Valentino Rossi in GT - Season Review

Written by Owen Bradley, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri


Credit: Danilo Di Giovanni

To begin with, here’s an interesting stat. With this being my 46th article for Divebomb, it would be fitting to write about the man who is most synonymous with the number 46 in motorsport- Valentino Rossi.


Time really has flown by, and fortunately, so has Rossi this year, despite making the transition from Motorbikes to Motor Cars - he clearly has not lost his touch, his ability, or his passion for Motorsport.


Rossi has had a remarkable first year in GT cars, he’s driven a 24-hour race which most GT drivers spend their youth building up to, whereas Rossi jumped in pretty much, right at the deep-end.


Credit: Mirco Lazzari

Imola, Round One - Endurance Cup

Rossi’s return to Imola for the first time since his 125cc days back in the 1990’s was certainly one that the #46 fans won’t forget, as he received a standing ovation from the crowd before jumping in the car to take over from teammate Frederic Vervisch.


Misfortune would strike, though, as Rossi attempted to make a pit stop, but he missed the pit box, in amongst all the chaos. This cost him around 30 seconds in the end.


Overall, it was a somewhat strong opening, with some teething issues that were absolutely to be expected, but to have his first GT race be in front of his home crowd, in Italy, was surely something he wouldn’t forget.


Credit: Sam Crabb

Brands Hatch, Round Two - Sprint Cup

I was fortunate to be in attendance for this race weekend, and got to see Valentino right up close and personal. He had never driven the circuit before, not even on two wheels. Which is why the performance he put on that weekend was nothing short of just purely impressive. He fought off attacks from behind in Race Two of the weekend, and ended up finishing a brilliant Eighth.


Now, this was points firmly on the board, and it made a lot of the British crowd cheer - which is something of a rarity, especially for GT events.


Magny-Cours, Round Three - Sprint Cup

Magny-Cours is another tight, twisty and difficult circuit to navigate, and so it was no surprise that, with Rossi and Vervisch right in the middle of all the action this weekend, it was going to be tough. But perhaps, was this exactly what Rossi needed?


The pair ended the race having taken a bit of a beating, and came home for P15 in Race One. Unfortunately, it was a no-score this time round, but Rossi was now understanding the aggressive nature of the GT drivers, and they would get their elbows out when needed. It was a day of learning for Valentino, as the pair would finish Race Two in P11 - no points again this time around, but yet more understanding of the nature of racecraft in the GTWC.


Credit: Kevin Pecks

Paul Ricard, Round Four - Endurance Cup

This would turn out to be a pivotal race in “The Doctor’s” season. For the first time this season, Rossi was extremely quick, and was exceptionally good at managing his tyres too - in a race which saw a lot of the other Audi’s tyres blowing up, due to the race being in France at the peak of the heatwave.


But this was seemingly not much of a problem for Muller, Vervisch and Rossi - as the trio ended the 6-Hour endurance race in Fifth. This was Rossi’s best result of the season at the time, and an extraordinary display of tyre management, at a time where all the other Audi WRT cars were struggling to keep their tyres from blowing up. Valentino Rossi had officially levelled up in the GTWC.


Zandvoort, Round Five - Sprint Cup

Valentino’s first time around the iconic Zandvoort circuit was honestly - one to forget, unfortunately.


Rossi and Vervisch were once again, like in Brands Hatch and Magny-Cours - on a tight and twisty track, right in the pack, and as a consequence - it became difficult to find a way through and make overtakes.


And so, they finished in both P15 for Race One, and P16 for Race Two.


Misano, Round Six - Sprint Cup

Rossi’s home weekend started in difficult fashion - spinning on a fast qualifying lap at his beautiful home circuit, before catastrophically retiring from Race 1.


However in Race 2, Rossi delivered a spectacular show in front of his home audience, battling at one point, for a podium finish, which so nearly came close to legitimately happening. Nonetheless, it was still a very strong showing for “The Doctor” coming home (literally) in P5, and arguably his best display of what he can do on four wheels.


Credit: Kevin Pecks

Spa-Francorchamps 24 Hours, Round Seven - Endurance Cup

Rossi’s first major endurance race in a car went surprisingly well. A lot of critics were sceptical if Rossi would be able to perform at such a high level, for an extended period of time. But he showed his prowess, coming through the field from 33rd on the grid, battling hard and having to navigate safety cars’, and the trio of Rossi, Muller and Vervisch actually almost pulled off a podium finish at one point. An unlucky safety car in the early hours of the morning, frustratingly meant that Muller ran into the back of a car, and the team had to make an extra pit stop, putting them a further lap down.


In the end, at GTWC’s biggest event - this was an absolutely remarkable showing for Valentino, the only problem was that he got beached in the gravel approaching the beginning of the final sector. But keep this in your minds folks, P33 to P17 for a rookie - is outstanding.


Hockenheim, Round Eight - Endurance Cup

At Hockenheim, Rossi performed in a way that not many people predicted. He was fast, ruthless, but also perfectly calculated. For example, at the opening of this race, he was very nearly involved in a major accident, but because he backed out of what would have been a silly error, he survived. The rest of the race went accordingly, and in the end - WRT #46 ended up matching their best result, of P5.


Rossi was steadily making progress up the learning curve, and his talent, knowledge, and racing IQ was growing every race, and at Hockenheim - this could be seen clearly


Valencia, Ricardo Tormo, Round Nine - Sprint Cup Finale

Well, what can I say really - it was yet another tight and twisty circuit, and Rossi’s return to the Ricardo Tormo Circuit didn’t go too well, to be brutally honest. There were technical faults which had nothing to do with either Vervisch or Rossi. All in all, the racing was extremely difficult, and the team’s weekend was further compounded when they got their strategy completely wrong, whilst the rest of the field moved from Wet tyres to Slicks.


A weekend to forget for the #46 WRT.


Credit: Jules Benichou

Barcelona, Catalunya, Round Ten - Endurance Cup Finale - Overall GT Finale

And so, a beautiful season, full of thrilling racing, drew to a close at yet another tight and twisty circuit, the Circuit De Barcelona-Catalunya.


But this time, Rossi, Vervisch and Muller had enough of being bullied around on the twisty circuits. It was time to make a comeback, it was time: To end the season on a high.


And Rossi did exactly that, defending brilliantly from an aggressive Jack Aitken in the opening stages, and battling up at the front, for a podium. Unfortunately, that elusive first podium in the GT will have to wait for Year 2, but the team still came home in an exceptional Sixth.


Conclusion

Rossi has had a rollercoaster of a season, full of highs and lows. Nonetheless, he remains motivated, and seemingly cannot wait to finally get a taste of glory again, a podium finish, at the very least.


Rossi’s rookie year has been intriguing to watch, as he has seemingly fully got to grips with the cars, the championship, and also his competitors.


Valentino Rossi will be back racing in the GT World Challenge in 2023, most likely with WRT who will now race with BMW.


But before then, Rossi might well make an appearance at another endurance race in Abu Dhabi, for the Gulf 12 Hours on December 11th.


I hope this article has summed up what a great first year it has been for Valentino. On a personal note, I can assure you that next year - at Brands Hatch, I will be there - desperately trying to get an interview with Valentino, mine, and I’m sure everybody’s, absolute hero.