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My Greatest Yamaha Memory

Valentino Rossi

Valentino Rossi

Valentino Rossi isn’t just a nine-time Grand Prix world champion. The Italian is considered one of the greatest sportsmen of all time, with his influence spreading far beyond the MotoGP paddock. 14 years with the factory Yamaha MotoGP outfit has brought more than 50 race victories and four titles, cementing his place in history as the manufacturer’s most successful rider.

Having made his start in go-karts, it wasn’t long before ‘The Doctor’ followed in the footsteps of his father Graziano into motorcycle racing, winning the regional minimoto championship in 1992, aged 13, before making the journey up to the pinnacle of motorcycle racing.

Rossi would win Italian championships in 1995 and 1996, while he also impressed during his maiden 125cc European Championship campaign, finishing third in the riders’ standings, before stepping onto the world stage for the 1996 season.

His maiden 125cc World Championship victory came in the Czech Republic that year, and in his second season, Rossi was simply unstoppable, winning 11 races to take his first world championship title.

Stepping up to the 250cc world championship in 1998, Rossi narrowly missed out on the title against many established riders but returned the following year with another dominant display to pick up his second world title.

That saw him move up to the 500cc world championship at the turn of the century and it didn’t take long before Rossi became the hot topic of motorcycle racing. The Italian took his first top-class victory at Donington Park that year and was runner-up in the standings against multiple former champions and legends of the sport.

2001 would mark the start of the ‘Rossi era’ and that season VR46 would win 11 of the 16 races to be crowned as 500cc world champion. In 2002, the top class became MotoGP, but despite the name change and the switch from 500cc two-strokes to 990cc four-strokes, there was no change at the top. Rossi won the title that year and again in 2003, before beginning his long partnership with Yamaha.

It was immediately a winning combination, as Rossi stormed to another title in 2004, returning even more impressive for the 2005 season, taking home his fifth consecutive championship with a 147-point margin to second.

After missing out on the 2006 and 2007 titles, Rossi returned to the top in 2008 and broke his record for most points in a season. The next year saw the Italian go head-to-head with Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo for the title, but Rossi won the season-long battle to take his seventh top class championship.

Since then, Rossi has continued to be right at the sharp end, winning a total of 89 MotoGP races and standing on the podium a record 198 times.

Rossi’s sensational Yamaha debut

Having joined Yamaha for the 2004 season, Rossi’s first attempt at victory would come at the season-opener in South Africa, at the Phakisa Freeway near Welkom. It was a promising start for The Doctor, as he took pole position, putting him in contention to become the first rider to win consecutive Grand Prix with two different manufacturers.

As the lights went out for the race, Rossi made the perfect getaway to take the holeshot on the run into the Turn 1 left-hander. It quickly turned into a three-way battle, as Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau looked to challenge Rossi’s lead.

The trio continued to trade fastest laps, with Biaggi and Rossi swapping places at the front of the field, with Gibernau fading back somewhat. For much of the middle part of the race, Rossi remained out front on his #46 Yamaha YZR-M1, as the Italian looked to best manage his race pace in the sweltering heat.

With five laps to go, it looked as if Rossi may have lost that elusive first victory with Yamaha, as Biaggi got by, but the Italian continued to push and fired his way back through on his compatriot at Turn 10 a couple of laps later.

His robust defence over the last few laps proved the difference, as Rossi took home a sensational debut victory with Yamaha. On this victory lap the Italian slumped down at the side of the track in front of his M1, in a mixture of emotion and exhaustion.

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