ROSSI AS YOU’VE NEVER SEEN HIM BEFORE
The world’s greatest motorcycle racer, as seen by the men that know him best
No matter how laid-back and Italian Valentino Rossi is, or how comfortable he in his own skin, there’s pressure during a Motogp weekend. Behind the smiles and easy wit is a determination to perform well and beat his rivals. But what’s he really like at home, at his VR46 factory/office or at his ranch where he’s building a lasting legacy? MCN got a unique view of the GOAT’S life away from racing.
As a racer, Valentino Rossi needs no introduction – regarded by many as the GOAT (greatest of all time), he’s far and away the most successful Motogp rider of his generation, with a staggering 114 wins and nine world championships to his name in a career that has spanned two decades.
At the age of 37, he remains at the pinnacle of the sport. Contracted to race for Yamaha until the end of 2018, he continues to defy logic through his unrelenting pace and enthusiasm for the sport, as he bids to win his illusive 10th title.
But while the public persona of Vale is well known through the plethora of interviews and TV clips of his on-track antics throughout his Peter Pan-esque career, he remains a loyal and private person behind closed doors, surrounding himself with a handful of close friends, many of whom he’s known since he was a child.
In a bid to delve in to his inner circle and get a taste of the ‘real’ Valentino Rossi, his sponsor and partner Monster Energy filmed an insightful five-part video series called The Doctor. Beautifully produced, with new insight and never-before-seen content, it captures the spirit of a man that transcends the sport of motorcycle racing, delving into the myth that is Valentino Rossi.
MCN sat down with members of his inner circle, along with the people involved in the making of the series to gain an even closer look at what makes the man, by whom all other racers are judged, tick.
For anyone that works in Motogp, the question that gets asked most often is ‘what is Rossi really like?’ Mesmerised by the persona that he projects on TV, everyone, from casual observers to diehard fans, wants to know whether it is all an act, or is he really that charming and charismatic in real life?
Two people perfectly placed to answer that are men involved in the making of The Doctor series - director of marketing communications and motorsport for Monster Energy, Jimmy Goodrich and freelance videographer Mikey Neale.
While Goodrich is no stranger to the Motogp world, perhaps the most interesting insight comes from Neale, who was new to Motogp, having spent his career working in motocross. As a result, the laid-back Welshman arrived without any preconceptions and without being star-struck.
Speaking to MCN, he said: “I went in not knowing a lot about him, and assumed the audience wouldn’t either – even if a lot of fans do. As I started editing, and Jimmy started informing me about different things he’d done, I became intrigued about it. I ended up a fan of Motogp and of Valentino. I’ve been into bikes my whole life, but the road side of things has never really appealed to me until this.”
Despite having worked with some of the top names in the motocross world, Neale was left fully under the spell of Rossi after the days and weeks spent working with him and his people for the project – a credit to the ability Rossi seemingly has to put those around him instantly at ease.
Neale said: “What you see on camera is really what he’s like; just a down-toearth, smiling guy that made me feel comfortable quite soon. I’d heard he was a cool guy. What I found was that he isn’t really affected by the stardom and the fame of it all.
“You get some guys who are a lot less accomplished who think they’re a big deal – but for someone who has the kind of fame and success Valentino has, it’s amazing how down to earth he is! That surprised me a little bit, because if you imagine someone of his fame and fortune, you almost expect them to be a little bit difficult.”
And even Goodrich, someone used to working with Rossi in a formal setting, having to talk money with him and his people, says that working with Rossi is quite unlike any of the other characters that fall under the Monster Energy banner.
“He’s amazingly informal, and I think it never matters how many times you meet him, you always pick up on his enthusiasm for what he’s doing. He’s not self-obsessed at all, but I do think he enjoyed watching a project come together about the stuff that he cares passionately about. That’s quite infectious enthusiasm too!”
