On the ranch with Valentino – VR46 Motor Ranch | Columns | Gassit Garage
Deep in the Italian countryside Valentino Rossi is building an Italian renaissance in MotoGP, while having one hell of a blast at the same time
Tavullia has been Rossi Town for a couple of decades. Pretty much every tree, light post and window flies a VR46 flag. The speed limit is 46km/h instead of 50, and the town square – flanked by his pizzeria, gelateria, merchandise shop and bar – is basically a shrine to the 115 Grands Prix and nine world titles he has won across the globe.
But it gets better than that. Take the south-east road out of town, towards the war memorial that marks the Allied breakthrough of the Nazis’ Gothic Line in 1944, then turn left, down a steep single-track road that drops down into a valley through half a dozen tree-lined hairpin turns.
Out of the forest and before you stands an epic dirt-track circuit that twists and turns across the hillside. And there is the man himself, racing his mates, kicking down a couple of gears, throwing his YZF450 sideways into a corner and filling your face with sand. Thanks, mate.
Cynics might dismiss this creation as nothing more than the plaything of a multi-millionaire petrol-head, but in fact it’s much more than that. Rossi created his VR46 Motor Ranch because he needed somewhere to ride every day to keep his skills sharp. When he was a kid he spent his weekends blasting around a gravel quarry a few miles further out of town, but the quarry was chaotic, with broken-down diggers abandoned here and there, waiting to smash you to a pulp if you got it wrong.
Rossi made his first visit to the ranch site in the autumn of 2010, with best friend Marco Simoncelli and Mattia Pasini, another local Grand Prix winner. They imagined the layout that gradually came to fruition: 13 corners across 2.4km of a painstakingly laid circuit, with concrete foundations topped with limestone and sand to create the perfect surface for practicing your sideways skills.
But a year later Simoncelli was dead. The 2008 250cc world champion lost his life when he fell during the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix and was struck by Rossi and American Colin Edwards. His death affected Rossi hugely and transformed his life.
“Vale and Marco were together all the time – training and having fun – because Marco was the only guy who could stay with Vale on a bike,” says Albi Tebaldi, a childhood friend of Rossi’s and now CEO of the VR46 empire. “They were like brothers, so after Marco died there was something missing. A year or two later Valentino said, okay, let’s build something great. Life can be cruel and it’s incredible what fate can give you.”
With Simoncelli gone, Rossi needed riders to train with, so the construction of the VR46 Motor Ranch was followed by the establishment of the VR46 Riders Academy, which would fill the void left by his friend and also nurture young Italian talent. Rossi was unhappy that MotoGP had been taken over by Spanish riders and teams, so he wanted to revive his nation’s fortunes; while having a blast at the same time.
Read the full story in the current issue of AMCN magazine (Vol 68 No 14) on sale now
Words Mat Oxley Photography VR46 Riders Academy