The greatest motorcycle racer of all time? One of the greatest sportsmen of all time? When it comes to Valentino Rossi there’s a convincing argument in both cases.
What’s so astonishing about the man from Tavullia is the length of his career – his first world championship season was 20 years ago. His first win came on August 18 that year and his latest (at the time of writing!) was on June 5 2016. And he’s won a race or more every year bar 2011 and 2012, when he was on a Ducati. During that time he’s notched up nine world championships and 114 wins. Only fellow Hall of Fame member Giacomo Agostini has more, with 123.
Rossi was busy preparing for that latest win on the night of the Hall of Fame, but left a special message for all those attending. “Hi to everybody,” he began, “I am very happy and very proud to enter into the Hall of Fame. It is a great shame that I cannot come over there with you, but I wanted to say thank you, thanks a lot. I am so happy – I will put the prize in my bedroom so we can sleep together!”
Looking at the founding members’ names on the trophy, he said, “Being with these important names of motor sport is fantastic.”
John Surtees was on hand to talk to host Jennie Gow about what makes Rossi so competitive. “I think one of the most special things about him is that he came to grips with new technology. He grew up, coming together with a piece of machinery one way and then it all changed – computers came aboard and some of the younger riders arrived who had only dealt with computer-controlled machines. He had a real threat on his hands. He’s been able to adapt and create an entirely new style of riding and he is still competing at the front. That is possibly his biggest success.”
At one point Rossi flirted with the idea of moving from MotoGP to F1, emulating the move seven-time world motorcycle champion ‘Il Grande’ John made in 1960. Surtees talked about a chat with Rossi soon after the Ferrari test that would decide the Italian’s future. “He thought ‘No, I’m still in love with two wheels’.”
Was Surtees nervous about losing the title of ‘the only man to win world championships on two wheels and four?’ “No, not really,” he said with a smile. “A youngster could come along, but as Valentino said: ‘If someone did come along and manage it, at least no one can take away from the fact that you were first’.” Ed Foster