MOTOGP: THE DOCTOR TAKES HIS LEAVE

Published February 13, 2022
Valentino Rossi celebrates
Valentino Rossi celebrates

Twenty-five years after his Grand Prix MotoGP debut, Valentino Rossi has hung up his boots… helmet, actually. His splendid career came to an end with his retirement late last year from a sport for which he became the poster boy. The nine-time MotoGP world champion had his last race on November 14, 2021 in the Valencia GP at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, ending his 26th season.

One of the most loved sportsmen, especially in his home country of Italy, Rossi goes by a widely popular nickname – The Doctor. There are several theories about why he chose to use this nickname, but none provides a clear enough reason. This goes perfectly with the persona Rossi carried throughout his illustrious career, that of a quirky showman. Apart from his incredible racing talent, Rossi was famous for his elaborate post-race celebrations, his choice of helmet designs and his antics with fans.

WHO IS VALENTINO ROSSI?

His father, Graziano Rossi, was himself a popular motorcycle racer before an injury halted his career. Valentino Rossi was raised in his hometown of Urbino in Italy. Owing to his mother’s concerns for his safety after her husband’s accident, Rossi was given a kart instead of a bike to satisfy his hunger to race, which was well-established at a very young age.

However, the kart idea didn’t stick long with Rossi and he opted to try and work his passion through mini-moto racing. His racing success in the mini-moto division attracted the attention of Aprilia Racing, an Italian racing team owned by the famous Aprilia motorcycle manufacturers.

In 1995, racing with Aprilia, he won the 125cc championship while finishing third in the European series. The year 1996 was when everything changed and Rossi burst on to the mainstream motorcycle racing scene. The next year, in 1997, he won 11 of his 15 125cc category races, to deliver the title. He graduated to the next category of 250cc motorcycle racing the following year, still with Aprilia, and finished second.

The recently retired iconic motorcycle racing champion Valentino Rossi has inspired millions of fans across the world. Can fascination for the hero create an interest in investors and the government to back Pakistani riders to come up professionally?

In 2000, after winning the 250cc championship the previous year, Rossi got a seat with Honda in the 500cc category, the highest at that time. From that point onwards, there was no looking back for arguably the greatest rider of his generation.

CONTINUED SUCCESS IN MOTOGP

Rossi was enjoying his time with Honda, winning three straight championships from 2001 to 2003, after which he was signed by Yamaha. That is when Rossi peaked, both as a formidable racer and as a force in world sports as well.

Throughout his MotoGP career, he created numerous records which seemed unachievable until the bar was raised by Rossi. The Doctor is the only rider in history to have won five or more successive races and that too on two different makes of bikes — Yamaha and Honda. His 89 race victories in the premier class are more than any other rider in the history of Grand Prix racing; the distant second on this list is Giacomo Agostini with 68. Rossi is the only rider to have won World Championships in four different classes: 125, 250, 500 and 1,000 cc.

More than these racing credits, what made people fall in love with Rossi was his unpretentious personality. Always professional and polite in public, flashing his trademark wide smile, the quick-fire superstar is undoubtedly a fan-favourite. His over-the-top celebrations, humorous tweaks in his liveries and extravagant hairstyles have always been extremely popular with fans.

Rossi was so admired worldwide, especially in Italy, that at one point, Ferrari contemplated bringing him to Formula 1. Although he tested his luck with the four-wheelers several times for Ferrari, the switch never materialised.

Rossi’s Pakistani Fans

Muhammad Usman Ghani, Pakistan’s first and only Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM)-licensed motorcycle racer and coach, is a huge fan of The Doctor himself. According to Ghani, Rossi’s retirement from the sport does not make a dent in his unbudgeable fandom.

“I don’t think I am in a capacity to even phrase an accurate assessment for Valentino Rossi,” Ghani says, “and that should give you an indication of what or who Rossi is for me. He is MotoGP, he is the face of the sport. He raced for decades, put on some incredible fights on the track, but his sheer talent and humility is what made him so successful — the ability to adapt and ride on various bikes, and still be competitive. The passion he holds for this sport is unfathomable. He is a true GOAT [greatest of all time].”

Reiterating the general notion, Ghani credits Rossi’s humble character as the key element which elevated him from a mere sportsman to an inspiration. He firmly believes in the sporting standards set by Rossi and urges fellow ‘petrolheads’ to follow in The Doctor’s footsteps.

According to the Pakistani speedster, based on numbers, Marc Marquez seems to be the most obvious choice to take over the throne as the most valued player in MotoGP. The Spanish rider, who races for Repsol Honda, has already won six world championships in his MotoGP career from 2013.

Given the intensity, the fans, the commercial prospects and the international interest, MotoGP is a massive event. Wherever the event goes in the world, it takes its enormous festival-like dynamics with it. From the angle of a substantial viewership base, Ghani maintains that Pakistan can be an important country for the sport. About the possibility of hosting a MotoGP event in Pakistan or even a more prominent representation of the country in the sport, Ghani feels there is no lack of talent but a considerable lack of infrastructure.

An international-standard racing circuit should be the first step, according to him — basically a hub around which things could be built, both in terms of structure and talent. With his limited interaction with the Pakistani corporate sector, he believes they are conducive to investing in the racing scene. It is time for the government to step up and consider such sporting events as an investment to the overall economy and image-building efforts of the country. Tracks all over the world are built with due support from the governments, since it is almost impossible to invest entirely privately in such elaborate matters.

Ghani is committed to the promotion of racing in Pakistan. He is working towards forming his own academy to take further his passion for motorcycle racing. In that, he is also following in the footsteps of his sports hero, Valentino Rossi, who runs the VR46 Riders Academy in Italy.

The writer is a marketing and communications professional.
He tweets @adaffan

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 13th, 2022

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