16 February 2017

Valentino Rossi - motorcycle world champion

Rider from Urbino among his sport's all-time greats

Valentino Rossi is still chasing his 10th world championship title at the age of 38
Valentino Rossi is still chasing his 10th world
championship title at the age of 38
Valentino Rossi, the motorcycle racer whose seven 500cc or MotoGP world titles have established him as one of the sport's all-time greats, was born on this day in 1979 in Urbino.

Only his fellow Italian, Giacomo Agostini, the eight-times world champion, has more 500cc or MotoGP titles than Rossi, whose total of 88 race victories in the premier classification is the most by any rider.

Across all engine sizes, he has been a world champion nine times, behind only Agostini (15) and Spain's Ángel Nieto, who specialised in 50cc and 125cc classes.  Britain's Mike Hailwood and Italy's 1950s star Carlo Ubbiali also won nine world titles each.

Still competing at the highest level even at 38 years old, Rossi has not won the world title since 2009 but he has been runner-up for the last three seasons and will attempt to reclaim the crown from Spain's Marc Márquez when the 2017 season begins next month.

The two riders represent the dominant manufacturers in MotoGP, Marquez riding for Honda and Rossi, for whom this will be his 18th season in the class, for their Japanese rivals Yamaha.

Valentino Rossi in action on the Yamaha YXR-M1 on which he won the 2005 MotoGP world title
Valentino Rossi in action on the Yamaha YXR-M1
on which he won the 2005 MotoGP world title
Rossi came from a motorcycling family, his father Graziano having competed on the grand prix circuit himself between 1977 and 1982. He won three races in the 250cc category in 1979, when he finished third in the overall classification.

When Valentino was still a child, the family moved to Tavullia, a small town between Urbino and Pesaro, on the Adriatic coast

Graziano's career was ended by an accident and Valentino's mother, Stefania, concerned for her son's safety, encouraged him to race on four wheels rather than two and his first love was karting.

However, after trying out in mini-motos it quickly became clear where his talent would take him after he was regional champion in 1992 at the age of 13.

The next few years saw him quickly rise through the ranks of road racing. After winning the Italian 125cc championship in 1995, when he also finished third in the 125cc European championship, he was given a ride in the world championship the following year.

Rossi (centre) in action on his way to winning the 2009 MotoGP world title
Rossi (centre) in action on his way to winning
the 2009 MotoGP world title
By 1997 he was world champion, the youngest in history in the 125cc class, storming to 11 race victories for Aprilia.  Moving up to 250cc class, it took Rossi only two seasons to conquer the world at that level too, winning the title in 1999, again for Aprilia.

The pattern continued when he joined forces with Honda in the 500cc class. Runner-up in his first season, he again won the world title at just the second attempt, in 2001 becoming the final 500cc world champion before the launch of MotoGP in 2002.

By then without doubt the best rider on the planet, Rossi proceeded to win the first four MotoGP world titles, making history after his second win for Honda in 2003 by retaining the crown after his switch to Yamaha in 2004, the first rider in the history of the sport to win back-to-back premier class races for different manufacturers.

By winning nine out of 16 races, he gave Yamaha their first title for 12 years, fully justifying their decision to break the bank in order to get their man, signing him up on two-year contract reportedly worth $12 million. The money was too much for Honda and ended the romantic notion that Rossi might join the Italian team, Ducati.

Rossi dominated the 2005 season as well, this time winning 11 races and helping Yamaha celebrate their 50th anniversary by winning the manufacturers' and team titles.

Rossi signing autographs during the 2015 season
Rossi signing autographs during the 2015 season
In 2011, Rossi did eventually satisfy the Italian fans by joining Ducati, by which time he had two more world titles under his belt in the 500cc/MotoGP class, bringing his total to seven. But his two seasons with the Bologna-based team were barren ones, yielding not one race victory and only three finishes on the podium.

He returned to Yamaha for the 2012 season and though he has yet to clinch the 10th world title he craves, his three runner-up positions suggest he is still very much a contender.

Rossi, who tested for the Ferrari Formula One team in 2006 before deciding he would stick with two wheels, is one of the world's highest paid sportsmen.  Fiercely protective of his private life, Rossi lived for a time in Milan before moving to London, where the high concentration of wealthy celebrities enabled him to live without quite the same level of attention as at home.

Nowadays, he is back in Italy, living in a secluded property not far from his family.  Although he has had a number of relationships, he remains single, the one constant love of his life being the Internazionale football team.

Awarded an honorary degree by the University of Urbino in 2005, he is said to enjoy his nickname on the circuit of il Dottore - the Doctor.

UPDATE: Some 28 years since his first competitive rides, Rossi finally retired from the pursuit of glory on two wheels at the end of the 2021 MotoGP season. He now races sports cars in the GT World Challenge series, in which he notched his first victory at Misano on the Adriatic coast of Italy in 2023, driving a BMW M4 GT3. In his personal life, he became a father in 2022 when his partner, Francesca Sofia Novello, gave birth to their daughter, Giulietta.

The ducal palace in Urbino
The ducal palace in Urbino
Travel tip:

Urbino, a relatively small hill town in Le Marche, is an important place in the cultural history of Italy. Enclosed within defensive walls, it has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status for representing 'a pinnacle of Renaissance art and architecture,' The principal tourist site is the palace built there by the military leader Duke Federico da Montefeltro, who maintained a court in Urbino in the 15th century. The palace houses the National Gallery of Le Marche.  From Piazza della Repubblica at the centre of Urbino, the Via Vittorio Veneto leads to the Ducal Palace, while in the opposite direction, the Via Raffaello leads past the house where the great Renaissance painter and architect Raphael was born.

Hotels in Urbino by Booking.com

The Teatro Rossini in Pesaro, the  birthplace of the opera composer
The Teatro Rossini in Pesaro, the
birthplace of the opera composer
Travel tip:

Pesaro is a thriving holiday resort with many of the characteristics of seaside towns on the Adriatic coast, boasting a long, sandy beach lined with innumerable hotels. It is popular with Italian visitors in particular, with foreign tourists more likely to chose Rimini, 40km (25 miles) up the coast. Pesaro also has a significant cultural tradition, mainly due to it being the birthplace of the great opera composer, Gioachino Rossini, whose memory is honoured with an opera festival staged in August every year.

1970: The birth of footballer Angelo Peruzzi

(Picture credits: Main Rossi picture by Hanson K Joseph; 2005 Yamaha by ozzzie; 2009 action by Robert Scoble; Rossi signing by Uppsalo; ducal palace by Il conte di Luna; Teatro Rossini by Accurimbono; all via Wikimedia Commons)

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