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18 days ago
By Nick Harris

What's in a number?

The former MotoGP™ commentator ponders if the number 36 can become iconic in the sport following Joan Mir's decision to stick with it

What a fantastic decision to have to make. Only a few mere mortals have been in the position to make a choice the vast majority of us can only dream about. Only World Champions are given the choice – take with pride the number one plate or stick to that original racing number that has brought you success, luck and the ultimate accolade of a World title.

MotoGP™ World Champion Joan Mir joined the minority when he announced a couple of weeks ago that he was sticking with number 36 that had spearheaded his two World titles. The Spanish Ecstar Suzuki rider admitted it had been a difficult choice, but he would not desert his beloved 36. No number one plate but his tried and trusted friend as he defends the ultimate two wheeled crown.

Some critics frowned but Mir has joined a very select group of World Champions. Riders who have become synonymous with their racing number. Two from very different eras whose racing numbers became a massive part of their legacy. Barry Sheene and Valentino Rossi or number 7 and number 46 to millions of global fans. Two brilliant riders, national heroes and rebels who were never afraid to speak their own minds and make their own decisions.

It may be 44 years ago that Sheene won the second of his 500 cc World titles for Suzuki but in Britain he is never forgotten. The two World titles, his bravery and determination to return after two life threatening accidents and his celebrity lifestyle and marriage to model Stephanie are all part of that legacy. Alongside all of them was his continental number 7 racing plate. It summed Barry up perfectly. A number 7 with a line through it. Old School Organisers in Britain tried to ban it saying he must stick to a traditional British number 7 with no line through it. To a rider who had drilled a hole in the front of his helmet so he could smoke a cigarette on the start line this was never going to happen. The late Barry Sheene and last British premier class Champion is still known as number 7 to a legion of loyal fans throughout the World.

One of Sheene’s great friends and rivals was a certain Italian by the name of Graziano Rossi. When the son of the three times Grand Prix winner started racing, he adopted the same number 46 racing number as his father. The rest is history. Nine World titles and 115 grand prix wins later Valentino Rossi is still using his dad’s number.

Wherever you go in the World you will see number 46. It can be a tee-shirt in Australia, a sticker in the rear window of a tuk-tuk in India, a car number plate in Rome or a cap in Finland, everybody knows who it represents. Number 46 is as big a part of the Rossi legacy as nickname the doctor or GOAT compliments.

These two legends are not alone in breaking with tradition and refusing the number one plate. Marc Marquez has won those eight World titles and 82 grands prix with his 93-number plate. MotoGP™ World Champion Jorge Lorenzo tried the number one plate after his first premier class title but switched back to his favourite 99 to win two more.

Will we be remembering race number 36 in years to come in the same way as numbers 7,46.93 and 99? Joan Mir certainly hopes so.

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