Rossi is 40 | Columns | Gassit Garage
What are you going to do on your 40th birthday? Or, given motorcycling’s ever-ageing demographic, what did you do?
A bit of gentle sky-diving/white-water rafting, perhaps? Set off on a mammoth touring holiday? Polish your paintwork? Or down the pub with a few mates to get bladdered, to acknowledge the passing of an unwelcome landmark?
I can’t even remember what I did, but I can take an educated guess at what Valentino Rossi did on Saturday, 16 February: a hefty session in the gym, maybe a run, then a bunch of interminable laps at his Tavullia training ranch, keeping a gang of fast and hungry kids respectful, by beating them. Under the guise of training them.
Okay. Maybe he took a day off. But the day after …
I know Rossi fans can be a touch over-eager to find offence in anything I say about the great man (which is in itself a temptation); but it really is impossible to carp about a career that has glittered so brightly, and is perpetuated by a man so determined not to pay attention to the strictures of time and ageing. And still so blindingly fast that it takes the very best of the next generation to stop him adding to his tally of 115 GP wins.
These are riders who were barely out of nappies when the long-haired teenager celebrated his first victory at Brno in 1996. Marquez was three, Morbidelli two, and Vinales just over one on that sunny afternoon.
As they proceeded through childhood, they would have enjoyed his post-victory pantomimes. Some were witty (the dash to the lavatory in Spain; the speeding ticket at Mugello), others were painfully cheesy (Brno’s rock-breaking, and the human ten-pin bowling at Sepang), some were pleasingly childish. But all were original.
More than the changes in hair colours and ‘official’ nicknames, much more than the publicity-aware antics, they would have joined every racing fan in being slack-jawed at not just his skill and daring, but the continuing commitment. He’s always been a Sunday rider. Meaning that no matter what his circumstances that weekend or even in general, come race day he’s at his best.
There’s hardly a rider currently racing against Valentino who wasn’t inspired by him. Though doubtless they didn’t necessarily expect to be racing against him when they grew up. And most of them consider themselves lucky to do so.
On his day, Valentino can still teach them lessons.
Those days have dwindled over the past couple of years, however. His win rate has slipped back from 43.6 percent at the end of 2010, when he left Yamaha for Ducati (his only real mis-step in a career now starting a 24th year) to a current 30.02 percent. Marquez sits on 37.6 percent, then Lorenzo 24.1).
He threatened to win at other races in 2017, and again last year, but he needed wet weather to accomplish his last victory, at Assen in 2017, with Marquez beaten back to third. But he hasn’t had much help from his Yamaha, which has been slipping backwards; and he still damn near won in Malaysia last year.
The all-time total of 122 GP wins, set by Giacomo Agostini, is tantalisingly close, and yet seems impossibly out of reach. Can Valentino really win seven more races to equal Ago, or eight more to beat him?
I don’t think he can, but I’ve made a fool of myself often enough by not heeding the dictum … never under-estimate Valentino Rossi.
The oldest premier-class champion was the first, 1949’s Les Graham (AJS), aged 37. Rossi is already three years older than he was. The oldest champion in any class was German H-P “Happy” Muller, riding a 250 NSU in 1955. He was 45 years old.
So, fan-baiting aside, there’s still time.
Here’s hoping, eh.
In Pit Lane by Michael Scott appeared in AMCN Vol 68 No 17