until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


The polar opposite MotoGP farewell rivalling the Rossi show

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
8 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP media days are often a pretty par-for-the-course affair, as – because so much changes from one grand prix to another – there’s only so much riders can really say about the weekend ahead before their bike makes contact with the track surface.

Yet the Valencia media day, ahead of the 2021 season finale, proved different, as MotoGP prepared to bid farewell to an Italian stalwart, a long-serving rider who has become an indelible part of the paddock and who will clearly be missed after Sunday marks the end of his full-time premier-class career.

The above description deliberately fits multiple riders (it is a favoured ‘hack writer’ trope of mine, and I apologise for finding it irresistible this time) and from the headline you already know that Valentino Rossi isn’t quite the subject of this column.

Rossi’s farewell is bound to dominate every lap in every session of this weekend. He is the face of MotoGP, its biggest-ever name, its greatest showman. And the series promoter Dorna has clearly been working overtime to make sure the occasion of his departure is being marked accordingly.

Despite being 20th in the championship, he is front and centre of the event poster. All nine of his grand prix title-winning bikes (one from 125cc, one from 250cc, one from 500cc, six from MotoGP) are on display. And MotoGP has not only collated a video tribute from his diehard fans, but has actually brought some of them to see Rossi in person.


There’s nothing wrong with any of that, nor is there anything off about having a lengthy press conference with Rossi alone, centre of the stage, answering weighty questions about his status and legacy as a living legend in MotoGP, with the vast majority of his fellow current premier-class riders in attendance.

Ostentatious? Sure. Grandiose? Sure. But that fits Rossi, a man clearly aware of his standing and not shy to refer to himself as an “icon” (and rightly so).

And yet somehow, the regular media press conference that followed Rossi’s presented the kind of down-to-earth, chilled farewell that couldn’t help but somehow leave a stronger impression.

Danilo Petrucci, like Rossi, is almost certainly contesting his final MotoGP race this weekend. He was never a champion, but rose from the extremely humble beginnings of riding a CRT-spec Ioda TR003 to winning two MotoGP races in factory Ducati colours.


He, of course, is no Rossi – but he is inarguably an indelible part of modern MotoGP, without whom the championship is guaranteed to feel different.

As per the original schedule, he wasn’t even supposed to be in the press conference, before being added as a sixth man. And his presence proved key to a jovial, almost informal tone that’s very hard to naturally come by in professional sports.

A question to himself and his 2018 Pramac team-mate Jack Miller on the best moments they’d shared quickly devolved into giggles as Petrucci suggested the answer was “too many beers” and Miller countered that with “or not enough!”.

Miller was then particularly entertained by Petrucci stating “I wouldn’t want to be my liver Sunday night… I’m quite scared about it. Especially I don’t want to meet Jack”.

“Well, I just asked him [Petrucci] if his brother’s coming this weekend and he told me yes, so I know we’re in trouble now for Sunday,” said Miller, before taking on a more serious note. “No, it was fantastic, to share the box with him, I think we enjoyed honestly what was one of the best seasons of my life.”


“He was a great team-mate – not taking anything away from you, Pecco,” Miller added, addressing his current Ducati factory team-mate Francesco Bagnaia, also in attendance.

Bagnaia, for his part, praised Petrucci for “never changing in front of the cameras” – to which Petrucci happily responded: “I always liked to say bulls**t.” And 2020 champion Joan Mir was quite effusive in his praise for Petrucci’s impending Dakar Rally bid.

Miller, meanwhile, expressed his belief that Petrucci hasn’t quite received the credit he deserved in MotoGP, especially given the compromises he had to make as a bulky rider of above-average height.

“We had a great atmosphere in the box, as you can tell we are both quite easy-going guys, we are both quite similar character,” Miller recalled.

“I just want to say, that I don’t think we appreciate Danilo enough for what he’s done, where he came from, this Ioda, to where he arrived to.

