September 15, 2008 Italian Valentino Rossi wrote himself into the history books yesterday when he took his 69th victory in the premier class of motorcycle racing and almost certainly won himself an eighth world title. His victory took him past the 68 MotoGP wins of countryman Giacomo Agostini and gives him a credible hold on the title of the greatest motorcycle road racer in history. Though he is already credited with being the youngest rider to have won championships in all three classes (MotoGP, 250 and 125), Rossi has effectively won in four, soon five classes as he conquered both the brutal 500cc two strokes and the smoother, more controllable four-stroke 1000cc machines which replaced them in 2002. He is now within a few points of also having won a championship on the new 800cc machines which suit the high cornering speeds of 250cc riders, as witnessed by the number of riders (Pedrosa, Stoner, Dovizioso, Elias, De Angelis etc) who became immediately competitive in the switch to the premier class – very few riders were able to make the switch to 500cc two-strokes and become immediately competitive. Rossi is also an accomplished Rally driver and briefly contemplated a career with Ferrari in F1. Congratulations to the Doctor and his mentor Jeremy Burgess.
After five consecutive world MotoGP titles, a series of poor choices of tyres, mechanical breakdowns and crashes, and the rise of Ducati’s Desmosedici and Casey Stoner’s equally sublime talents saw the championship title go elsewhere in 2006 and 2007, but Rossi’s performances this year have seen him rise to new heights.
Firstly, his win at the Indianapolis Brickyard was a fitting location for the young Italian to take the win that took him to the top of the historical winning list. His hat trick of pole position, fastest lap and race victory made for a perfect first Indianapolis Grand Prix for the Italian and the Fiat Yamaha Team.
Extremely bad weather in the early afternoon led to the 250cc race being abandoned and the early part of the MotoGP race was run on a very wet track. Rossi dropped to fourth at the start and then surrendered another place to Lorenzo on the next lap, but he soon found his rhythm and made his way back past Casey Stoner, Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso into second behind Nicky Hayden by lap six. Passing Hayden was no mean feat and it took the seven-time world champion another eight laps to finally get by the American, at which point he quickly began to pull away. Hurricane Ike was not finished with Indianapolis however and on lap 16 of 28 it started to rain heavily once again, accompanied by strong gusts of wind which became very dangerous. The race was eventually red-flagged after 20 laps and, after a few minutes confusion as to whether there would be a restart, Rossi was confirmed as the first ever MotoGP winner at the Brickyard.
Rossi’s 69th win takes him ahead of his fellow countryman Giacomo Agostini to the top of the all-time premier class winners list, a record which has stood for more than 30 years. Agostini claimed the 1975 500cc title with Yamaha though 62 of his 68 victories were aboard the fabled Italian MV Agusta marque.
Rossi is now 87 points clear of Stoner, who finished fourth at Indianapolis – with just 100 points still on offer, he can win the championship at the next round in Motegi by finishing fourth or above. Significantly, he was 80/1 ON with the bookies to win the title prior to the event.
Not surprisingly, the Italian, who turned 29 in February this year and remains the youngest rider to have won World Championships in all three classes, was elated. “This is fantastic because it’s been a long time since I won in the rain and even longer since I won four in a row,” said Rossi.
“To win the first race here at Indianapolis is a great emotion and to beat Agostini’s record is also incredible, now I hope my record will stand for 30 years like his! It was an amazing race and, once I was able to pass Stoner, I knew I had the chance to win so I pushed very hard.
“I had a great race with Nicky; he was really hard to pass so congratulations to him. When the wind and rain came it became very hard, I think I could have kept going for another eight laps okay but there were things flying through the air – beer cans, plastic glasses – so really I think it was the right decision to stop the race!
“Sincerely I don’t think I’ve ever ridden in conditions like these and I was lucky because I was far in front and therefore didn’t have to take any big risks. It’s been a perfect weekend for us despite the weather because we made the pole position, the fastest lap and we won, so I want to congratulate my team once again for a fantastic job, today and all year.
