Valentino Rossi: 20 Years at the Top

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of Valentino Rossi’s first career win at Brno in 1996. 2o years on and in his quest for title number 10, Rossi is still winning, currently sitting on 114 wins. So, it is only right that we celebrate this sensational achievement by listing Vale’s top 10 GP victories. Enjoy!

10.) Misano, 2009

After an unforced crash in Indianapolis, Valentino Rossi effectively handed his arch rival and nemesis Jorge Lorenzo a 25-point race win, closing the gap massively. So, in true Valentino style, he used his true home race to mock his error, with a donkey on his crash helmet. Then, when he won, he put on his donkey ears as he went to the podium. Not something too big to start us off, but a very funny celebration from a very silly mistake at the previous meeting.

9.) Indianapolis, 2008

Did we mention Indianapolis in the last race? Well, a year before, the Italian took a stunning win at the track on his first attempt, going against his personal form of not gelling with new circuits straight away. However, the race was red-flagged due to hurricane Ike hitting during the Grand Prix. Valentino beat Nicky Hayden and team mate Jorge Lorenzo, who joined him on the podium. Main title rival Casey Stoner finished 4th.

8.) Sachsenring, 2006

A hectic race which saw the Doctor desperate for points after a slow start to the season, which consisted of just three wins and one other podium. Being knocked off by Toni Elias in Jerez, tyre issues in China, engine failure at Le Mans and an injury at Assen meant Valentino was desperate for some luck, and despite a win here in Germany, it was by no means easy. A race-long battle with Pedrosa, Hayden, Melandri, Roberts Jr, Tamada and Capirossi meant the positions were frequently changing. After Tamada was wiped out by Roberts Jr 10 laps in and after Capirossi faded, Rossi was enshrined in a battle with Melandri, going down to the last corner where Valentino defended excellently (unlike 2003) to take a much needed win. Melandri and Hayden joined him on the podium. It was his 86th win in MotoGP.

7.) Phillip Island, 2004

Valentino had the chance to wrap up the MotoGP title in his first year on the Yamaha, and he didn’t let the chance go begging. A stunning last lap between him and Sete Gibernau meant that he was well in the mood to take the Spaniard on. After Gibernau slipstreamed through on the straight, Rossi took him back going down into the Southern Loop, with the crowd absolutely bouncing with excitement. After defending too heavily into the Honda hairpin, the Honda of Gibernau got back through on the inside, now confirming he was ready to battle. Rossi re-took Sete at Lukey Heights, the two now side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Rossi held on until the line to take the win and the title at the first time of asking on the Yamaha, making it one of the greatest achievements in the sport’s history.

6.) Phillip Island, 2003

Staying in Australia, Phillip Island is again the venue, but this time for a scintillating solo performance. After passing under a yellow flag, The Doctor was now required to pull out a 10 second advantage in order to hold on to his lead. He wasn’t racing anyone, just the track and himself. He pulled out 10 seconds, and just when you thought he’d done enough, he upped the pace again, eventually pulling nearly twice the required amount. He won by 6 seconds by the time the penalty had been taken into account, and is still to this day one of the greatest solo performances.

5.) Welkom, 2004

Skip forward a year now to 2004, and Valentino Rossi was on pole for the first race of the season; his first time on the factory Yamaha too. Leading down into turn one, followed by a pack of Hondas consisting of Barros, Hayden, Biaggi, Gibernau and Tamada, Rossi started to stretch them but it was his arch rival from 500cc racing Biaggi who would stay with the reigning champion. The Honda would get past on the straights and the Yamaha would dive up the inside on the corners, that’s how the race went. Gibernau capitalised mid race but couldn’t hold the pace. Biaggi got passed Valentino with three laps to go, and that’s how we thought it would stay. The Doctor however was prescribing something else, with a desperate lunge with just two corners to go, pushing them both out to the edge of the track. Rossi held off Max, meaning he became the first (and so far, only) rider to win back to back races on different machinery. A true, virtuoso performance.

4.) Assen, 2015

One of the more modern rivalries now, with his former protégé Marc Marquez. Rossi was on pole for the first time in the season, and had been competitive right from Friday morning. With Jorge Lorenzo just one point off his championship lead, Rossi needed to break the Spaniard’s run of four consecutive victories. Lorenzo’s poor qualifying meant Rossi and Marquez escaped at the front; little did we know just what we were in for. 7 laps to go and Marquez took the lead from Rossi at turn one, allowing Rossi to see where the reigning champion was strong. With three laps to go, Rossi took the lead back with a classic “set up in one, execute in the next” move. He got through at Mandeveen, but Marc fought back through Duikersloot (turn 11). Rossi held it as the crowd cheered for the Italian. This was now a dogfight between the veteran champ and the young pretender. A mistake by Marc with two laps to go looked to give Valentino a certain win, but a stunning final half a lap from Marquez put him in a position to throw his Honda up the inside at the infamous final chicane. Marquez barged Valentino into the gravel, with the 36-year-old keeping it pinned across the run off to take a historic win, his 9th at the track. It was the start of a rivalry which would soon threw the whole sport into jeopardy.

