The end of an era: Grazie Vale!

How do you sum up this Entertainer, this Role-Model, this Legend?

He has entertained audiences for the past 26 years, winning races and fans throughout the world, bringing new and old supporters to watch the spectacle that is Moto GP. His undying enthusiasm and passion for the sport that he loves has brought smiles and tears to many. His ups and downs shared and felt by all.

The infectious smile. Courtesy of: Autocarindia.

Starting in 125’s (now equivalent to Moto 2) on the Aprilia in 1996:

The young boy from Tavullia, Italy, who entered into the 1996 125cc World Championships didn’t start off lighting the world on fire, but little did we know he soon would. Starting his pattern of one year to watch and learn and second year to win, he went into 1997 with his first championship title, collecting 4 poles and 11 race wins, which would crown him Champion. It was here that we first saw the entertainer that fans would adore, dressing up as Robin Hood at Donington – one particular celebration that stands out and also adopting the iconic Sun and Moon design that he has carried with him through the years.

Winning the 125’s Championship – 1997. Courtesy of: Aprilia website.

Progressing to 250’s (now equivalent to Moto 3) again on the Aprilia:

Rossi took another year to watch and learn and then became champion in 1999. Ditching the name Rossifumi and emerging as Valentinik. He continued to entertain the crowds with his celebrations on track, with the infamous Chicken riding pillion and the porta-loo gag. During the championship winning season he accumulated five poles and nine wins.

The Porta-Loo gag. Courtesy of: MCN

Following the pattern – watch and learn then win the next year, he moved up to the premier class: 500’s (now Moto GP):

With the dominating force of Mick Doohan winning everything in the premier-class, the racing was taking a bit of a lull and audiences were lacking in their numbers but even though the dominating force was due to change no-one was quite prepared for just how much!

Enter: The Doctor.

Another name change for Rossi saw him become The Doctor, a name that has become synonymous with him, just as much as the number 46 has.

Rossi teamed up with Doohan’s ex-crew chief Jeremy Burgess, who proved to be just what he needed. An impressive rookie season saw Rossi take 2nd in the championship and then in 2001 he became the last 500cc (2-stroke) World Champion. Taking 11 wins and 4 poles and along with that Honda’s 500th victory.

Enjoying the win. Courtesy of: Successbod website.

Spectators began to grow in their masses to watch this mesmerizing force that is Valentino Rossi, bringing with them a sea of yellow.

Moto GP – 2002: (the biggest-ever change in technical regulations):

Rossi was on the Repsol Honda – the first year of 990cc (4-stroke) and he pathed his way to glory once again, claiming 11 wins and 7 poles. Remaining with the same team for 2003, but with new team-mate the late Nicky Hayden, Vale again claimed the Moto GP crown with 9 wins and 9 poles.

Victory celebration- issued with a speeding ticket, to poke fun at being told he had the fastest bike on the grid. Courtesy of: Pinterest.

But then when he was on top of the world he did what many people thought was the impossible and decided to do a ‘ridiculous move’. Many times we watched in awe at his talent but nothing more than when he switched teams. Why would he leave a championship winning team, one that had dominated for so long and ride for an under-dog team?

The under-dog team = Yamaha. The reason = A challenge.

The relationship between Rossi and Honda had slowly deteriorated, with Honda claiming that it was all the bike and not much to do with the rider. Rossi taking offence by this lack of respect up and left to prove a point and prove a point he did.

Taking along with him his crew chief and most of his team, they went into the 2004 championship with very little testing during the winter period leaving Rossi to ride his first race on the Yamaha in 2004 at Welkom and incredibly he won! Breaking Yamahas longest losing streak and beating Giacomo Agostini’s record run of 22 consecutive top-three finishers in the process. Finishing the season with 9 wins and 5 poles.

Many people thought it would be too difficult or nearly impossible to win a race let alone the entire championship. But, Valentino is no normal rider. If people weren’t supporting Rossi already then they were now.

The iconic moment. Courtesy of: GP-Inside.com

Staying with Yamaha for 2005, Rossi was joined by another American – Colin Edwards. Vale won for a second year in a row alongside Yamaha and clinched  his 50th premier-class win. At Donington he mesmerized us by winning on water and miming playing a violin over the line. He took a total 11 wins (the highest number of premier class victories in a season on a Yamaha) and 5 poles.

2006 was a close year for the title and went right down to the last race in Valencia to see who would be crowned. It was between the reigning champ – Rossi and old team-mate Hayden. Consistency was key for Hayden and he became the only other rider other than Rossi to win the 990cc era. Rossi finished 2nd overall.

Another hard year for Rossi and Yamaha in 2007, saw them finish 3rd in the championship, only securing 4 race wins. Casey Stoner became another new champion. But, not letting any of this get to him Rossi won back his crown in 2008 becoming the most successful rider in the top-class with 69 wins, overtaking Agostini’s record total of wins. He accumulated 9 wins for the season, 2 poles and another title under a different formula – 800cc. He became the first rider to become champion on four different types of motorcycle and with that – Yamaha’s most successful rider.

8x Champ. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

The showman carried on his winning streak and in 2009 remained Moto GP World Champion for the 9th time (in all classes), accumulating his 100th win of his career, 6 wins for the season and 7 poles. In 2010 Rossi announced it would be his final year with Yamaha as he decided he would switch manufactures once again to Ducati. He missed the most races of his whole career during that season after breaking his leg, when he did return though it was like he had never left. He was strong but couldn’t quite catch up.

9x champ – 2009. Courtesy of: GPone.com.

Ducati, as it turned out was not a great career move for the Italian, even though on paper it seemed like the dream team. The Doctor couldn’t produce miracles this time and ended up returning to Yamaha after 2 seasons with Ducati and that is where he remained. He finished 4th in 2013, being a runner-up for the crown in 2014/ 2015 and 2016. What could have been 12 championship wins was never to be. In 2017 Rossi was 5th, then 2018 rose back up to 3rd in the championship. He finished 7th in 2019, 15th in 2020 and for his last year in 2021 he finished 10th.

Even though the last few years he hasn’t been fighting for those wins we are all used to witnessing, it doesn’t matter because he transcended the sport and has become synonymous with Moto GP and can never be replaced. He has made Moto GP what it is today and even though he will leave a hole, we all know the racing will still be just as good as always and of course his VR46 team, with it’s young Italian riders will be there to carry the flag.

Final ride in-front of his yellow sea. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

This living legend, leaves behind a legacy and fantastic memories from fans and riders alike. Ending his illustrious career the way he wanted to, having raced for 26 seasons, finishing 235 times on the podium (more than any other rider in the history of the sport) and accumulating 115 Grand Prix Victories. The stats are truly astounding!

We may never again watch the iconic rituals of The Doctor or the sheer joy of his winning celebrations and the on-track battles but the memories will stay with us forever. Etched in our minds are the fights between him and his rivals – Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez. Who could forget the moment on the corkscrew at Laguna Seca between Vale and Casey? Which had us all on the edge of our seats, or the last corner at Jerez with Sete? Holding our breath.

Laguna Seca – Cork Screw. Courtesy of: Blogspot.com

He has inspired so many people, not just celebrities like F1 driver Lando Norris or fellow Moto GP champion Fabio Quartararo, but millions of people around the world. You say Valentino Rossi and people just know. He has a natural ability to make people want to support and cheer him on with his charisma and affection for all his fans. The whole Moto GP paddock admire him and it showed with the last race in Valencia 2021. The whole pitlane came out for him and every rider got a private hug – his popularity is unhinged.

For us that have had the joy to watch his incredible career, it has been a privilege. He has become a Titan of Motorbike racing and we all know God-like status’s never fade, his name will be there along with Sheene and Agostini forever.

You have written the most amazing story and you will be missed. But as we all know “it’s not the end, it’s the next chapter” – Rossi.

Thank you Vale for the memories. Courtesy of: Moto GP BT Sport twitter page.

 

 

(Featured image. Courtesy of: Moto GP website).

Images Courtesy: Moto GP website/MCN/ The Guardian/ Blogspot and Daily Star.

The final dance.

Here we are: the final round of the 2021 season. And what a season it’s been, ending as always with the Valencia Grand Prix.

Qualifying:

Jorge Martin (Ducati) got a surprise pole with 1:29.936 from Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) in second, who crashed directly after taking pole just before Martin stole it from him. Jack Miller (Ducati) also finished off the front-row getting third place. Valentino Rossi who finished his last qualifying session before retirement secured tenth place.

Race:

Both the Repsol Honda riders were not to participate in the race as Marc Marquez was still suffering from his last crash and Pol Espargaro took a heavy fall during the qualifying on Saturday – an unfortunate end of the season for Honda.

However, it was a weekend for only one man. A sea of yellow filled the grandstands as audiences flocked to see Valentino Rossi for one last time. With only the hope of finishing in the top 10, would he be able to make it?

Martin got off to a flying start and led from Miller and Bagnaia, however Joan Mir (Suzuki) had other ideas and soon took 3rd from Bagnaia, pushing him back to 4th, leaving him sandwiched between the two Suzuki’s.

Lap 2 saw Miller pass Martin for 1st place but Martin was in a fighting mood and took it straight back again, seeing his chance Mir also passed Miller to take 2nd. Pecco didn’t want to miss out on a podium place and was side-by-side with Jack on the straight – beginning of lap 3 and managed to take the position from him. Next was Rins’ turn to battle Miller, coming out on top for 4th and also claiming fastest lap.

While one Ducati rider was getting beaten up, the other soon took 2nd place from Mir, knowing he had to hunt down Martin, for any hope of a victory. But while on a high, Rins also passed his team-mate on lap 4 of 27.

Could things get any worse for Miller? Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) was next to pounce, taking 5th place from him. But, the Ducati was unbeatable on the straight and soon took the place back. Fabio chose another place to again pass Jack later on the same lap.

Lap 5, turn 6 saw Takaaki Nakagami take an early exit from his race.

Meanwhile at the front Bagnaia closed down on Martin and kept checking for the right place to pass but Martin proved a difficult one to get a good place to do so. The two Suzuki’s also looked like they were ready to fight the Ducati’s for 1st and 2nd.

Rookie of the Year. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) was where he wanted to be, in the top 10, in 10th place but Enea Bastianini (Ducati) passed him to take the spot. Could Rossi do anything about it?

Miller and Quartararo continued to have mini battles for 5th place while Bagnaia continued to watch Martin for any weaknesses. With 18 laps to go Bagnaia attempted a pass on Martin but it didn’t stick.

With all front riders on the same tyre set-up (hard Michelin tyres on the front and medium on the rear) it was an even battlefield.

Suddenly on lap 11, turn 6 one of the front riders crashed out of the race. Rins was in the gravel leaving the two Ducati’s to battle it out on their own in front and leaving his team-mate to take 3rd position, with only a 0.726 second gap between him and them.

The gap slowly decreased as Mir caught up to the Ducati’s, closing the gap down to 0.493 seconds. Was Mir in for a chance of winning?

13 laps till the chequered flag and Bagnaia attempted to take the lead again. This time he was successful and took the lead over the finish line to mark the half-way point in the race. Mir and Miller still followed closely behind.

Taking the lead. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

But Bagnaia was soon pulling away from the rest of the field and the gap quickly got to 0.320 seconds. Was Martin starting to feel the results of being ill the night before? Martin had a nice position in 2nd with 1.316 seconds ahead of Miller, who had managed to pass Mir for 3rd with 10 laps to go. The Australian didn’t want to stop there though and he picked up the pace to close down on Martin. With 8 laps until the end the gap had decreased further to 1.285 seconds. Miller had said previously that he saw no point in playing it safe in the last round and wanted to get onto the podium and he did just that. He took fastest lap on lap 21 and continued to bring the gap down further still.