“Also thanks to Bridgestone because my tyres were very good today. I’ve really enjoyed racing here in Indy and I am looking forward to coming back next year. Now we have a big advantage and it would be great to win the championship in Motegi, but it’s not over yet so we will keep our concentration and keep working!
“Finally I want to dedicate this victory to my Grandfather Dario, who sadly died today (Sunday) aged 82.”
Born in Urbino, Italy on 16th February 1979, Rossi was riding bikes from an early age thanks to the influence of his father Graziano, himself a former Grand Prix winner. Following an early start in go-karts, Rossi junior progressed to minimotos and quickly showed a talent for two-wheels, becoming regional champion in 1992. The next few years saw him quickly rise up through ranks of junior road racing, claiming the Italian Sport Production Championship in 1994 and the Italian 125cc Championship in 1995. The latter, twinned with an impressive 3rd place in the 125cc European Championship, was enough to secure him a ride in the World Championship the following year.
Rossi’s World Championship debut came at the Malaysian Grand Prix in 1996 and he finished his first international season in 9th place with one race win. The following year he became the youngest ever rider to win the 125cc World Championship, winning eleven races along the way with Aprilia. The pattern continued when he moved into the 250cc class, taking second place in his first year before becoming World Champion in 1999, once again with Aprilia.
In 2000 he entered a new phase of his career when he joined forces with Honda in the 500cc class. He proved his worth once again by finishing second, before becoming the last ever 500cc World Champion in 2001.
Though he will be credited with winning championships in all three classes, Rossi has effectively won in four classes as the brutal 500cc two strokes were replaced by smoother, more controllable four-stroke 1000cc machines in 2002, and the new 800cc machines are even more akin to 250cc riders, as witnessed by the number of 250 riders (Pedrosa, Stoner, Dovizioso, Elias, De Angelis etc) who became immediately competitive in the switch to the premier class – very few riders were able to make the switch to 500cc two-strokes and become immediately competitive.
Similarly, although we are reluctant to compare riders from different eras, most of Giacomo Agostini’s championships were won on vastly superior machinery to whereas Rossi’s machinery has largely been not that removed from the wother factory-supported riders on the grid, and in recent times, has probably been less than equal to the barnstorming Ducati of Stoner and the array of very fast factory Hondas of recent times.
Rossi subsequently took the MotoGP World title in 2002 and 2003 aboard Honda Honda’s RC211V, before moving to Yamaha and winning it again in 2004 and 2005 on the M1.
Rossi made history by moving to Yamaha in 2004 and winning the season-opening Grand Prix in South Africa, becoming the first rider in the history of the sport to win back-to-back premier class races for different manufacturers. He went on to win nine out of 16 races, finally clinching the World Championship title, Yamaha’s first for 12 years, with victory at the penultimate Grand Prix in Phillip Island. A final win at the Valencia Grand Prix also ensured that the Yamaha Factory Team won the team title.
He dominated the 2005 season, winning eleven races in total, taking five pole positions and only finishing off the podium once. In doing he became one of only five riders in the history of the sport to win the premier-class title on five occasions. He also helped Yamaha to win the Manufacturers’ and Team titles, ensuring Yamaha celebrated its 50th Anniversary with one of its best ever years in Grand Prix.
2006 saw him finish World Champion runner-up for only the second time in his premier-class career, having lost the title to Honda’s Nicky Hayden by just five points following a final-race showdown in Valencia. Despite this, Rossi still took five race wins and five pole positions in 2006, more than any other rider, and stood on the podium ten times.
He continues to have the support of his long-standing Crew Chief, Jeremy Burgess, who moved from Honda to work with him at Yamaha Factory Racing in 2004.
A keen football fan and an accomplished rally driver, Rossi is based in London between races and a recent honorary doctorate in Communication Science from an Italian University bears testimony to Rossi’s unique communication skills which have made him one of the most popular members of the paddock, with a wide fan base all over the world. His mastery of the complex science of merchandising have also made him one of the best remunerated sportsmen in history.