If the Word Motorcycling Championship officials had known who had just been born on February 16, 1979 in Urbino, Italy, and the type of impact that person would have on their organization in the future, they would’ve celebrated his birthday then and every year since.
Valentino Rossi, or Rossifumi, or Valentinik, or lately ‘The Doctor’, is exactly the type of personality any kind of organization would love to have in its ranks. His simple presence is like a magnet of popularity. There are people watching the MotoGP Championship who probably never before considered spending five minutes in front of the TV set watching any kind of racing, all because of him. One thing is for sure, the huge increase in popularity the World Motorcycle Championship has experienced in recent years is partly due to his presence.
Born into a racing family, Valentino Rossi first rode a bike at the age of two. His father, Graziano Rossi, also a former moto-rider, and his mother, Stefania, both encouraged him to take up some type of motorsport. First he turned to go-karts, however, despite the successes he had, as time proved it’d be a much too expansive path to take, he switched to mini-moto racing.
In mini-moto signs of a great champion-to-be were already starting to show. He won race after race but soon outgrew the tiny bikes both in talent and size.
Word has it Rossi pretty much scrapped his first 125cc motorcycle, one that he acquired to race in the Italian Sport Production Championship, in the very first corner. As soon as the bike got repaired he crashed it again in the second corner.
This alone would’ve been able to turn anybody off, and make one give serious thought to whether motorcycle racing was the right way to go or not. Not Rossi, though. He bounced back to finish in 9th position in that race and the following season won the championship on a Cagiva Mito 125 cc provided by Claudio Lusuardi, who obviously saw the talent in Rossi’s previous, inconsistency-plagued season performance.
The actual beginning of the grand prix racing legend, that is Valentino Rossi today, can be pinpointed to 1996. It was the year he dived head-first into the hectic world of the 125cc World Motorcycle Championship on an AGV Aprilia RS125R. Even though his first season didn’t go well at all, in later seasons he rose to the challenge again and in 1997 he bagged the championship.
The Doctor wasted no time at all, and as if he had already set his mind on a clear goal, moved on into the 250cc championship as part of Aprilia’s “dream team” trio: himself, Loris Capirossi and Tetsuya Harada.
In a manner that was slowly becoming a Rossi trademark, he spent the first season in 250cc struggling and learning the ropes, only to jump straight to the top the following season and again win the championship.
At this point it was already like everybody expected him to be capable of miracles after the usual one season training session.
In 2000 – as expected – he moved straight to the top (the 500cc class) onto a Honda NSR 500. Despite the fact that he had a number of thorns in his side (a bitter yet often comic rivalry with fellow Italian rider Max Biaggi) the analytic race machine that Valentino Rossi had become, was already put in motion and there was no power in the Universe that could stop him from winning the 2001 500cc World Championship.
Later it turned out it would’ve been his only opportunity had he not secured the win, as starting with the 2002 season the 500cc class disappeared from the World Motorcycle Championship schedule, only to give room to the MotoGP class. (989cc bikes with four stroke engines)
The MotoGP proved to be just another opportunity for Rossi to shine. He won the inaugural – 2002 – championship and also secured the 2003 one, quite dominantly, in the saddle of the seemingly unstoppable Honda RC211V.
Rossi’s critics were fast to point out that this phenomenal machine and not his talent could be the main “culprit” for his success.
To prove them wrong he moved to the - then struggling – Yamaha stable, and won the 2004 championship. Simple as that. It was that year, that they say he developed a fierce rivalry with Honda’s rider, Spaniard Sete Gibernau. The two battled for the championship all the way up to Rossi’s victory in Phillip Island, the penultimate race of the season.
Following this Rossi has pretty darn well taken the championship in 2005 too, and is presently in contention for the 2006 championship.
At some point in time there will probably be someone better than Rossi in the WMC. I for one, am looking forward to that moment. Not because I’d like to see Rossi beaten, but much rather to see what it actually takes to overcome The Doctor.
Till then, I’ll just root for him.