Racing Legends: Valentino Rossi

 

Credit: Getty Images

Whether it’s his infectious exuberance, his elaborate celebrations, his illustrious career, or his undeniable talent, it’s safe to say everyone has a reason to like Valentino Rossi aka. The G.O.A.T.

The Junior Years

It is amazing to think however, that his debut year in the 125cc class wasn’t magical. His talent though was clear. He pushed himself to new limits and in typical Rossi fashion, only took the one year to learn and the next year to win.

1997 was that year on the Aprilia, interrupting his Japanese rivals who were dominating the event, winning by 80 points over fellow racer Noboru Ueda.

It is also at this early start of his career that audiences first saw the iconic sun and moon design that has become Rossi’s signature motifs, albeit slight design changes throughout the years and where we first saw his showman side too, celebrating his victories. These celebrations would carry through as he progressed up the ranks, getting more elaborate and memorable.

The number 46 was now racing with the likes of Loris Capirossi and Tetsuya Harada. In 1998, Rossi moved up to the 250cc class and won five of fourteen races. Still with Aprilia and finishing an incredible second in the championship, only 23 points behind Capirossi.

True to form, he managed to turn second into first in 1999, winning both the race and the title at the Nelson Piquet Circuit at 20 years old, 48 points above Ukawa.

His celebrations that year included ones like the chicken, the angel riding pillion and of course the classic porta loo at the side of the track.

During this season he also managed to clinch Aprilia’s 100th GP win.

Credit: Getty Images

500’s

Moving to Honda in 2000 with renowned crew chief Jeremy Burgess, as a one-man team, Rossi again took one year to learn and one year to win. Rossi was now competing against names like: Kenny Roberts Jnr, Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa.

Although finding the transition hard from 250cc to 500cc racing bikes, it didn’t take the 21 year old long to win his first race at Donnington, in the top-class.

It was this year that the infamous feud between Rossi and Biaggi started to become apparent.

In only his first season, Rossi lost the title by only 49 points, behind Roberts.

Still riding the Honda, Valentino entered into his second year in the 500cc class in 2001, it was then that the iconic name The Doctor was founded. Overhearing at an airport the name ‘Doctor Rossi’ being announced, he thought the name sounded good, so adopted his own version. Previous names included: RossiFumi and Valentinik, but these understandably weren’t as catchy.

The Doctor secured his first pole in Welkom, became the first rider to win in all three classes at Brno and in the same year he won Honda’s 500th GP win. Rossi started to quickly rack up new records and had became a brand in his own right.

Credit: HRC Images

During this season the feud between The Doctor and The Roman Emperor (Biaggi) overflowed, making it highly entertaining for audiences around the world. While a scuffle happened off camera (at Catalunya – 2001), making all the wrong headlines and an official hand-shake took place to say sorry, their rivalry gained more momentum on the track.

At Suzuka 2001, Biaggi pushed out his elbow and nudged Rossi off track, this lead to Rossi passing him a lap later and putting his middle finger up to him. The rest of 2001 became a Honda / Yamaha dog-fight. This concluded with Rossi winning the last ever 500cc World Championship over Biaggi by a huge 106 points.

Then came a massive change to the premier class, as the two-stroke 500cc bikes were replaced with 990cc four-stroke machines.

MotoGP

After winning eleven races in 2002, including the first race of the season, Rossi had certainly become a household name and was furthering his conquest to earn the name G.O.A.T.

That year he raced among the usual faces: Barros, Biaggi, Gibernau and the late Daijiro Kato. Rossi won the title with four races left at Rio, leading once again, Max Biaggi. This time by a whopping 140 points.

Honda’s joy with Valentino was tempered in 2003 by the shock and sudden loss of fellow racer Kato, during the Suzuka race.

This year was also very strained for both the Honda team and Rossi, as Honda claimed it was mainly the bike that won the races and the rider was just the pilot. Even during those hard-times, Vale still managed to celebrate in the only way that he knew how. Memorably poking fun at Honda with the chain-gang gag.

Once again Rossi won this season over Gibernau by 80 points.

Credit: Getty Images

Then in 2004 came the biggest move. Rossi left his winning Repsol Honda team, risking everything, for the Yamaha M1, taking his crew chief with him.

