by ending practice ranked fifth-fastest and qualifying a superb fourth amongst a pack of 15 competitors, despite being the only two-wheeled ace in the field.
From there he went on to finish race one in eighth place, earning himself pole position on the reverse grid for race two – an outing he dominated, at one stage holding a lead of a staggering 7.5 seconds, until four laps from home when a gearbox issue cruelly brought a premature end to his stellar performance.
Nonetheless, the former 250cc MotoGP Champion had proved his mettle up against some of the finest four-wheeled exponents on the planet, and he admitted that though his Middle Eastern appearance had been purely for fun, with his bike racing career currently in a state of flux pending news on Kawasaki's 2009 participation [see separate story – click here
], it had perhaps set him thinking.
“It was my first experience of car racing and it was pretty good fun,” the 26-year-old reflected, speaking to our journalists. “I just got an invite to come here ten days ago when I was at home resting, I decided to come and I had a lot of fun. It was good.
“I was lucky, because I was the only guy who knew the track, but in a car it's completely different, with the lines you have to take, and the car isn't easy to drive. It's pretty heavy and you have to drive very smoothly, not aggressively like you have to ride a bike, and I was following the best drivers to learn the right lines to take. It was tough, but I had a good result so I was pretty happy with that. People now maybe expect me to keep improving...
“Many of [the other drivers] were impressed by me, and I was too actually! Vitantonio Liuzzi gave me a lot of good information about how to drive the car, which was very important for me. I'd never taken a start in a car before – I felt scared about causing some damage, but I didn't feel scared when we were all together, because on a bike it's so much more difficult.”
Having predicted a midfield showing, insisting that he was 'there to have fun, not to win', Melandri's pace and consistency have led some to suggest that much like compatriot Valentino Rossi, he could enjoy a successful career with a roof over his head. He may be adamant that he is not thinking about a car racing future anytime soon, but then didn't X-Games legend Travis Pastrana say exactly the same thing..?
“I came here just for fun,” urged the man from Ravenna, “so I'm not thinking about that. You never know, but I'm hoping to have a good season on two wheels now. I know it's going to be hard, because I'll be on a Kawasaki bike that isn't a factory one anymore, but my heart is still on two wheels and I hope to keep going on that side.
“I don't know – maybe in the future. For sure, I like so much more car racing on-track than rallying, but right now it's just good fun for me.” Interview conducted by Alix Capper-MurdochTO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE