Mo­toGP le­gend Rossi re­mains the leader of the pack

Af­ter 23 years of rac­ing, with 115 Grand Prix vic­to­ries un­der his belt, the Ital­ian rider shows no signs of eas­ing off the throt­tle as he nears 40, his place in mo­tor­cy­cle his­tory as­sured, writes Adam Wheeler

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - OPEN ROAD -

Is there a bet­ter case for the re­ju­ve­nat­ing ef­fects of adrenalin than Mo­toGP le­gend Valentino Rossi? Around a sin­u­ous cir­cuit in Va­len­cia last week­end – where riders must shed 125mph in four sec­onds at Turn 1 – the Ital­ian con­cluded his 23rd year of mo­tor­cy­cle grand prix rac­ing. Rather than slid­ing back into the pack as he turns 40 in Feb­ru­ary, Rossi is just as rel­e­vant as the first days and sea­sons when his char­ac­ter, colours, an­tics and style made a global im­pres­sion for mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing and boosted the pro­file of Mo­toGP to new lev­els. In Malaysia three weeks ago he came within five laps of his 116th Grand Prix vic­tory and first of 2018 in what was his 382nd start (he has missed the top step of the podium in only two of his 23 sea­sons) af­ter a spell­bind­ing per­for­mance that daz­zled his mainly much younger ri­vals. At sea­son’s end, he has now fin­ished in the top three of a world cham­pi­onship clas­si­fi­ca­tion 18 times.

More than his en­dur­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness in a 19-race se­ries that runs from Feb­ru­ary to late Novem­ber is the fact that Rossi is the world’s most pop­u­lar bike racer, ev­i­denced by the pre­dom­i­nance of his trade­mark neon yel­low brand­ing at al­most all cir­cuits, the rapt me­dia at­ten­tion at ev­ery race (even af­ter “only” five podium fin­ishes in 2018), as well as six mil­lion In­sta­gram fol­low­ers – only two mil­lion fewer than F1’s Lewis Hamil­ton and al­most dou­ble that of the cur­rent Mo­toGP cham­pion Marc Márquez. Rossi’s cul­ti­va­tion of his image and busi­ness em­pire is per­haps un­par­al­leled in mo­tor­sport. The sun-moon and an­i­mal lo­gos, the race num­ber 46, the liv­ery, the eter­nally happy-go-lucky TV de­meanour, the li­cens­ing em­pire that sees co­pi­ous Rossi mer­chan­dise at each race (dwarf­ing those of his ad­ver­saries), his race teams in the Moto3 and Moto2 sup­port cat­e­gories and the VR46 Academy have only helped to add to his ap­peal and pro­file – even when the tro­phies have be­come scarce.

The academy has in­volved the nur­ture of Italy’s most promis­ing riders; two of them, Franco Mor­bidelli and Pecco Bag­naia, will be on the grid be­side Rossi in 2019 in the premier class.

For his Mo­toGP ri­vals, Rossi piv­ots from be­ing an ad­mirable peer to an en­vi­able in­sti­tu­tion. Fel­low Ital­ian and Du­cati rider An­drea Dovizioso, run­nerup in Mo­toGP for the past two years, says: “He won a lot of ti­tles but when he did it he played with his ri­vals. He was on a dif­fer­ent level and that was some­thing big. Then there’s his char­ac­ter and his way to win, to speak to the me­dia, to live… peo­ple love that.”

Nowhere is this ado­ra­tion more tan­gi­ble than in the hills around Mugello, south of Bologna, home to the Grand Prix d’Italia and Rossi’s spir­i­tual home (al­though the round at Misano is nearer his house).

Fans at Mugello, clad in yel­low in sup­port of their hero, take po­si­tion high above the Borgo San Lorenzo and Mat­erassi curves in their thou­sands to form a bright, bril­liant and noisy cas­cade. Ask a teenage girl with yel­low face paint “Why Rossi?” and a stream of gig­gly bro­ken English en­sues: “He’s been my idol since I was four. From my brother and my fa­ther, I love mo­tor­cy­cles. He is very funny.”

A 20-some­thing man, barely able to con­tain his ado­ra­tion, re­marks: “He is a won­der­ful per­son, with lots of emo­tion. We have grown up with him and he races for all of us. He is the elite of Ital­ian sport.” A pen­sioner adds: “I’m from Tavul­lia [Rossi’s home town], so I’m in the fan club.”

It’s not just the Ital­ians. “He’s just a char­ac­ter,” says the tallest of a group of 46-liv­er­ied South Africans. “He’s passed through the gen­er­a­tions. When I was 14 my dad said ‘Watch this one, he’s spe­cial’ and from that mo­ment he was the one I fol­lowed.”

A French fa­ther of four Rossi T-shirtwear­ing kids ex­plains: “He is just part of Mo­toGP and the Mugello ex­pe­ri­ence for the kids. He is fun, and with ‘The Doc­tor’ nick­name and the colours he is like a car­toon. He has be­come such a part of Mo­toGP it is hard to imag­ine it

A NEED FOR SPEEDTop: Rossi (in yel­low) with Lord March and John Sur­tees at Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed 2015 – Rossi was the undis­puted star of the event; Rossi tested a For­mula 1 Fer­rari in 2010 and was straight on the pace de­spite a lack of car rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence; left, bat­tling reign­ing Mo­toGP cham­pion Marc Márquez

TRACK VET­ERAN Valentino Rossi, left, is al­ways spec­tac­u­lar to watch. Right: Rossi cel­e­brates in 1997, the year of his first world cham­pi­onship ti­tle

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.