Doubters said that Rossi couldn’t go ahead and win even one race on the Yamaha. They were proved severely wrong. Not only did he win races, he won the entire Championship again.

Welkom was welcome once more for The Doctor, after he won the opening race of the season against the likes of Hayden, Edwards and his main rival for the title Gibernau. The celebration that followed was clearly emotional for Rossi. He pulled over to the side of the track and after regaining his emotions embraced his M1.

There was plenty of on-the-track fights between the Italian and the Spaniard (Gibernau), which made for fantastic viewing.

To everyone’s surprise Rossi won the year 47 points clear of Gibernau. Collecting his fourth world title and sixth across all classes.

Jerez started off the 2005 championship, with a great battle between 15 and 46 after they collided on the last lap. However, during the race at Qatar, Rossi made a rare mistake and crashed. He blamed the Spaniard and ‘cursed’ him saying “he will never win another race”, this statement became oddly true.

Again with four races spare The Doctor secured his fifth title 147 points above Marco Melandri. Celebrating with ‘snow white and the seven dwarfs’.

Bad luck troubled Rossi throughout 2006, after a tyre failure, engine blow-ups and being knocked from his bike by Elias. Rossi heroically fought back during this season and going into the last race at Valencia he was eight points in front of the late American, Nicky Hayden. However, more bad luck plagued him and he fell, re-mounted and finished thirteenth. Hayden won his only title by five points.

2007 saw Rossi finish third in the championship, behind winner Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa, in second.

Many people were saying, is that the end of Rossi?

Motegi – 2008 saw Rossi silence the critics and he won his eighth career title, across all classes, finishing on the GP rostrum for the 150th time overtaking Agostini’s record total of wins in the top class.

Bitter complications with Yamaha made 2009 a hard year for Rossi and his team. Even though it was tough in the garage he still took victory, finishing third in Malaysia, for his ninth World Championship, 45 points above his team-mate Lorenzo.

2010 was much of the same, Rossi’s love story with his M1 Yamaha came to an end, finishing the championship in third he made another massive decision.

Credit: Ducati Corse

Hoping to emulate his success in 2004, Valentino joined Ducati. The dream of an all-Italian team in 2011 ended awfully however. It seemed the only person who could tame the Ducati was Casey Stoner. The Australian memorably said to Rossi “did you run out of talent?”, which led many people to think, perhaps he was right.

Finishing sixth in the championship in 2012 two years in a row, the Ducati dream was not to be for Valentino and he returned to Yamaha.

2013 – Present

Rossi sacked his Crew Chief Jeremy Burgess in order to find fresh motivation. Burgess admitted they “had been chasing rainbows”. Still winning plenty of races and narrowly missing out on a tenth championship in 2015 by 5 points, Valentino is still be able to break records and be at the sharp-end of the pack. Having not won a title in eleven years, Rossi fully admits that he races for the love of the sport and the passion to have fun.

Will that illusive tenth championship be granted in his new adventure with Petronas Yamaha in 2021? And will he secure his 200th podium finish?

Whatever the outcome, the yellow army still flock to watch and support their hero at every race.

Six Of The Best: BSB Nuggets

As the countdown to the 2020 Bennett’s British Superbike Season ticks towards the series roaring into life at Donington Park on August 7th, here are a few fun facts about the series’ history for you to wow your mates with down the pub when taking in a (socially distanced) cold one.  Each fact is relevant to its numerical position in the list.

1. The Birth Of The Championship 

The British Superbike Championship (BSB) can trace its origins back to 1988 at the start of the Superbike racing boom, which coincided with the inaugural World Superbike Championship season.

The first BSB season was contested under Formula TT rules with race number one taking place in May 1988 at the Carnaby track on the site of a former RAF base near Bridlington in East Yorkshire. The first race winner was Darren Dixon who piloted his Suzuki RG500 all the way to the first championship title later in the year.

Dixon went on to become a star in the field of sidecar racing, winning the World Sidecar Championship in 1995 and 1996. Dixon’s son Jake came second in the 2018 BSB Championship and now competes in Moto2.

2. Always The Bridesmaid 

Fact number two refers to the second position in the BSB Championship achieved by Chris ‘Stalker’ Walker four years on the trot between 1997 and 2000.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking of these second placed finishes came at the climax of the 2000 season. With just three laps remaining in the final race, Walker led the pack only for his engine to fail on him. Despite trying desperately to reignite his machine, the mechanical problem allowed title rival Neil Hodgson to overtake Walker not just in the race but overall in the championship.

