Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you’ll be acutely aware that a certain Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) is calling it a day. The legendary Italian will say his final goodbye to an adoring audience at the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana and naturally, he was the name on everybody’s lips at the pre-event Press Conference on Thursday evening.
Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team), Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and Danilo Petrucci (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) were in attendance, and they were all keen to pay tribute to an icon of the sport.
“I remember growing up watching that yellow bike winning everywhere, and the way he celebrated victories, I remember that. I watched him and thought, this guy is my idol! It’s been a pleasure to ride with him,” Joan Mir said leading the platitudes.
The Mallorcan’s sentiment was echoed, Quartararo admitting that Rossi inspired the Frenchman as a child while VR46 Academy graduate Bagnaia believes he is lucky just to have raced alongside his mentor. As for Alex Marquez, younger brother of Rossi’s famed Honda rival Marc, he couldn’t help but congratulate the Doctor on an incredible career despite actively rooting against him when growing up.
“I remember the battles with Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa. I’m a Pedrosa fan and was always pushing for Dani! I remember the battles in Catalunya when I was a kid. It was an honour to share the track with a legend.”
The LCR Honda rider went on to mention that, inevitably, the end always arrives but life will go on. Speaking about Rossi, but it was also relevant for another Italian who sitting just a couple of seats away as Danilo Petrucci will hang up the MotoGP™ leathers after the action in Valencia.
Petrux is set to take on new challenges further afield in 2022 with the Dakar Rally set to be the focus of his attention after ten seasons of premier class racing, which included two MotoGP™ victories and eight further podium finishes. It’s been a hell of a journey for the Italian, and one he has been incredibly thankful for.
“Ten years ago, nobody knew me, but it’s been a long way to go and I really had a lot of fun. Since last year I started struggling and that made me think. Thanks to KTM I have a new opportunity. Here (in MotoGP™) I found some problems with my weight and my size. I’m proud to have fought against some special riders.”
Before either Rossi or Petrucci can bow out from the show, they still have one last dance to do. Circuito de Ricardo Tormo sets the stage for the season finale, with a strong performance to end 2021 on a high the general consensus among riders.
World Champion Quartararo won’t break the 300 point barrier this season after a fall last time out, and is keen to make amends in Valencia, targeting a return to the front row after missing out in consecutive Grand Prix.
“To be honest, qualifying has been the key, not for pole position, but to be on the front row 14 times, I think. It helps a lot for the race when you start P3, P2, P1, it’s totally different. I struggled a lot in Portugal when I started in P7. Of course, it is something, the last races I haven’t been great, but I want to focus on that during this race.”
Indeed qualifying seems to be the name of the game for Joan Mir also, with the Suzuki rider keen to show his Portimao performance wasn’t a flash in the pan and that the GSX-RR can become a front row regular.
“I’ll be glad to know if the bike works well on this track. Hopefully yes, and we can enjoy the weekend, and this is the key in the end. In Portimao, we started from FP1 with a good base with the bike, I was able to be competitive and then session by session I was more competitive and feeling better with the bike. That’s what we’ll try find here, that feeling with the bike and then improve session by session. It will be important to understand the qualifying in Portimao was only in Portimao, or if we can do it in different places.”
For Miller and Marquez, it’s about continuing the good work from the Algarve GP, but Bagnaia is out to snap a streak of poor Valencia form. The Italian has only once recorded a top 10 finish, back in his rookie Moto2™ year and is aiming to change that record while in red hot form.
“I never did a podium or finished a race here. I’d like to continue this work we are doing, that is being a great job. I’d like to do a weekend like the one in Portimao. I’d like to be very competitive here at a track where last year was a disaster. Even in the second race and in 2019, when I had a highside. Yes, I’d like to be competitive and fast.”
The MotoGP™ season closer returns to its traditional home in Valencia for the first time since 2019, and it promises to be as thrilling on the track as it will be emotional off of it. Make sure you catch every second of it with motogp.com.