ROSSI AS YOU’VE NEVER SEEN HIM BE­FORE

The world’s great­est mo­tor­cy­cle racer, as seen by the men that know him best

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - MCN MO­TOGP RE­PORTER By Si­mon Pat­ter­son

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

Just a race, with a Le Mans-style start, in your back gar­den. Stan­dard Rossi uses flat track slide skills to his ad­van­tage in Mo­togp Rossi did all he could to make the track fit its ru­ral sur­round­ings

Rossi with brother and fel­low racer Luca Marini The old house at the ranch is an im­por­tant so­cial hub for Rossi You can’t ac­cuse Vale of not shar­ing his flat track

Rossi’s pri­vate flat track has be­come a huge part of his life

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