3. Niall’s Treble Triumph 

They say three is the magic number and it certainly was for Niall Mackenzie who became the most dominant rider of the 1990s, taking the BSB title three years in a row in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

Riding on the spectacular Cadbury’s Boost Yamaha team—run by former Grand Prix rider Rob McElnea—Mackenzie racked up 14 wins over the course of the 1997 season. This record was only bettered by Leon Camier with 19 during his dominant 2009 title win, and only Shane Byrne has won more BSB titles than the super Scot.

The Mackenzie name lives on as Niall’s sons Tarran and Taylor both now compete in the BSB and Superstock championships respectively.

4. Champions From Afar 

Over the course of British Superbike history, there have been four riders from outside the UK and Ireland who have finished the season top of the pile.

The first was Australian Troy Bayliss who piloted his GSE Ducati 996 to the 1999 title before going on to win a hat-trick of championships in World Superbikes. Spaniard Gregorio Lavilla only got his ride aboard the Airwaves Ducati 999 just days before the start of the 2005 season as a substitute for the injured James Haydon, but ended the season as champion after surprising many and holding off the challenge of the Honda riders and team-mate Leon Haslam.

Ryuichi Kiyonari became the first Japanese rider to claim the BSB title when he prevailed at the end of the dramatic 2006 championship decider at Brands Hatch. ‘Kiyo’ repeated the feat in 2007 and then after a spell in World Superbikes returned in 2010 to make it a hat-trick of titles all aboard the HM Plant Honda CBR1000RR FireBlade.

The most recent foreigner to win the British championship was Australian King of the Cadwell Park Mountain Josh Brookes who won his first (and to date only) BSB crown aboard the Milwaukee Yamaha R1 in 2015.

5. Rockin’ All Over The World 

Five British Superbike riders (including two former champions) have gone on to win the World Superbike crown after making the move from the domestic series.

As mentioned earlier, Troy Bayliss won the British title in 1999 before going on to add the World crown on three occasions in 2001, 2008 and 2009. Lancashire rider Neil Hodgson capitalised on Chris Walker’s dramatic engine failure in the final race of the 2000 season to win the BSB title aboard the GSE Ducati 996 (same bike ridden by Bayliss the previous year) and then conquered the world in 2003.

James Toseland rode the Paul Bird-backed Vimto Honda VTR1000 during the 2000 BSB season before moving up to the World Championship, winning the global crown on two occasions in 2004 and aboard the HannSpree Ten Kate Honda in 2007.

In the same year that Toseland bagged his second World Championship, Tom Sykes made his BSB debut aboard the Stobart Vent-Axia Honda FireBlade. After a year with Rizla Suzuki in 2008, Sykes made the step up to WSBK with Yamaha Moto Italia. Four years after making his World Championship debut in 2013, Sykes won his maiden title aboard the Kawasaki Racing Team ZX-10R.

Perhaps the most successful rider to have won the WSBK title after making his debut in BSB is none other than Jonathan Rea. After making his bow aboard the Red Bull Honda FireBlade in 2006 and then eventually stepping up to the factory HM Plant Honda team for 2007, finishing second in the championship behind team-mate Ryuichi Kiyonari, Rea made the move to World Supersport for 2008. After eventually making the step up to the WSBK Championship in 2009, Rea went on to record five successive World Championships between 2015 and 2019, becoming the most successful rider in the history of the series.

6. Shakey’s Supremacy 

We couldn’t mention this number without making reference to the six British Superbike titles won by the most successful rider in the championship’s history, Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne.

Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne At BSB Oulton Park 2017. Image courtesy of Ducati

The first of Byrne’s titles came aboard the Monstermob Ducati 998 in 2003 before spells in World Superbikes and Moto GP. After returning to the British series in 2006 with Rizla Suzuki and Stobart Vent-Axia Honda in 2007, another ride aboard a Ducati (this time the 1098) yielded his second championship in 2008.

Following another brief stint in the World Superbike Championship and then a return to BSB with HM Plant Honda, Byrne reunited with former team boss Paul Bird in 2012 and netted his third British title the same year aboard the Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki, repeating the trick in 2014. After the PBM team switched to a factory backed BeWiser Ducati Panigale 1199, Byrne notched another two back to back titles in 2016 and 2017.

