No Italian has conquered the world in the same way as Valentino Rossi. The likes of Marco Polo explored and discovered many new territories but the ‘Doctor’ simply conquered the complete globe in just 26 amazing years of adventure and fun.
You simply could not escape him wherever you found yourself in the World. On your holiday away from the intense hustle and bustle of a MotoGP™ weekend Vale was never far away. It just didn’t matter that the country you were visiting had never staged a MotoGP™ race.
A magnificent journey to towering cliffs and lighthouse at Cape Wrath in Scotland, the furthest point north on the mainland of the British Isles was no exception. As we waited for the tiny ferry to take us across the Loch before embarking on a 20 kms minibus journey to such a desolate magic location a tiny Motorhome arrived with Italian number plates. In the back window, a massive number 46 sticker to remind us of the ‘Doctor’ was keeping an eye on us.
The Grand Anse beach on the Caribbean Island of Grenada was a wonderful place to relax but Vale was never far away. The guitar playing Reggie singer had replaced his obligatory Bob Marley tee-shirt with that brilliant Rossi sun design as he sang away in the sunshine.
There has never been a MotoGP™ race in Greece but once again Vale presence was so evident. The taxi driver who picked us up at Thessaloniki airport proudly wore his number 46 cap all the way to the hotel. He still had it on when he picked us up for the return trip seven days later.
The four-wheel Formula One Championship craved such worldwide acclaim. Vale was quite simply the most popular competitor in World Championship motorsport, the number one sportsman in Italy and was high up the Forbes list of sporting millionaires, despite some well-publicised problems with the Italian tax authority.
Ferrari gave him a test drive and offered him a lucrative contract to switch to four wheels. He refused because he said he was having too much fun in MotoGP™ to even contemplate a switch. I remember going to Silverstone for the launch of the prestigious £40 million pit complex in 2010. The true greats of motorsport had assembled for the opening ceremony. But forget the likes of Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and even John Surtees - it was a thirty-one-year-old motorcycle race from the small town of Tavullia they had all come to see and shake hands with.
Of course, Vale will always be remembered for putting Grand Prix motorcycle racing in a place it has never been in before. His fun-loving infectious and mischievous personality brought our sport to people and places we had never dreamed of before. Sometimes with all that going for him it’s easy to forget just what a brilliant rider he was where it finally mattered out on the racetrack. You can play every trick prank and joke off the track but only after you have won the ultimate war on the battlefield.
Vale is right up there with the true greats in the 72-year history of Grand Prix racing. He runs with the likes of legends Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Angel Nieto and Phil Read. It’s unfair to pick out the best in the very different eras. Like all great Champions of course Vale had that ruthless edge that separates World Champions from Grand Prix winners. Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau and Marc Marquez have all been on the receiving end.
One thing is for certain, it’s the most exciting 26 years in the history of the sport. Over two decades that we could have never prophesied or certainly dreamed about. All I can say after Valentino Rossi’s retirement announcement is thank you for such an amazing time.
There will never be another Doctor.