“He did a fantastic job, he was a great inspiration for the sport and also how he changed his life to fit this thing, because he doesn’t have, let’s say, the physical normality of this sport.

“But he really sacrificed I think everything for this sport, and that shows the true racer that he is. And I think for everybody we have to say thank you to you for what you’ve done.”

Kind words from a former foe


Petrucci’s first MotoGP race in 2012 was also the race that marked Aleix Espargaro’s ‘second’ MotoGP debut – and the two haven’t always got on swimmingly in public.

As recently as last year, there was something of a mini-Twitter spat between the two outspoken riders – but ahead of Petrucci’s impending departure, Espargaro has made it clear that they’ve buried the hatchet.

“Sincerely, I have a good relationship with Danilo,” he said on Thursday when asked by The Race.

“I know in the past we had some moments, but I have to say, to apologise to him, because in many cases it could also be my fault.

“I think he’s really a good guy. He’s just a nice guy, I think we are quite similar on this, just easy, normal people – what happens on track, stays on track.

“I like actually Danilo, we’ve been talking a lot in the last race in Portimao, I asked him because he went before Portimao to Dubai to test the Dakar bike, I said to him that he’s very very brave, hats off for the challenge he accepted, because it’s unbelievable to do what he’s going to do.

“I think Danilo has been a hard worker as me, his career hasn’t been easy – he had to come from another championship, he had to fight with Open[-class] bikes as I had, he finally arrived in a factory bike as I had, and he won a race – as I haven’t.

“I think he has been a good rider and I hope that he can fight for his next dream because I know that Dakar and rally is his passion, enduro is his passion, so he will now have a change to fight for his dream, for his passion, so I hope that he can achieve whatever he dreams.”

The moment that cemented the press conference as something to really savour came when Miller, in beginning to describe his favourite moment with Petrucci, asked fellow attendees: “OK, Danilo, do you know his style, when he’s braking into the corner, about to pass somebody?”

Champion Fabio Quartararo immediately obliged by sticking his leg out high into the air as imitation, prompting a hearty laugh.


“The superbike, in Portimao, before the race, before Le Mans. He was there with the [Ducati] Superleggera, him and Dovi [Andrea Dovizioso], both with ABS,” Miller continued.

“And Sylvain [Guintoli, Suzuki test rider] was there, testing the MotoGP bike. We were all together, me, him [Petrucci] and Dovi. Then Sylvain sort of was stuck behind Danilo because he was the fastest of us, he was in the front.

“And I’ll never forget, he [Guintoli] passed Danilo between Turns 4 and Turn 5, and then Danilo went with his classic style, the knee out, ABS bouncing, and passed Sylvain back into Turn 5 like it was the last lap of the grand prix!

“This image just plays in my head, it was fantastic.”

“It was a matter of pride,” Petrucci added. “It was a production bike, he was with a MotoGP, but it was the first lap, and I already knew the track! So I gave all my life… to stay in front of him.”

That moment – filled with laughter-induced pauses and hard-to-transcribe interjections – was deeply charming. And given the character Rossi is, you’d have to imagine he’d have loved something like that for himself, a happy sit down with fellow riders to reminisce and chuckle.

But how would you go about arranging something like that for him? So many of the rivals that helped him define himself, the vast majority of his team-mates and especially those that battled with him during his MotoGP coming of age – all of them are long retired.


And in any case, he towers above MotoGP in a sense, a genuine icon for pretty much everyone on the grid – which perhaps might make it difficult for them to interact with him as just a peer. Perhaps a nice chat with his VR46 flock could work – but again, there’s undeniable seniority there.

No, this kind of thing was probably unattainable for Rossi. Fortunately, his send-off will continue, full speed ahead, over the course of the weekend, and emotion will no doubt run high – it already clearly is for that new generation of Italians he has mentored.

But while he’ll have the rest of the weekend, the Thursday may well go down as being about Danilo Petrucci.

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