“Since I was a small kid, I have always felt like a pilot,” says nine-time Grand Prix motorcycling world champion Valentino Rossi. The professional inference is apt – to see Rossi race is to see him fly, and his career has been shaped by a fearless on-track demeanour and spectator-geared showmanship. “Competitions and sporting challenges have always been a fundamental part of my character. I like speed, and I like to drive motorcycles and cars,” he says. “I never really thought about doing anything else in life.”
On the track, Rossi has experienced a once-in-a-lifetime level of success. Known as “The Doctor” (or “Il Dottore”), he’s revered for his ability to masterfully control the motorcycle beneath him and his inside knowledge of the sport, claiming 235 podiums and 115 race wins during his 26-year career. Additionally, Rossi remains one of the most popular riders in the MotoGP world, and one of the few to cross over into mainstream sports stardom. “It’s incredible that I have been able to contribute to the popularity of motorcycle racing and MotoGP, the sport I have always loved,” says Rossi. “So many people were intrigued by my way of racing, and then they started to follow the sport. Those have been beautiful years – to give the sport this visibility was even more important than all my victories. For me, that is the greatest satisfaction.”
Here, Rossi sits down with T Australia to talk about fear, his relationship with luxury watchmakers IWC Schaffhausen, and his new chapter in the GT World Challenge Europe.
Tell us about your relationship with IWC Schaffhausen – what initially drew you to the brand, and how did the formal connection come about?
I have always been passionate about watches, and IWC is a brand with a rich history and legacy. Their watches are not only elegant and precise, but they are also distinguished by their unique design and character. I am excited to write this new chapter of my racing career as an IWC ambassador.
What synergies do you share with IWC?
Some IWC watches definitely have a sports soul, a racing soul. And while they have an almost aggressive appearance, the level of detail – inside and out – is incredibly high. That’s an interesting parallel to racing. Of course, you have to be fast and aggressive on the track. But on race weekend, you also have to take care of the smallest details around you in order to be fully ready to put in an outstanding performance in the race.
You recently teamed up with IWC to donate your personal IWC Big Pilot’s Watch in Ceratanium to the 2022 Laureus Charity Night in Zurich, Switzerland. And you founded your VR46 Riders Academy to nurture and support the talent of young riders. Why is it important to you to contribute meaningfully to the lives of children and young people?
With the VR46 Riders Academy, we are supporting young Italian riders from the age of 10, intending to bring them up to the highest level of motorcycle racing – MotoGP. We work with them intensively every day, so they will eventually reach the top of the sport. I feel that the work Laureus is doing worldwide to help young children and teenagers is equally essential, and I wanted to do my part to support them. That’s why I decided to donate an exceptional timepiece for auction. My IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Ceratanium® meant a lot to me, it was the first watch I wore on my wrist for one and a half years.
At last year’s Laureus World Sports Awards in Seville you received the Laureus Sporting Icon Award – marking your ninth nomination for the awards and your third win. What do global accolades such as these mean to you?
I feel deeply honored to have received so many nominations and won many awards at the Laureus World Sports Awards. These are essential recognitions for every sportsman and every sportswoman. Winning the Laureus Sporting Icon Award last year in Seville was truly special. I have often attended the Awards Night. It is always an excellent opportunity to meet with other athletes. I just feel honored that my name is on the Laureus list of winners.
Your father Graziano was a GP star from the late 70s, however your mother Stefania wanted her son to pursue a career in engineering. Was there ever a chance you wouldn’t race motorcycles or is the sport in your blood, so to speak?
Since I was a small kid, I have always felt like a pilot. So, it’s almost impossible to say what I would have become otherwise. I guess that I would still be an athlete, maybe in a different sporting discipline. However, competitions and sporting challenges have always been a fundamental part of my character. I like speed, and I like to drive motorcycles and cars. That’s why I became a pilot in the end. I never really thought about doing anything else in life.
Do you ever experience fear? If so, how do you navigate the feeling?
When racing a motorcycle at a speed of 350 km/h, feeling fear is entirely normal. However, there’s always a thin line between being afraid and being courageous. I guess every rider has to find the right balance and define his personal limits. Of course, you must try to feel as little fear as possible. But sometimes, it’s also ok to feel fear because it keeps you from doing things that are too crazy on the track or from making stupid mistakes.
Who has been your toughest competitor (or track), and why?
My biggest rivals on the track were Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo, whom I raced in 2008 and 2009, but also during many other seasons. Both of them are very talented and fast drivers. Our battles were always tough, on and off the racetrack. But we always fought them with a lot of respect.
Starting a new chapter in the GT World Challenge Europe after a quarter century racing in MotoGP requires a significant amount of drive, grit and risk – what advice would you give to others when it comes to taking chances and pushing the limits?
My career in MotoGP lasted more than 25 years. Even though it was a long career, I did not feel it was time to stop. I always wanted to race cars after motorcycles. After all, my first racing experience as a kid was with Go-Karts. I feel privileged that I could start another adventure in racing. I have always wanted to be a complete rider, not just a motorcycle pilot. My advice to others would be: If you have the passion, then do you should simply do it.
What impact or legacy do you hope to leave behind for future generations?
I want to be remembered as a competitive driver, a strong and great motorsport protagonist. But also, as a pilot that people enjoyed watching because he was fun and at times emotional. And, of course, I would like to be remembered for my style or racing.
Is there anything on the horizon for 2023 you can share with our readers?
2023 will be a packed year for me as a BMW factory driver. Of course, I will compete in the 10 Sprint or Endurances races of the GT World Challenge Europe. In addition, I have already raced in the Dubai 24-Hour race, and I will compete in the 12 Hours of Bathurst in Australia. Finally, I want to get ready as soon as possible to race the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 24 Hours on the old Nürburgring Nordschleife.