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Valentino Rossi WINS in Misano - GTWCE 2023

Written by Owen Bradley, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Credit: Jules Benichou

Valentino Rossi is FINALLY a race winner in GTWC, and he achieved this incredible feat in Race two at the Misano Sprint Weekend. This massive achievement, in just his second year of racing, was a very emotional one, and here’s why.

Rossi has been keeping an eye on car racing for many years now, competing in the Gulf 12 Hours in 2019, after the conclusion of his MotoGP season. He managed to secure a P3 finish, and whilst it wasn’t with the most competitive of drivers and teams, it was still an impressive feat, considering he had spent his entire life practically on bikes, and it proved that he had some exceptional talent in cars too.

Fast forward to 2021, when he retired from MotoGP at Valencia, on the 14th of November 2021, which interestingly enough adds up to - 14th day + 11th month + which year in the new millenium: 14+11+21 = 46. A poetic day to end his MotoGP career. In 2022, though, Rossi announced his decision to drive for a team in the GT World Challenge Europe. And this team had a history of being victorious in GT classes and categories. Team WRT.

Credit: Patrick Hecq

2022 would go well. Having been in his rookie season of proper full-time car racing, mistakes were made, and much was learnt. But in 2023, everything changed.

Rossi began 2023 by competing in the Dubai 24 Hours, and immediately scoring a P3 finish in the new WRT BMW machinery, a car he was not used to driving. At Brands Hatch, Rossi would score his first GTWCE podium, and this was up against a lot of competitive drivers. This was the biggest achievement, even bigger than the Dubai 24h podium earlier this year. After some mixed, yet positive performances at the Paul Ricard 1000km, and the Spa 24 Hours, Rossi turned up to his home race in Misano, looking to capitalise on the familiarity of the Italian track, one he has raced at for over a decade, albeit on bikes.

Rossi and teammate Maxime Martin would qualify for Race one in P24, a thoroughly disappointing result considering the car’s pace. But in the race, Rossi got aggressive and bold, as he overtook a car after being squeezed onto the grass, a la Jacques Villeneuve from the 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix.

They ended up in P8, after storming back through the field, and being slowed by the Lamborghini of Jordan Pepper. There was confidence in Rossi’s ability to overtake, and certainly in Martin’s raw speed. Heading into Race two, the team were excited to try and aim for the big positions again.

Martin would take the honours of Qualifying two, and managed to put the team in a strong P3 for the race, one of their best qualifying positions ever. Come race day, Martin managed to break away from the rest of the field, pulling out a nine-second lead, and keeping pace with the other two frontrunners. A Safety Car was deployed after a few Audi cars tripped over each other on entry to Turn seven, and this bunched the field up once again. The #32 BMW WRT came into the pits, along with the #46 BMW WRT of Martin, but crucially, as Rossi jumped into the car to begin his stint, they jumped the #32 teammates, thereby taking the net race lead.

Martin claimed “I can’t watch!” as Rossi had to keep calm and cool in the cockpit of the BMW, in soaring temperatures and soaring expectations, with the added pressure as well. Yet, Rossi braved all the elements, and did it! He pulled out a five-second lead to the cars behind, taking his maiden GT World Challenge Europe victory at his home race in Misano.

Credit: Patrick Hecq

Tears filled the WRT garage, and it was clearly a very emotional moment for Valentino himself, who got out of the car and celebrated with the crowd, much like his MotoGP days. What makes this win even more special, is that it is at a circuit named: The Marco Simoncelli Misano World Circuit. Now, if you are unaware, Marco Simoncelli raced in MotoGP alongside Rossi in 2010 and 2011, and Rossi was effectively a mentor to Simoncelli. However, during the Malaysian GP of 2011, Simoncelli would lose his life in cruel fashion. Rossi had lost a friend, and MotoGP, an icon. In fact, Rossi claims Simoncelli was the first VR46 academy rider, which has now given much success to a wide variety of Italian riders, namely Francesco Bagnaia, Marco Bezzecchi, Franco Morbidelli and Rossi’s brother, Luca Marini.

A truly emotional moment, indeed, and one that will go down as one of the most iconic Valentino Rossi moments in history. And so, a year-and-a-half into his professional car racing career, Rossi is a winner, and a multiple podium-sitter. It’s clear to see that Rossi is going to be an extremely special talent over the coming few years, as he targets the Le Mans 24 Hours for 2024 with BMW, and the Nurburgring 24 Hours 2024, a recent addition to the official GT World Challenge Europe calendar.

Misano 2023 cements Valentino Rossi as a legitimate GT race winner, and any doubts anybody had, are now null and void. Rossi is going to be a star of the GTWCE for many more years to come, as long as he continues. It’s been rumoured that his ultimate goal is to compete in the World Endurance Championship full-time in perhaps 2025 or 2026, which will be extraordinary to see, but for now we are still quite early into his career on four-wheels, and Rossi fans should enjoy every moment they get, to see their hero on the podium. This means that in 2023 alone, Rossi has stood on the podium four times in just over half a year, and clearly getting much more comfortable in this car and with this team.

But what did you think of #46 WRT’s performance throughout the weekend? There’s a few points for Rossi to improve upon for sure, like in Qualifying, but a positive weekend with some key takeaways has really put his name on the list of the greats in GT Racing. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!

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1 comment

1 Comment

Jul 19, 2023

Its impressive for sure and for any doubters, there are some serious top level and very experienced drivers in the series. Its also not to be forgotten this isn't a young emerging talent, this is someone in mid 40s with huge commitmemts to family and business, a business which supports the livelihood and sporting ambitions of other young riders. To juggle that, stay in shape, travel and learn a new discipline in racing is awe inspiring. Might just be someone for whom a word that expands on legend is required.

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