However, what impressed the pair just as much as how easy-going the man himself is, was the intense link
‘ What you see on camera is what he’s like; just a down-to- earth, smiling guy. He isn’t really affected by the stardom and the fame of it all’
he has with his inner circle of friends, many of whom now play pivotal roles in his VR46 brand.
Interviewing people like Uccio Salucci, Rossi’s right hand man and now the boss of the Team Sky KTM team in Moto3, Uccio’s dad Rino, chairman of the supporters’ club, and Alberto Tebaldi, another long-term friend and now CEO of VR46, Neale came away with one major insight.
“When you’re interviewing the people who’ve known him the longest, the older characters say that he makes them feel young. He’s got this way of passing on his happiness and enthusiasm, and that might be one of the reasons he’s so popular with so many people.”
That’s something echoed by Goodrich, who deals with many of them both personally and commer- cially on a regular basis.
“The inner circle is all so approachable in the paddock, and that lets you see the trust among them, the bond they have. They stand out in the paddock because they’re both the most approachable ones there and also the grown men welling up with tears when he’s won.
“It’s strange that VR46 almost doesn’t seem to be run as a business, it’s much more of a family connection. There’s a clear group of go-to people that run it, and they also happen to be his biggest fans.”
Rossi: the future
Making the series meant not only spending time with Rossi and his inner circle, but also with the group of young riders that make up his VR46 Academy,
the youth development programme set up by Rossi to break the Spanish stranglehold on Grand Prix racing and develop young Italian talent.
His plan is currently coming to fruition with his VR46 academy riders running at the very front of Moto3 thanks to the opportunities given to them by Rossi.
Goodrich explained what saw when Rossi took on the role of teacher.
“I think the Academy project is a whole new story and I’m really excited to see how people respond to hearing those riders talk about their relationship with Valentino. It’s one of the most honest bits of the whole series.
“Very young teenagers, through to those who’ve just left school, are talking about how they went from watching their idol on TV to suddenly being in his employment and answerable to him, but also the fact he’s on speed dial to them and that they’re in parc ferme to congratulate him when he wins.”
But while Italian motorcycling might be benefitting from the input of the Academy project, Neale says he saw another side to it too; the side that is helping Rossi maintain his game at the very top level even at 37 years old.
“It showed for me how important the academy is for keeping Valentino as sharp on a bike as he still is. That was interesting to learn – that these young guys are the people who keep him honest. I think he knows that if he can keep ahead of them at the Ranch, he can keep ahead of everyone else. They’re his yardstick.”
For Rossi, the passion he shows for the academy is addictive. It has clearly become a huge part of his life and listening to him speak about it, shows that it’s set to become an even bigger part in the future.
“I enjoy it so much – they keep me young!” said Rossi. “We spend a lot of time together, and I like that they’re like my close friends now. It’s nice to be able to help them, and it’s nice to be in front of a TV on a Sunday, shouting and screaming like mad!
“They are great, and I think that being in this world will be our future.
“For me, now our project is to try and arrive in Moto2. We have our CEV junior team with one bike that won the title with Bulega - and the first project is to bring that team up to two bikes.
“We have a very good Moto3 team with Sky, with a great partnership, and they give us a lot of support and a lot of money!
“Our target is to have a Moto3 team that can win the title, and then to also have a very good Moto2 team. That is our plan for the future.
“Motogp is more difficult. But also, I don’t care the same, because our project is to try with the younger riders and when they arrive in Motogp it’s done!
“I hope one of them is the next Valentino Rossi. It will be hard, but why not? We have great talents there, and they can be good Motogp riders. Maybe even top riders – but it is very early to say now!”
Years in the making
While Rossi might be pretty laid-back off-track, that doesn’t mean that producing something like this series is necessarily easy to manage. Instead, it took years of planning to finally make the project come together.
However, once the initial steps were laid out, Goodrich admits he was surprised with how quickly the pieces of the production process fell into place.
