No home computer or laptop...
No home computer or laptop here; Gresini handles all of his company business on his iPad.
Fausto Gresini bounds into his office, offers a firm handshake and an apology: “My English is not so good,” he says with a smile.
English is one of the few things he hasn’t mastered in his 51 years. The Italian won 21 125cc GPs and two World Championships as a rider. For a decade he held the record for most 125 wins in a GP season before a fellow Italian named Valentino Rossi broke the record, by one. Three years after retiring as a rider at the end of 1994, Gresini jumped into the world of team ownership by fielding Brazilian Alex Barros in the 500cc class. Barros earned a podium his first year and two in his second. Then Gresini stepped back to the 250cc class, finishing third for three years.
The 2001 season would be transformative. With the ascendant Japanese star Daijiro Kato riding the team’s Telefonica MoviStar Honda NSR250 to 11 wins, Gresini Racing claimed its first world championship. That earned Kato a promotion to the MotoGP class where he finished second twice in his rookie year, heightening expectations for 2003. But the 2003 season would be one of heartbreak; Kato crashed heavily in the opening Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit, and succumbed to head injuries two weeks later.
Kato’s death had a significant effect not only on Gresini, but MotoGP racing as a whole. Out of his death came the Rider Safety Committee, which meets every MotoGP weekend and has had a profound impact on rider and track safety. Such was Kato’s influence that later that same year, he was honored as one of 16 MotoGP legends, joining the likes of Agostini, Hailwood, Roberts, Rainey, and Schwantz.
The 250cc Grand Prix World...
The 250cc Grand Prix World Championship-winning Honda NSR250 of Daijiro Kato sits in the lobby of the Gresini Racing offices. Kato — who was tragically killed in a crash at the season-opening MotoGP race at Suzuka in 2003 — is a guiding spirit at Gresini, with his number 74 a part of the company logo.
Kato remains a guiding spirit at Gresini Racing. His title-winning 250 and his MotoGP machine sit in the lobby of the team’s workshop in San Clemente, a village just inland from the Adriatic Sea not far from the Misano Circuit. Tributes to him are everywhere; his number 74 is part of the logo that greets visitors to the team’s offices.
For a team to lose one rider in today’s world of racing is rare. To lose two is unthinkable. Yet eight years after the loss of Kato, Gresini and his tight-knit team suffered an even more unimaginable blow; the death of Marco Simoncelli on the second lap of the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang.
Gresini sees tributes everywhere, but he prefers to honor Simoncelli quietly. “I always try to keep a little distance from all the signs showing the ‘58 we love you,’” he said. “I prefer to keep it to myself. I don’t really like to show off that he was my rider. I don’t really like all these things going on. It’s a little bit too much for the way I am. I wouldn’t have done it, but still I appreciate other guys doing it.”
Gresini Racing, like many satellite teams, has the feel of a very close family, which made Simoncelli’s death that much more devastating. Some team owners and team managers make a point of keeping a distance from their riders. Not Gresini.
“Yes, it’s a mentality for my team, it’s necessary,” Gresini said. “It’s family, for sure. It’s family and it’s an important relationship and we’re working day by day talking to the riders. And Marco was a very special man. And this is the other important point. Very, very sensible and very easy to work with.”
Gresini’s bright and airy third-floor corner office in an office park in Faenza is filled with models of nearly every motorcycle the team has raced, racing photos, books, helmets, and other memorabilia, but no traditional computer; Gresini runs his racing team from an iPad.
Scale models of various bikes...
Scale models of various bikes belonging to the riders Gresini has had in his team sit inside a display case in his office.
The team setup is unconventional in that the office and workshop are in separate cities. The workshop is in San Clemente, an hour south of the Faenza office, and is somewhat unimpressive, which is not to denigrate it. The workshop has no dyno because it has very little need for one. The San Carlo Honda RC212Vs only visit the shop twice, for parties around the Mugello and Misano weekends, and when they do they aren’t runners. Michele Masini, the team’s spare parts manager, pointed out that Honda removes the transmissions after the race, and the team isn’t allowed to work on the engine. The Moto2 Moriwakis have their engines removed. During my visit the shop was especially empty because the Moto2 and Moto3 teams were testing in Jerez. And the CRT machine was still being built; it wasn’t delivered until the middle of March. There was a Moto2 show bike, with Marco Simoncelli’s number 58, and a naked Moto2 frame. Much of the work at the shop is in support of the team, building engine stands and pit boards and making stickers and shipping cases.
When Gresini first prepared a team it was with help from Honda Brazil and Brazilian Alex Barros. Challenging the factories in the 500c class was an audacious move, but Gresini saw no other choice.
Helmets from various riders...
Helmets from various riders Gresini has had in his team adorn the walls of the Gresini Racing offices.
“It’s very difficult,” he said, “but it’s clear for me everything is new. It’s completely different compared to riding. And it is a new way to work. There are many people working with me. It was like I was building a company. It was completely different. It was difficult. It’s necessary to take time to understand this new system of working; this is important.” He said that “as a rider, physical preparation and a good mental approach are important. As a team owner, everyone’s problems are your problems."
In 2001, the fifth year of the team’s existence, Gresini joined a small group of former world champions turned team owners — Giacomo Agostini, Kenny Roberts, Jorge “Aspar” Martinez, Angel Nieto are the others — to win a world championship when Kato won the 250cc World Championship. The following year, Kato’s first in MotoGP, he teamed with Colin Edwards to win the Suzuka 8-Hours for Honda. It was Kato’s second 8-Hours win.
The week following Kato’s death would be pivotal. Spaniard Sete Gibernau, starting from pole position, held off a furious rush by Rossi to give the team its first MotoGP win in the South African Grand Prix in Welkom. Gibernau would add three more wins, finishing second overall to Rossi. In 2004 Gibernau again won four races and again finished second to Rossi. Marco Melandri joined the team in 2005, winning twice and finishing second to Rossi, the third year in a row Gresini Racing was runner-up.