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The Gran Premio Lenovo di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini and Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli: the true home race for Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and many of the VR46 Academy riders. And oh boy, didn't they prove it on Sunday afternoon.
Mugello is, of course, another sensationally special weekend for the VR46 Italians – and the whole paddock. But Misano is just a 20-minute drive down the road from Tavullia, home to the VR46 Academy and where the riders spend a lot of their time training at the Ranch. They also spend a lot of time tearing around the Misano circuit on road bikes, and on Sunday at the San Marino Grand Prix, four VR46 riders rose to the fore.
In the Moto2™ race, World Championship leader Luca Marini – half-brother to Rossi – and SKY Racing Team VR46 Marco Bezzecchi proved unbeatable. Marini’s fifth Moto2™ win was made difficult by his good friend and teammate Bezzecchi, who in turn had to hold off a late charge from MotoGP™-bound Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team). But it was the SKY VR46 pair who would occupy the top two steps on the podium, the beginning of a rather sweet couple of hours for the VR46 Academy.
At 14:00 local time, the front two rows on the premier class grid consisted of two VR46 Academy riders in Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing), along with The Doctor himself in P4. Morbidelli snatched the holeshot into Turn 1 and didn’t see another rider until after the chequered flag, with Bagnaia producing a mighty Misano injury comeback ride to finish second. It could have been a dream VR46 washout on the podium, but Joan Mir’s (Team Suzuki Ecstar) classy last lap move on Rossi at Turn 10 tainted the celebrations ever so slightly.
In their own backyard, the VR46 Academy raised the competition levels. Morbidelli, VR46’s first World Champion in 2017, announced himself as a MotoGP™ star. Bagnaia stood proudly on the podium next to Morbidelli having missed the previous three races through injury. Unfortunately, Rossi wasn’t able to join his beloved VR46 members – but it's likely that it could be a matter of if, not when, that happens.
Speaking after the race to Sky Sport MotoGP Italia, the 41-year-old joked that he and the VR46 Academy would end on a high after the success of Marini, Bezzecchi, Morbidelli and Bagnaia.
“I have big news. Are you ready? We decided to finish in style. After the first and second place finish of Marini and Bezzecchi, and the one of Morbidelli and Bagnaia in Misano, where they arrived in front of me, we decided to shut down the Academy. I spoke about it with Uccio. We finish in a great style. It had been wonderful; we did an amazing job.
“During the race, when Bagnaia overtake me and Franco was already on top, I started to think: who had the idea to build up the f****** Academy? After I also thought about it and I couldn’t be upset with anyone because I had the paternity of the idea, so… However, after that win, I am sure that I will just talk about football with Franco.”
Of course, Rossi was saying all this in jest. Seeing the riders win is exactly the target and reason why the Academy was set-up. After also joking to motogp.com about whose idea it was to set the Academy up, Rossi was full of praise for his four riders on Sunday.
“We are very proud of our riders because it is something really special. And also my brother, Luca, and Bez, arrived first and second in Moto2. So for us it is something we don’t expect. Sincerely during my race when I was behind Franco and Pecco overtook me, I thought it wasn’t a great idea to do this academy… But from the other side we are very, very proud of the work of our riders.”
Marini extended his Championship lead over Bastianini to 17 points, with Bezzecchi now just 10 behind the second place man in third. Are we going to see another VR46-backed Moto2™ World Champion? It’s very likely. The two riders who have already achieved said feat are, of course, Morbidelli and Bagnaia. They themselves have title prospects in 2020 and if another dream weekend on home soil prevails, it really is game on.
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