With 3 laps to go Miller had clawed the gap down to 0.317 seconds, was he able to pass for 2nd?

Last lap and last dance of 2021 saw Bagnaia leading with a gap increase of 0.914 seconds over the other two Dukes. But there was nothing the two riders could have done to change the results and Bagnaia won from Martin and Miller, who took the last podium place. The same three riders that had dominated qualifying also dominated the race.

Bagnaia took his fourth win in a row and Martin secured Rookie of the Year.

But the weekend was all about one man – the GOAT – Valentino Rossi. Yellow flags waved vigorously as he crossed the line in 10th place and all the riders stopped at the edge of the track and waited for him to come to them. Each one cheering, clapping and receiving a personal hug from the man that transcended the sport and made it what it is today. A very fitting farewell to an absolute legend who marked the end of an era.

Everyone wanted to say Thank You! Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

But we also said farewell to another Italian rider – Danilo Petrucci who also left Moto GP and will be competing in the Dakar for KTM. He will also be sadly missed.

Top Ten Race Results:

1st

F. Bagnaia

2nd

J. Martin

3rd

J. Miller

4th

J. Mir

5th

F. Quartararo

6th

J. Zarco

7th

B. Binder

8th

E. Bastianini

9th

A. Espargaro

10th

V. Rossi

Bagnaia wished to dedicate his race win to his Hero Valentino and I would like to say it has been a privilege and a joy to watch the career of the Titan of Moto GP, all the way from those 125cc days to Moto GP.

On behalf of everyone who has been a fan – old or new – we THANK YOU!

Taking his final bow. Courtesy of: Moto GP BT Sport Twitter page.

#GrazieVale

The 2021 season may be over but it will all start again in March 2022. Will a new victor emerge? Can Quartararo secure his crown? Will we see old riders come back to the fray? Whatever happens we will be there.

 

 

(Featured image: courtesy of: Moto GP Twitter page).

Back-to-back victories for El Diablo

Controversy reigned in qualifying:

Local boy Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM – 88), took a tumble during the qualifying, which caused the yellow flags to be waved. During this time Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati – 63) was on his fastest lap and had also taken the lap record but it was taken away from him due to Oliveira’s accident, although the yellow flag was out of his peripheral vision at the time, rules state that his lap be removed.

Bagnaia was not the only rider to be unhappy with the qualifying results. Maverick Vinales (Yamaha -12) started in 12th, one position behind Bagnaia. Due to exceeding track limits by having both tyres on the green, although this was only by mere millimetres.

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda – 93), returned this weekend after his explosive crash in July at the start of the 2020 season. He seemed to take a tow from Alex Rins (Suzuki – 42) which gave Marquez a brief third place on the grid. But, his time was not enough to keep him there and he started in 6th place.

Courtesy of: MotoGP website

Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha – 20) – took pole, from Alex Rins (Suzuki – 42) and Johann Zarco (Pramac Ducati – 5) who took up the front row. A surprise 8th place for Luca Marini (Sky VR46 10) with reigning Champion Joan Mir (Suzuki – 36) in 9th and regardless of his crash Oliveira rounded up 10th place.

Rookie Jorge Martin had a massive crash which unfortunately resulted in him not being able to race on Sunday.

Portuguese Moto GP race:

Portimao, with it’s undulating bends and tight corners proved to be the place for Frenchman Quartararo to take back-to-back victories, in the third round of the championship.

Courtesy of: MCNews.com

Starting from pole, it seemed it was going to be a straight-forward race for Fabio, but he immediately went backwards to 5th place. Letting Zarco claim 1st into the first corner, leading from Rins and astonishingly Marc Marquez progressed to 3rd place. Mir also went up 6 places from the grid as did Brad Binder gaining 9th place for KTM.

With track temperatures now at 41 degrees the next 25 laps were sure to be sensational.

