While his rivals laboured in the searing Malaysian heat to get their new 800cc MotoGP bikes up to speed, Valentino Rossi chose four-wheels to draw a line under the 2006 season and give himself a break from the pressures of MotoGP.

The Italian stormed to an amazing 11th in the New Zealand Rally, just a few seconds outside the top 10 in his first proper showing against the world’s best rally rivers.

Driving a year-old privately entered Subaru Impreza, Rossi started out steady and then piled on speed as the rally progressed.

He set some impressive 10 stage times despite only ever having driven one other rally before, the 2002 UK rally – which lasted just a few corners before he crashed out.

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