All that hassle was worth it in one precious moment when I understood exactly why I was there. The pilgrimage had begun at 6.30 on Sunday morning. Even before my alarm went off, I could hear the bikes racing down the nearby A420. It may have been 35 kms from Silverstone but the yellow army was already on the move.
Nothing had changed from our early racing days. Somebody was always late and 50 years later it was the same person. By the time we reached the legendary Green Man pub a couple of kilometres from the Silverstone entrance the traffic was stop and start in double lanes with motorbike after motorbike racing down the middle. Every car and every bike were part of the yellow army. Tee shirts, caps, flags and rucksacks with a simple message in a number – 46 ruled.
As we slowly but surely edged our way nearer and nearer to the entrance I remembered those Sandwiches my mum always lovingly prepared for lunch on race days. I’d always eaten them before we actually arrived.
The car park appeared a long way from the circuit, but we joined the yellow army now marching on foot towards their goal. Over the bridge and a long snaking queue greeted us. This was England and nobody moaned. Nobody jumped in and 40 minutes later our precious tickets were scanned, and we were in.
Now we had to find the grass bank in front of the grandstands at the entrance to Vale corner at the bottom end of the circuit to meet my old friend MotoGP™ statistician Martin Raines. There were plenty of human obstacles to slow our progress. Long queues blocked the roadways which had to be negotiated. People waited and were prepared to wait to buy their VR46 memorabilia for the last time, sample a burger and chips and even go to the loos.
After much searching and phone calls we finally located the good Doctor Raines sitting right next to a family with an enormous 46 flag and union jack at the top of the pole. Somebody more sensible than me had bought some fold-up chairs, definitely something we’d never considered 50 years ago. We settled down to watch an afternoon of MotoGP™.
Only in England would Moto3™ winner Romano Fenati receive polite applause more accustomed to a game of cricket, but he did, perhaps added with a few air horns but the big moment was approaching. Twenty-one years earlier I’d commentated on Valentino Rossi’s first win in the premier class of Grand Prix racing at the British Grand Prix at Donington and here he was making his final appearance on these shores where World Championship racing had started back in 1949. Even before he’d arrived down at Stowe corner on his sighting lap our grass bank at Vale had turned into a sea of yellow. Number 46 was getting the send off he deserved from the success-starved loyal British fans who had adopted him as one of their own a long time ago.
Those home fans are totally unique and so loyal. Every time Jake Dixon appeared in last place in the 20-lap race on a decent MotoGP™ debut they stood and cheered his considerable efforts. They gave equal encouragement and appreciation to race winner and Championship leader Fabio Quartararo but then they let go. Valentino Rossi arrived on his slowing down lap, his last ever lap in Britain and at Silverstone. The last time that number 46 would grace this hallowed tarmac.
At Club corner, he stopped the Petronas Yamaha SRT machine and bid a final farewell to the crowd. Then he was gone, gone forever.
I did have a tear in my eye but please don’t tell my mates.