5 years ago
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Mugello has been the scene of some of the greatest moments in his career, but Rossi has experienced the darker side of racing here too…
With nineteen years of experience reporting on MotoGP™ for Motorcycle News, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2015 season he joins the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.
Given Valentino Rossi’s love affair with Mugello, it is incredible to think it is seven years since the last of his magnificent seven successive MotoGP victories at the awe-inspiring track.
Despite his unrivalled success, the Movistar Yamaha rider’s fortunes have been as up and down as the spectacular circuit itself.
Mugello has been the scene of some of the greatest moments in his career, but Rossi has experienced the darker side of racing here too.
His first win in Mugello was a 125cc success in 1997 and was made more memorable by his mischievous mocking of bitter Italian rival Max Biaggi.
Rossi celebrated with an inflatable doll that had German model Claudia Schiffer’s name scribbled on it in a direct swipe at Biaggi’s link to fellow supermodel Naomi Campbell.
His solitary 250cc success came in 1999 when using the distinctive one-off ‘Peace and Love’ Aprilia livery.
Rossi’s popularity was already booming and it was at a time when thousands of fervent Italian fans would invade the circuit. Trying to escape his adoring public, Rossi fell off his Aprilia machine when he rode into TV cameraman Gigi Soldano on the slowing down lap!
Rossi’s first bitter experience of Mugello came in his rookie premier class campaign in 2000. Aiming to become the first Italian rider to win a 500cc race at Mugello, Rossi fought an enthralling battle with Loris Capirossi and Biaggi but fell out of the lead late on.
He crashed again a year later in monsoon conditions while racing his Honda NSR500 in a special Hawaiian livery.
After that tumble, superstitious Rossi hasn’t used a special livery for Mugello since and instead he took to rolling out unique helmet designs.
The helmet tradition started in 2002 and the traditional Saturday morning unveiling has become a hugely anticipated moment of the season.
The first version was a design used by his father Graziano back in 1979 – the same year Rossi was born.
The start of the one-off helmet designs coincided with Rossi’s unrivalled domination at Mugello, with his success in 2002 the first of a record seven straight wins.
His 2002 success triggered another brilliantly orchestrated post race celebration.
Rossi was dominating on the stunning new Honda V5 machine and he’d had to deal with snipes that his success owed much to the top speed of the RC211V.
Mugello has one of the longest straights on the calendar, so after another win over Biaggi, he stopped and was issued with a speeding fine by fans dressed as police.
Rossi’s Mugello memories have not just been created on track. You can never accuse him of lacking humour and ingenuity.
In 2008 he unveiled the most famous of his Mugello creations.
Sprawled across the top of his AGV was his own face in a shocked expression.
The inspired idea came from legendary designer Aldo Drudi after he asked Rossi what his face looked like when he was braking at the end of the end of the straight.
He won that day, but since then, it has been more a tale of woe than win.
In 2010, Rossi suffered a huge high side on the entry to the fast Biondetti chicane in Saturday’s morning practice. He was left with a compound fracture of his right tibia.
Two low-key top six finishes on the ill-handling Ducati Desmosedici in 2011 and ’12 were followed by renewed hopes that Mr. Mugello would be back to winning ways on his return to Yamaha in 2013.
However, Rossi’s race lasted barely 30 seconds when he was out on a disastrous first lap after a tangle with Alvaro Bautista.
Rossi heads to his spiritual home this weekend with arguably his best chance of sending a passionate and partisan crowd home delirious with what would be a 10th victory at his beloved Mugello.
The 36-year-old is on a golden run of nine straight podiums, which includes three wins.
And for the first time since 2008, he arrives to try and conquer Mugello again leading the World Championship.
Rossi and tens of thousands of fans will be hoping his fortunes this weekend will be more up than down.
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@26_danipedrosa explaining the finer details of the Mugello circuit...