3.) Laguna Seca, 2008

In the bronze medal position (it’s the Olympics season after all) is Laguna Seca and the battle of the Corkscrew. After an impressive qualifying, Rossi put his Yamaha in a good position for the race, starting from row one. He said before the race he has to do anything it takes to disgruntle reigning champ and man in-form Casey Stoner. He wasn’t kidding. Rossi battled past Nicky Hayden on lap one, before chasing after Stoner. Jorge Lorenzo landed on Mars when he highsided out of the race at turn five, and as the camera went back the leaders, Rossifumi had parked it at the Corkscrew, hitting the front. We were in for cracker! Two laps later and Stoner leaned on Rossi on the way up the Rahal straight and the Italian wasn’t having it. Throwing all caution out the window and turning his brain off, Rossi went sideways, up the inside of the Australian at the Corkscrew, before running off track, losing the front and colliding with Casey as he re-joined the track! Casey tried everything to get past the wayward Italian at Rainey’s but couldn’t do it; even the marshals were clapping as the two came into the final corner! With 10 laps to go, Stoner blasted passed Rossi on the straight, only for Rossi to attack back into turn 2. Stoner charged up the inside at turn 3 but Valentino just hung the bike out, around the outside, and held the position. Stoner just couldn’t hold the lead as Rossi knew he had to snap straight back. On the final corner with just a few laps to go, Stoner crashed at the final corner after running wide, handing Rossi a win. The pair had such a lead that Casey was able to remount and finish second. OK, we was robbed of a grandstand finish, but with racing like that, I think we’d seen enough already!

2.) Jerez, 2005

A year in which Valentino Rossi dominated, but it didn’t start off that way. A year before in Qatar, Rossi swore that Gibernau wouldn’t win another race and my word did he mean it. After getting passed Gibernau on the penultimate lap, Rossi put half a second into his rival going into the final lap. However, Rossi made a mistake at turn 6, the Drysack hairpin, allowing Gibernau back through, and when Rossi tried to re-take him at the next corner, Gibernau showed him the edge of the track. It was like a red rag to a bull (we are in Spain). Out of the Angel Nieto corner and Rossi popped the front wheel once, then twice and made a dive for the lead at Criville corner, but lost the front end and the lead as Gibernau swept back through at Ferrari. It was all down to the then-named Ducados hairpin (now Lorenzo). Vale took a deep, inside line, smashing into Gibernau and pushing him off the track at a closing speed of goodness knows what. Rossi wheelied across the line with Gibernau beating new team mate Melandri to 2nd. However, this time, unlike the other battles, the action didn’t stop there. In something of a Chili-Fogarty moment at Assen 1998 in WSBK, the two clashed in Parc Ferme, with their helmet carriers becoming a little bit aggressive (verbally). When they went up to the podium, Rossi shook hands with close friend Melandri, and after an awkward 5 seconds or so, Gibernau shook The Doctor’s hand too. Oh isn’t MotoGP all friendly?

So, before we go on to do our number one, lets highlight some other wins that we haven’t got on this in depth top 10. Assen in 2007, when Vale came from 11th to first to win was a stunning ride, as was his wet weather win at Donington Park in 2005, after making several mistakes. His 2004 win at Mugello (pre-red-flag) with Gibernau was hair raising, not to mention Suzuka 2001 when his rivalry with Biaggi was born. Brno 2003 was also a great finish, as it ended Gibernau’s run of beating him in last lap scraps. His first win of 2014 fittingly came at Misano, throwing the 100,000 fans into a frenzy. Sepang 2010 was incredible, as it was his first win since suffering a broken leg at Mugello. Maybe the one that should be on here is Assen 2009, particularly for the banner, as it was his 100th race win.

1.) Catalunya, 2009

The race before his unveiling of his 100th win was at Catalunya, a circuit Valentino hadn’t won at since 2006. Initially, it was Rossi, Lorenzo and Stoner, the three greats but soon, Stoner faded with his illness getting the better of him, leaving it down to the Yamaha pairing of Rossi and Lorenzo to Pasodoble around the 4.7km circuit. Rossi held the advantage with two laps to go, but Lorenzo slipstreamed passed him down the straight into turn 1 – well, we thought he had. Rossi cheekily tucked his knee in and went around the outside of Lorenzo down into turn one, letting the brakes off in unbelievable style. He went wide, but not enough and The Doctor was now leading the Spaniard again.

Last lap time and as they came across the line, Jorge went passed as the two went into the pit lane exit, and this time, he made the move stick. Rossi tried to cut back at turn two but Jorge slammed the door back in his face. We were in for an absolute barnstormer, but not in anyone’s wildest dreams could we predict what would happen. Rossi went for the inside line at turn four but Jorge Lorenzo was taking him all the way, and struck another blow as Rossi went wide. Another look at turn five but no pass, Rossi was now resting solely on one corner; turn 10! However, Lorenzo’s corner exit speed out of turn 9 was so strong that Vale couldn’t stay with him to make a move into turn 10. He let the brakes off again and closed in but couldn’t execute the move. They were banging together like castanets and there was now only one possible overtake, turn 11, but again, Rossi didn’t get near Lorenzo. He was now in serious trouble; all the passing places were gone, there were no straights to drag past his team mate and there was no chance of a move in the final two corners, if anything, it would take a huge mistake from Lorenzo – well, that’s what the millions watching, commentating, writing and reporting the race thought anyway, including myself as a 10-year-old. Rossi closed in through turn 12, almost touching the rear end of Lorenzo before stuffing his Yamaha down the inside at turn 13, the final corner. He went slightly wide but not wide enough for Jorge to fight back; Valentino had committed the biggest robbery ever; Crimewatch wasn’t meant to start until 9pm. The Italian had beaten bike number 99 in a head-to-head to claim win number 99 of his career. He’d defied the odds, defied everyone’s thoughts and took the lead on the last bend, of the last lap; an unthinkable, unbelievably difficult, if not impossible, place to pass. Rossi hadn’t just made the move, but he absolutely nailed it, not leaving Jorge a chance to snap back.

One of the sport’s greatest passes, and without doubt the sport’s best head to head, Rossi had re-defined desperate racing. He went on to win the title which, for now at least, is his most recent. What an incredible race for an incredible rider who in turn, is an incredible human being. Who’d put it past him winning another?

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