I was lucky enough to be a spectator at the Moto GP in Silverstone recently, in what felt like some old school enjoyment of Motorsport. I went along with my dad. For the best part of a decade it has been what we’ve always done, what brought us close together. Both of us living and breathing Motorsport. Except for a few years it hasn’t been like that. He’s long since turned his back on Formula 1 and will sing the praises of Moto GP, Moto 2 & Moto 3. So for the weekend I gave up trying to win him back to Formula 1 and I joined him. I’ve always been a big fan of Valentino Rossi. The charm. The cheeky character. The peerless talent. The wonderful colour that he brought to the sport.
So off we went. Rossi and Lorenzo arrived in Silverstone both tied at the top of the riders’ table for on their Movistar Yamahas. For Friday and Saturday it seemed the race would be between Lorenzo and the Repsol Honda of Marc Marquez. Lorenzo looked effortlessly smooth and precise, Marquez furiously fast, as they set record breaking times during the Free Practice sessions. Rossi seemed unable to find a rhythm and was almost a second down.
“He’s using different lines”
“He’s trying out race set-ups”
We kept faith. We looked for reasons other than Lorenzo was faster. On Sunday it wouldn’t matter. It rained heavily on Saturday night, but when we arrived at the circuit it was drying out. The Moto 2 race that preceded the Main Moto GP race was a cracker.
The riders started the race on wets, but on a quickly drying track the only thing stopping the leaders from pitting was the loss of time in the pits. Losing a lap to a tyre stop was unthinkable in a sprint race when Moto 2 don’t have bike changes. (Unlike Moto GP) So the leaders fought hard on rapidly degenerating tyres and Johann Zarco looked like a magician until his tyre cried enough. He still held on to win.
Responding to the sight of Moto 2 wets being destroyed the Moto GP teams all went for slicks, but what they didn’t know was that it was starting to rain again down at the Wing. Back at the old paddock, where the Moto GP teams were, it was dry and it was declared a dry race. What followed was the unprecedented sight of every single rider diving to pit lane at the end of the formation lap and jumping across to their “Wet” bike. We wondered would one single rider take the gamble and go to the grid (Nobody did) as we were suddenly faced with the world’s angriest traffic jam queueing up, ready to race out of pit lane. Common sense took over and the start was aborted.
What followed was a reawakening of my love of Motorsport. Rossi started on the 2nd row but the race quickly became a dice between him and Marquez for victory. When Rossi appeared in the lead the entire crowd rose to its feet. Cheering. Willing him to victory. “VALE. VALE. VALE” Marquez fought back but eventually crashed out at Copse. All the while Lorenzo struggled to keep up. Then the Ducati’s charged. I often wondered whether the new Ducati chassis was too soft, but in the wet they seemed perfect. When Marquez fell Rossi seemed to drop his pace, but when he backed off the chasing pair of Petrucci (Pramac Ducati) and Dovizioso (Works Ducati) went faster. The crowd knew this and when Rossi went past with two laps to go the crowd roared at him to “GO ROSSI GO”. I guess he heard us because on the next lap he matched Petrucci’s time and then took the win, and it seems when Rossi wins everyone wins. Everybody was on their feet. I didn’t matter if they were Pedrosa or Smith fans, Ducati or Honda fans. Lorenzo went by in 4th. Some people booed. He didn’t wave. He never waved. For the entire weekend Lorenzo never once acknowledged the stand we were on even when he was cheered early on in testing. It was almost like he donned the mantle of pantomime villain.
I loved every minute of it. I took time during the weekend to walk the circuit a few times and take it all in. The colour. The festival feel. The countless Merchandise Villages! I’m merchandise mad. I’ll admit that. Rossi outlets were probably 20 – 30% of the entire make-up of the villages. You paid good money to get Rossi merchandise, but if it wasn’t for you there was plenty to keep you happy for less. I brought back Tech 3 gear (Keeping it Yamaha) along with the almost compulsory Rossi Cap purchase.
Firmly hooked upon my return I sat down to watch the race weekend at San Marino. Another rain afflicted race. Another classic. This time Rossi and Lorenzo had a stare down. This time it started dry with some drizzle. By lap 7 it had become heavier and most with the exception of Bradley Smith pitted. Lorenzo lead from the start in the dry and again seemed to have the ultimate pace, but when the rain came Rossi hunted him down. Rossi took the lead from Lorenzo on lap 16 and for four laps the pair lost sight of anything but beating each other. In Boards were ignored as Rossi stretched a slender lead. After 2 laps of watching this Marquez ducked into the pits. At that stage the slick shod Smith was the fastest man on track. When Marquez came out he was soon 10 seconds a lap faster than the Yamahas that were still seeing who would blink first. When they did finally pit it was too late. Rossi emerged in 5th. Lorenzo ran out of grip and crashed out.
Marquez took the win from Bradley Smith and Scott Redding (Both on customer Hondas). Yet for all intents and purposes this felt like a Rossi win. The crowd certainly reacted that way. Rossi hadn’t won but nobody cared. Rossi and Lorenzo had gone head to head and Rossi had struck another blow all the while extending his Championship lead.
Call it a Golden Age. Call us the lucky ones. This for me is everything that I want in Motorsport. The undisputed King of his sport fighting off the would-be successors. Rossi is Moto GP, and yet Rossi is also a massive Motorsport fan. You’ll see it in his enthusiasm for the Goodwood Festival of Speed or his Monster Energy Ford tarmac rally outings. Even in his Moto Ranch. Rossi lives for Motorsport and it’s infectious. With 10 Million followers on Facebook over 3 Million on Twitter he is unequalled in his appeal. Everything that a sport could want in a Champion, as the face of its sport, it easily finds in Valentino Rossi.
Yet in saying that Rossi is Moto GP I feel I may do it some disservice.
Danilo Petrucci – Pramac Ducati.
Bradley Smith – Tech 3 Yamaha.
Scott Redding – Marc VDS Honda.
All young riders on privateer bikes. (Yes, I consider mid-twenties to be young) It may have been rain impacted races allowing them to attack the so called “Aliens” on the grid and in the dry normal service should well resume for Lorenzo, Marquez, Pedrosa & Rossi but, credit where it is due, when you get a chance you have to take it and that is exactly what they’ve done.
Credit to must go to Dorna (Moto GP rights holders), teams’ body IRTA and governing body FIM for continuing to work together to maintain the spectacle of the sport while making it affordable for the teams. From 2017 not only will Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki and Aprilia (KTM when they arrive) have to make cost capped customer bikes available but Dorna will increase payments to privateer teams to keep the set-up viable. This aligned to a technology freeze for 5 years adds stability and affordability to what is already a spectacular class.
Having said that, Valentino Rossi is a Super Star. He transcends the sport. He’s the kind of racer that seems to come along once in a lifetime. In Formula 1 commentators often scramble to label a driver the “Next Senna” whenever they have an extended period of success. There will never be another. In the 80’s and 90’s of Formula 1 there was a fever that washed through the sport in a way that it does in Moto GP now.
He may occasionally be beaten and one day he will eventually hang up his helmet but Valentino Rossi has no equal. Not in Moto GP. Not anywhere. He is the kind of racer that stands clear of all others. Peerless.
Images via @YamahaMotoGP
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