Written by Olly Radley, Edited by Owen Bradley
Valentino Rossi is undeniably one of the most recognisable faces in MotoGP and indisputably the most successful rider of the 2000s. Following the Italian’s retirement from MotoGP last season, the 43 year old has pursued glory in a new series and a completely new discipline, the GT World Challenge.
It’s no secret that Vale has interests in series outside of the world of Motorbikes. “The Doctor” previously showed promise of moving to F1 after tests with Ferrari, suggesting that Rossi showed talent on the bike and in the cockpit, posting blistering lap times and beating active F1 drivers. The only reason Rossi never moved to F1 was to continue his legacy in MotoGP, despite offers from Ferrari for Valentino to make the switch to F1, after numerous tests backed up the promise of Rossi’s ability. However, a foray into Rallying would prove convincing to Valentino, who said he’d rather go to the WRC where his age would be less of a factor than it would be in F1. The Italian even beat legendary rally driver Colin McRae, who was a childhood idol of Vale’s, in an exhibition event. While the switch to the WRC never happened, in 2010, he came close after a few one-off events here and there throughout the decade enticed the Italian more and more.
As we know, Valentino didn’t leave MotoGP and start a new challenge for another 12 years after that - with Valentino’s debut in the GTWC this April, marking that day. Of course, this wasn’t Rossi’s first GT experience. A 2 race venture into the Blancpain Endurance series (now GTWC) in 2012 and a podium at the 2019 Gulf 12 Hours would be Rossi’s only preparation for his first commitment to a non-biking series.
Vale’s endeavours would be with the GT giant Team WRT, who have accumulated several GTWC accolades over the past decade, putting Rossi in the best place to succeed. Rossi’s GT entry would of course sport his iconic number 46 accompanied with a neon yellow paint scheme, the colour he has been associated with throughout his career. Alongside him, would be two drivers of high ability to help Vale in his objective of seeing success in GTs. Switzerland's Nico Muller is the first of the two, a 2-time DTM vice-champion with years of GT experience. Rossi would also be partnered with Fred Vervisch, who’s seen success over the years in both GTs and Touring Cars.
Now let’s move on to Rossi’s debut itself. It came in his home country, Italy, at the Imola circuit. A circuit steeped in history, but one that Rossi had limited experience on. It’s safe to say there were some things left to be desired from Rossi’s debut. A lowly midfield finish out of the points might not have satisfied his millions of fans, who would have hoped and expected him to be brilliant right from the off. The very next event, though, would see points for Rossi. At Kent’s Brands Hatch circuit, alongside Fred Vervisch in the first sprint event of the year, the duo scored points in the second race of two races. In the 1 hour race, the 46 car exchanged an 11th place starting position for an 8th place race finish, bagging Rossi his first two points of the season. The Magny-Cours round that followed was more like Imola than Brands, with no points from either of the 1-hour sprint races.
It’s clear that out of the three drivers driving the #46 WRT car, Rossi is the slowest. While that might sound anti-climatic, Rossi is a rookie after all. The gaps are not too bad either. At Brands Hatch, Vale was less than three tenths slower than his experienced teammate Vervisch on most laps. Rossi’s venture into GTs hasn’t been an instant success, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering he’s swapped two wheels, which he’s been used to for his whole career, for 4 - a completely new ball game.
In motorsport, it isn’t uncommon for drivers to sometimes change series and find success in multiple other series’. Similar to Rossi, 9-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb has begun an on and off campaign in DTM with AF Corse, sharing the #37 car with Nick Cassidy throughout the season. In Loeb’s debut at Portimao, he suffered the same fate as Rossi, struggling to two finishes way outside of the points. 8-time WRC champ Sebastien Ogier also ventured off to the crazy world of LMP2 in the World Endurance Championship, with Richard Mille racing and scored his first points in his second race in 8th - an identical finish to Rossi. The Frenchman makes his Le Mans debut next weekend. Kimi Raikkonen made appearances in NASCAR and WRC after his F1 championship. The difference between these three champions and Rossi, however, is that these three have all been driving 4-wheels for their entire careers. Of course, it’s a change of discipline for them but adapting isn’t too difficult for them. Rossi, however, has spent his entire career on 2-wheels, which has very few similarities to 4-wheels, increasing the difficulty of his switch twofold.
Valentino hasn’t hit it off straight away in GTs, but with time I’m sure he’ll achieve wins and podiums in the category, and may even go to Le Mans one day, which would be a sight to see for sure. Although at the age of 43, there’s a high likelihood that Vale won’t have the time to properly prove himself in GTs and become a champion like he is in motorbikes, very few have made the switch like he has, so I’m sure we’ll all follow the rest of his career with intrigue.
That’s it from me then, so goodbye for now.