Valentino Rossi bowed out of his brilliant motorcycle career on Sunday and finished 10th at the end of the season Valencia MotoGP, won by Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia. The 42-year-old Rossi, a nine-time world champion in categories, received all the applause from the 75,000 crowd as he rode an ovation lap in Valencia, which was his 432nd GP since starting his career in 1996. Jorge Martin, of the Ducati-Pramac team, and Jack Miller (Ducati) completed the podium at the 18th race of the season for a first Ducati podium whip. Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo, who has already secured the world championship, finished 5th after a heavy fall in qualifying.
But the often joyous winner’s podium faded along with celebrations from the excited group that watched Rossi’s every move, sang Vale, Vale (his nickname) and even threw him into the air.
It was a fourth win of the season for Bagnaia, which came through the VR46 Academy created by Rossi. The 24-year-old finished the season 26 points behind Quartararo as runner-up in the title race.
He dominated the race, but as soon as former Brazilian soccer player Ronaldo waved the checkered flag, all attention turned to Rossi as the riders stopped to pay tribute, fireworks went off and cries of “Vale” echoed on the stands.
His number 46 was everywhere, including on Bagnaia’s helmet and on top of the stands of the Ricardo Tormo track where his initials and number ‘VR46’ waved on yellow flags in the Valencian sunshine.
In the road stall, the nine motorcycles that have earned him world titles have been lined up side by side since Thursday when he posed with everyone for an exciting phto shoot.
A giant street art fresco depicting the portrait of the smiling “Dottore” overlooked the starting line.
If this season was his poorest in 26 seasons worldwide — he finished a distant 18th place on the points ladder – there would be no tears, just a trademark smile from ‘The Doctor’.
Rossi’s last title dates back to 2009 and his last GP victory in 2017, but it did not have the adoration that motorcycle fans felt for Rossi, who left the stage with assured place as one of the true greats of his or any other sports do not numb.
Rossi claimed his first world title in 1997, a year after making his 125cc debut, and followed that up with the 250cc championship in 1999.
After graduating to the top class, he was runner-up in his first season in 2000 before winning the final world title in the 500cc format with Honda a year later.
He added six more in the new MotoGP class in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009, the first two with Honda, the rest with Yamaha.
He retires with 115 victories, including a record 89 in MotoGP, 235 podiums (199 in the top flight), also a record, and the longest career of any rider in the sport’s top class.
Next season, his VR46 team will make his debut in MotoGP next year as a Ducati satellite.