Valentino Rossi was described as an “idol” on Sunday as he closed the door on his career with a 10th-place finish at the season-ending Valencia MotoGP, won by Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia, appropriately one of the great Italian’s proteges.
The 42-year-old Rossi, a nine-time world champion across all categories, took all the applause from the 75,000 crowd as he rode an ovation lap in Valencia, which was his 432nd GP since starting his career back in 1996.
Jorge Martin, of the Ducati-Pramac team, and Jack Miller (Ducati) completed the podium at the 18th race of the season for a first ever Ducati podium sweep. Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo, who had already secured the world championship, finished fifth after a heavy fall in qualifying.
It was a fourth win of the season for Bagnaia, who came through the VR46 Academy created by Rossi
The 24-year-old finished the season 26 points behind Quartararo as runner-up in the title race.
He dominated the race but once former Brazilian footballer Ronaldo waved the chequered flag, all the attention turned to Rossi as the riders stopped to pay homage, fireworks went off and cries of “Vale, Vale” echoed around the stands.
His number 46 was everywhere, including on Bagnaia’s helmet and up in the stands of the Ricardo Tormo circuit where his initials and number ‘VR46’ fluttered on yellow flags in the Valencian sunshine.
In the paddock, the nine motorcycles that brought him world titles were lined up side by side since Thursday when he posed with each for an evocative photo-shoot.
A giant street-art fresco displaying the portrait of the smiling “Dottore” overlooked the starting line.
If this season was his poorest in 26 seasons at world level –- he finished a distant 18th in the standings – there were no tears, just a trademark grin from ‘The Doctor’.
“Rossi, he’s been my idol since I was little,” said 22-year-old Quartararo who was not even born when the Italian won his first world title in the 125cc category in 1997.
“He influenced me a lot in this sport and in the way of working. He’s a rider that I adore, as a rider and as a person for that matter.
“It is sad that this is his last race but we celebrated it well with the whole Yamaha team.”
Rossi’s last title dates back to 2009 and his last GP victory in 2017 but that has not dulled the adoration felt by fans. He claimed his first world title in 1997, a year after making his 125cc debut, following up with the 250cc championship in 1999.
Graduating to the premier class he was runner-up in his first season in 2000 before taking the final world title raced in the 500cc format a year later with Honda. He added six more in the new MotoGP class in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009, the first two with Honda, the rest with Yamaha.
He retires with 115 victories including a record 89 in MotoGP, 235 podiums (199 in the top flight), also a record, and the longest career of any rider in the sport’s premier class.
Next season his VR46 team will make its debut in MotoGP next year as a Ducati satellite.
Australian rider Remy Gardner became Moto2 world champion, emulating his father Wayne’s 500cc world championship in 1987, in spite of only finishing tenth behind his main rival and Kalex teammate Raul Fernandez.
Spain’s Xavier Artigas of Honda won his maiden Moto3 GP on the same track earlier after countryman Pedro Acosta, winner of the world title last week at the age of just 17, fell on the final lap.