Quartararo was quick to put in a fastest lap, hoping to gain places back as soon as possible, taking 4th place from Miller. Only to have the fastest lap soon to be taken by Aleix Espargaro on lap three.

Courtesy of: MotoGP website

The battle was heating up already, with riders trying to gain ground with Quartararo soon taking 3rd place on lap 4 and Rins who was hot on the heels of leader Zarco. The Suzuki rider soon secured 1st place but the Ducati power proved too much and on the straight it was taken back.

Lap five saw a mechanical failure for Pol Espargaro (Honda – 41) and sadly he made an early retirement from the race. Rins once again battled for first place, this time brakes won over power and he was able to hold onto it, while Quartararo took 2nd.

Braking too hard however, caused Miller to crash out of the race on turn 3, lap 6.

Sadly for local boy Oliveira turn 14 also saw him crash out on lap 7, but he managed to get back on the bike to finish the race in 16th place.

Hard rear tyres seemed to be the right call for the riders as Bagnaia passed Marquez for 8th place, making his way through the pack and Quartararo was hunting down Rins for 1st. Unfortunately, Yamaha rider Vinales could not do the same and was outside the top 15.

Into the first corner of lap 9, Fabio decided to take 1st place and pushed hard to break-away from Rins. Getting faster and faster sections the further into the laps he went. A brilliant ride from Binder saw him progress from 15th on the grid to 6th place by lap 11. With the two Marquez brothers claiming 9th and 10th.

Lap 13 saw Bagnaia take fastest lap (1:39:728), in 6th place. Closing down on Morbidelli. All the while Rins was putting pressure on Quartararo and trying to catch up enough to pass him.

Bagnaia making his way through the pack. Courtesy of: MotoGP website

Quartararo responded with another fastest lap (1:39:680).

The battle between the Frenchman and the Spaniard continued to escalate and Rins regained fastest lap (1:39:598) on lap 15.

A bump in the circuit caused Rossi to crash out with 11 laps to the finish and track limit warnings were handed out to Morbidelli and Vinales, the latter had already fell fowl to them in qualifying.

Still fighting for 1st place, Rins took fastest lap yet again twice in a row and was pushing himself to his limits trying to catch Quartararo. Sadly, it proved to be to much for the number 41 and he crashed out with only 7 laps to the end. Zarco gained 2nd place with Bagnaia 3rd and Mir 4th. Creating the four riders to break away from the rest of the pack.

Moments after Bagnaia took 2nd place from Zarco, the Frenchman fell, seemingly from another bump in the circuit. Quartararo now lead Bagnaia and reigning champion Mir.

Quartararo seemed to be able to handle the hard rear tyre and use it to his advantage. Slowly gaining a 5.276 second lead ahead of the other two riders who followed behind.

This gap proved to be too big for any of the riders to close down and Quartararo took a very clean victory, with no mistakes, at Portimao. Mir looked to have one last attack in him for 2nd, but Bagnaia gave nothing away. They claimed the last two places on the podium. Morbidelli, with a return to form, just missed out and finished 4th.

Morbidelli back on form. Courtesy of: MotoGP website

Marc Marquez made a herculean effort, even having to change his riding style for race-day and finished a respectable 7th place, remaining ahead of his brother.

Nakagami, who looked like he wasn’t going to be able to even start the race, due to injuries sustained in practice sessions managed to finish the race completing the top 10 riders.

Incredibly six different manufactures finished in the top 7 positions.

The championship standings:

  1. Quartararo (61 points)

  2. Bagnaia (46 points)

  3. Vinales (41 points)

  4. Zarco (40 points)

  5. Mir (38 points)

With two weeks to wait until the fourth round of the championship, will it be enough time for Marc Marquez to heal any further or has this race halted his healing progress? Will it be a third race win in a row for the number 20? Or will we see a new race winner in 2021?

 

Happy Birthday to Fabio Quartararo for Tuesday 20th April.

 

(Featured image: Courtesy of Moto GP website)