“It was a bit of a long time coming. Davide Brivio (Suzuki Motogp team boss and one of Rossi’s management team) and I spoke about it at Misano in 2014, when I first approached him informally. We’d been working together for five years at that point, and while the relationship was very good and we weren’t that far off launching the Valentino Rossi edition Monster, we’d never put together a project to really articulate who he was.
“He’s an icon; he transcends sport, and we’d probably failed to capitalise on that. We hadn’t even got the full scope of the product together at that point – it was more to just see if they were even open for doing something like it, and whether the relationship we’d built was strong enough to get the access we needed to show him away from the track.
“We had another conversation at Silverstone in 2015, and we talked then in a lot more depth. I had done a lot more planning into what we wanted to do by then – and it also coincided with us becoming a lot more involved in the Academy.
“We were more than just a sponsor, we were a partner in what he was doing away from the track by then, and from that point things moved pretty quickly – we started filming later on that month.”
‘The academy was set up to break the Spanish Motogp stranglehold’
So what do you do when you’re a multi millionaire motorcycle racer with time on your hands? You do what we all want to do and build an offroad playground and flat track race course in your back garden!
That’s what Valentino did and the newly-named VR46 Motor Ranch has become as much a part of Rossi folklore as the special helmets and elaborate victory celebrations we’ve seen throughout his career.
Part serious training tool and part amusement park for Rossi and his friends, the two-mile-long circuit was built on land bought by father Graziano for just such an eventuality. The training facility is the realisation of a lifelong dream for both father and son.
Rossi said: “Every rider around the world has this dream, to build a private track where you can ride and train. My father Graziano bought the land, with the first idea to have a track for drifting. But we quickly decide to build a track for motorcycles instead. This is our style!
“We concentrated very much on designing the track to have something very fast, something wide, and something very interesting. For the rest, we tried to conserve the taste of the area. The house is very old, so we modified it to improve it, but we wanted it to remain more or less the same.”
Building on the influences of a generation of American riders who inspired Rossi as a child – and who used the flat track skills they honed on similar facilities back home to dominate the world championship for two decades – Rossi admits that that style of training is something he wanted to replicate.
“The ranch is a little bit American, because we grew up hearing about Kenny Roberts and Kevin Schwantz. We always train at the track to try and build similar feelings to the race bike and to try to understand the slide.
“Now the flat track is very famous, and a lot of riders try it too. You improve the skills of the sliding and bike control with the rear and the front. And it’s not very dangerous; it’s always dangerous when you go with the bike, but it’s not as bad compared to supermotard or motocross. For us it’s very important, because we need to train but we can’t risk too much.”
However, there’s another element to the VR46 Ranch that plays an equally key role in Rossi’s family and friendsorientated life. It is a hub for him to entertain, coach, mentor and enjoy himself with childhood friends, pad- dock rivals and VR46 Academy protégée. Rossi’s close friend Alberto ‘Albi’ Tebaldi admits that the Ranch is as much social as serious now and gives an insight as to what it means for Rossi.
“The Ranch contains a lot of elements, but the first is being together and to share our passion for riding at such a wonderful place. All of this turns into something functional for Vale and the riders too though, because the Ranch means a challenge for them, gives them progression and competition. But the real secret is the friendships, the human relationships. The Ranch is a vehicle for all this.”
Rossi checks out some design work at the VR46 factory in Tavullia Rossi’s steely on-track determination is balanced by his chilled private persona
The film crew was given unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to Valentino Rossi’s inner sanctum Rossi’s partnership with Monster led to the film being made The VR46 factory was initially set-up for Rossi merchandise The business has grown to keep up with demand from fans The factory produces merchandise for half the GP paddock
The VR46 factory is a huge boon to the Tavullia economy, with an annual turnover in excess of €10 million Rossi sees his future with his racing academy The factory is a pretty big deal in Tavullia Tavullia to the core, Rossi has supported his local community2