And so the storied racing career of the great Valentino Rossi ended at Valencia last Sunday.
There was also the final round of this year’s amazing season, which Fabulous had wrapped up a few rounds ago, but to anyone outside looking in, the whole weekend was about Rossi.
And rightly so. The Doctor casts a long shadow on the sport he loves so much. I have spent almost half my life watching almost every single race he’s ever had and I have celebrated his many triumphs and shared his disappointments.
It has been my honour and privilege to do so, and I’m not alone in thanking him for all the joy he has given me, and people like me.
But even as “Grazie Vale!” banners were unfurled in his honour, and his VR46 riders paid tribute to him by wearing one of his unique helmet designs in their races, the Doctor had “Grazie” placed all over his leathers to thank the fans whose support for him had not flagged in 25 years.
Despite being in Spain, the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, did Valentino proud. There were murals, displays commemorating his many achievements, and all the bikes he’d won his nine world championships on were on hand, presumably so lesser champions like Jorge Lorenzo (you mean the fella that kept beating Rossi when he was his team-mate Boris…?) could have their picture taken in front of them.
The crowd, a solid 150,000, were mainly clad in Rossi Yellow, and cheered, howled, and set things on fire in the finest European tradition, each time Rossi appeared.
And every one else just went on about their business, which was to race in the final round of a championship that had already been decided. But they all got it. They all understood. A racer of Rossi’s stature is a once in a lifetime occurrence. It’s normal his last race would overshadow everything else that was happening.
And MotoGP being MotoGP, stuff was certainly happening even as the curtain was about to come down on the season.
For starters, Marquez was not there. Nor would he be at the Jerez tests next week. It seems his head-knock had left him with double-vision, a possible recurrence of an earlier injury, so all that “mild concussion” noise Puig was spouting was just that.
It didn’t get any better for HRC. Marc’s team-mate, Pol Espargaro, entertained everyone at the track when he performed a savage on-gas highside in Turn 13 during FP3, and was stretchered off.
It was brutal to watch, and he was ruled not fit to race on Sunday. His appearance at the crucial Jerez tests is also up in the air.
This leaves HRC with no-one to try out its brand-new 2022 Honda. One has to wonder if Honda will haul Alberto Puig into an office and get him to explain how putting all their racing eggs into one basket is a successful formula.
Ducati looks like it’s going to field 500 motorcycles next year, and while the others all have some work to do, it pays to remember HRC is meant to be the premier MotoGP team.
Anyway, apart from Zarco blowing up his Ducati in FP3, not much of note occurred during the Free Practice sessions.
But Qualifying was interesting. Pol watched it all from a hospital bed, but I have no doubt he was as pleased as I was to see Rossi in Q2 for the first time in ages. Pecco was good enough to tow the Boss around for what ended up being tenth on the grid.
Q1 saw Rins and Binder top the time-sheets to get into Q2, narrowly edging out ol’ Dovi, who will be the oldest bloke in MotoGP next year now that Rossi has left.
Q2 was glorious. And tighter than an ex-wife’s grip on your assets. A mere eight-tenths-of-a-second separated the top 11 riders. Who said they stop trying when everything is decided? Someone who doesn’t understand racers. Racers can’t help themselves. Nothing is ever decided. Fabulous might be world champion, but that doesn’t mean Pecco suddenly shrugs his shoulders and just cruises.
As it was, Pecco managed second on the grid, behind a raging Jorge Martin, with Jack Miller in third spot. Behind them Mir, Zarco, and Rins made up the second row. The pointy end of the spear was all Ducati with some Suzuki input. Binder was in seventh, Fabulous in eighth, and Nakagami’s Honda was in ninth.
When it kicked off, Martin beasted himself into the first corner ahead of Miller and Mir, with Pecco content to pace them in fourth.
Miller doesn’t do contentment, and passed Martin into Turn One at the end of the first lap. Martin immediately struck back, and before Jack knew what was what, Mir also sailed past him.
Two laps later, Pecco passed Jack as well. Then Rins felt passing Jack was what all the cool kids were doing, so he gave in to peer pressure – and it was Martin, Mir, and Bagnaia on the charge up the front.
Mir started to look all sorts of threatening behind Martin. But it was all a charade. It didn’t take Pecco all that long to pass the former world champion and drag Rins past him as well.
Meanwhile, the current world champion, Fabulous, had just grabbed fifth spot from Miller, and I was wondering if he could actually mount a challenge for a podium. But Valencia is a hard track to pass on. It’s tight, very technical, and with very few places that passing is even possible. And Fabulous was not burning with intent. He’d still be 2021 champion no matter what happened.
Meanwhile, Rossi was minding his own business in tenth despite running the same lap-times as the blokes up front – which was faster than he’d ever ridden around Valencia. Taka Nakagami was in hot pursuit of the Doctor, until he wasn’t, and as he sprayed rocks into the air, the only Honda left on the track was Alex Marquez’s.
Martin, Pecco, Rins, and Mir were making a little break out the front, and were almost a second ahead of the Fabulous, Miller, and some new red bike. It seems Aleix Espargaro had painted his Aprilia red in the hope it would go like a Ducati if it was painted the same colour.
A third of the way into the race, Rins passed Pecco. The Pecco passed Rins. Then they calmed down for a bit. Fabulous, who was in fifth, slowly started to close in on Mir, and I started to wonder how long it would be before Martin lost his lead to Pecco.
With 19 laps left, Miller put the hurt on Fabulous and took fifth place back, while the top three, Martin, Pecco, and Rins started to eke out a slight gap on Mir. And it was around here that Pecco really started bothering Martin.
Which encouraged Rins to start bothering Pecco. And behind them, Jack started chewing on Mir, because he hates him and doesn’t want him to know any happiness at all.
And then Rins crashed. For the millionth time this year. Turn Six saw his third place go to his team-mate, Mir. But Mir was some seven-tenths behind Pecco and Martin, with Jack hot on his rear tyre.
Two laps later, Mir had closed up a little on the front two and brought Jack with him. Fabulous decided he was good in fifth, and let the front four gap him by almost two seconds.
With fourteen laps left to race, Pecco had had enough of being second, and sailed past Martin in Turn 14, then turned it all up a notch. Behind them, Miller has hating even harder on Mir, and with a mere nine laps left to go, bitched him in Turn Two. Pecco and Martin were 1.2-seconds ahead of him, and Miller began to apply himself to close that gap.
Tenth by tenth, Jack hunted Martin down, but he ran out of laps to put the hurt on him. As it was, Ducati filled the entire podium for the first time in its 18-year campaign.
And that was great, and a wonderful achievement, but all eyes were once again on the Doctor, who was bidding farewell to the world and everyone in it.
Fabulous even squired a 46 flag around the track, as adoration poured down upon Rossi from fellow riders, fans, and marshals. Even the Factory Suzuki team had a dedicated banner stretched across pit-lane when he finally made it back there.
Valencia was ALL about Valentino Rossi, who managed to hang onto his 10th spot, and bow out of his beloved sport with all his bits and pieces unbroken and un-maimed.
There will be countless tributes written about Valentino Rossi. I’m probably going to write a few of them myself. But this is not the time or place for that.
Testing for 2022 starts in a few days. There will be a few fresh faces pulling on new helmets, not the least among them the newly-crowned Moto2 World Champ, Remy Gardner.
And while Rossi may be gone from the actual grid, he will still be there to shepherd his new MotoGP team against the never-ending Spanish assaults, the inevitable rise of KTM, as well as the ongoing efforts of Yamaha, Suzuki, and Aprilia.
Thank you all for your indulgence this season, and thanks to Trev for letting me share my work with you all.
Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.
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