Another rider will have to go a long way to depose Shane Byrne’s place in the BSB history books.

Those are our top six facts from BSB history. We look forward to seeing what the 2020 season can add to that when we hit Donington Park on August 7th.

Featured Image courtesy of Ducati

MotoGP Valencia Test, Part 1: Ducati, Yamaha and Honda

Tuesday saw the beginning of the 2019 MotoGP season, as preseason testing started for the premier class in Valencia, following the conclusion of the 2018 World Championship on Sunday.

There was plenty to see: the Ducati GP19 had been highly praised ahead of the test; Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda) would get his first taste of the Honda RC213V; Yamaha had two new engine specs to try in their search for tyre life; Franco Morbidelli (SIC Racing Team ) took to the Yamaha M1 for the first time; Danilo Petrucci moved to factory Ducati; Johann Zarco moved to KTM, as did Tech 3; and there were four rookies getting the chance to try out MotoGP machinery for the first time.

However, things did not go the way the teams would have liked. The first part of the morning was unusable for them because of overnight rain. Zarco was the only rider to go out before the track dried, but only for a couple of laps.

Eventually, the track dried and the riders were able to get their 2019 campaigns underway.  Starting with Ducati, they did not manage to get much of anything done on the first day. Andrea Dovizioso spent the time he had making a base setting with the GP18, since he did not have the opportunity to run in the dry in the weekend. This was the same for everyone, of course, but the time Dovizioso spent on the 2018 bike meant he did not get to try the GP19 until Tuesday. It was the same situation on the other side of the garage, as Danilo Petrucci was acclimatising to his new box, and new team. That said, when they got around to the new bike, Dovizioso was enthused by what his team had discovered, and Petrucci essentially said the GP19 was perfect. Nonetheless, the next test in Jerez will be important for the factory Ducati team to confirm what they found in Valencia, and to determine their direction for the winter before Sepang.

Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) was also highly impressed with the first version of the GP19, saying he couldn’t understand how it was derived from the GP17 he has ridden in the 2018 season. Miller noted that the biggest thing with the new bike compared to the 2017 Desmosedici was the ease with which the 2019 bike changes direction. They have only had one day on the GP19 so far, but already the three factory Ducati riders look strong for the new season.

 

Valentino Rossi during Testing in Valencia. Photo curtesy of Movistar Yamaha Factory Racing

 

The factory Yamaha squad’s entire focus over the course of the test was on the two new engine specs they took with them. On Monday, the focus was on an engine which they had already tried at Aragon. Both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales were happy with the engine, especially Vinales who was particularly enthusiastic about the engine braking. Rossi reflected Vinales’ opinions, but was more realistic in insisting that there is still work for Yamaha to do before they’ll be in a position to fight consistently. A newer engine spec on the second day seemed indifferent to the one tried on Monday. Vinales could not decide which he preferred, whilst Rossi didn’t seem too happy with either of them. Whilst both of these engines helped in the engine braking, they were still not helping with the acceleration or the tyre life either. However, both riders were happy with the direction after a 2018 season plagued with technical issues.

Yamaha also had Jonas Folger out for his first MotoGP experience since September 2017. Whilst the German’s work in these two days was perhaps not so important, he could be critical for Yamaha come the middle of 2019.

 

Marc Marquez during the Valencia Test. Photo curtesy of Repsol Honda Team.

 

Honda face a difficult winter, and Valencia was the beginning of that. Marc Marquez is injured, as is Jorge Lorenzo (who is new to the bikes) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) who may still be unfit come the Sepang tests in 2019. Stefan Bradl was on the LCR Honda on Tuesday, but was just testing different suspension, whilst Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) got his hands on 2018 HRC machinery, and was somewhat taken aback by the progression made from 2017 to 2018. Marquez was limited in his track time, due to that injured left shoulder, but had three bikes to test. One was the 2018 spec, there for comparison, and then he had two black bikes, which were 2019 prototypes. Marquez couldn’t say much of his testing, but it seemed as though at least one new engine spec was there for him to try. There was also a new chassis for Marquez to try, but because of limited track time, he and Honda will need to use the Jerez test next week to confirm their feelings from Valencia.

 

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