Not only has Rossi been involved in racing since 1996 when he joined the 125cc World Championship, he’s been heavily involved with rider safety. Rossi was instrumental, along with Ezpeleta, in forming the rider safety committee following the death of Japanese rider Daijiro Kato at the Suzuka season-opener in 2003 The committee, which is open to all riders and is also attended by Ezpeleta and other race officials, meets every grand prix weekend. They review the previous race and discuss what needs to be done to the current race track. No other rider has given so much of his time nor had a greater impact on the health and safety of his fellow competitors.
“Yes, this is one of the most important things,” Ezpeleta said. “After the accident of Kato in Suzuka, he took a very predominant position with everybody. He remains. I think he has missed maybe four or five grand prix, some due to his injury and others because he has conflicts. But if not, he’s coming very often and taking the responsibility to do that. It’s a very, very, very important thing for the rest of the riders. He’s taking care of his opinion regarding safety or whatever and we have always been very close with him. Maybe this is the part which his public doesn’t see, but this is the part, in our side, is very important.”
“I try to work very hard,” says Rossi. “And I have to say that also Carmelo (Ezpeleta) is very clever, because he always hears the advice of the riders, things that maybe in Formula One doesn’t happen. But Carmelo and all the organization is always open to follow the riders and to hear the riders and try to improve.”
The pairing of Burgess and...
The pairing of Burgess and Rossi has been the most successful of the modern era and one of the most successful of all time. Burgess has been with Rossi since he moved to the 500cc class in 2000, and moved with him from Honda to Yamaha to Ducati and now back to Yamaha.
“For me the most important...
“For me the most important is the combination between a fantastic personality with an incredible good rider,” says Ezpeleta, shown here with Rossi in 2010.”This is the feeling…He has been very good, especially for us, but also for him.”
“For me, one of the best things...
“For me, one of the best things of my career and that I’m very proud of this is that I open the limit of the MotoGP, of this sport, worldwide. Because before, the number of moto passionate in the world is already quite big, but with me arrive also a lot more people.”
Those who have followed in the past have included early foils Sete Gibernau and Max Biaggi. Rossi beat up on them with a predictable formula; after stalking them for most of the race he’d find a way past by any means and miraculously win. It was that flair for the dramatic that burnished his reputation. Kevin Schwantz, a close friend of Rossi’s, never bought into the last-lap heroics, believing it was pure theatre. Rossi has said otherwise. Asked if there was anything in Rossi’s on-track repertoire that had had an outsize impact on MotoGP, Schwantz said, “I cannot think of anything I see about 46’s riding style or racecraft that makes him unique. I think it’s more his personality we see, riding very fast motorcycles and loving doing it. He doesn’t have any weakness in his racecraft; most do.”
Ezpeleta’s championship benefitted greatly from Rossi’s flair for the theatrical, if that’s what it was. But Ezpeleta believes it was more a case of Rossi raising the bar for the others. “One thing that’s happened, when somebody is as good as him he encouraged the other people, he encouraged the level.”
Whether or not it was theatrics or racecraft, one thing is certain: Everything changed when Casey Stoner came of age. “I mean as [Valentino] got older, younger guys came in beneath him, so all said and done, that may have been the norm regardless of whether it was Valentino or anybody else,” Burgess said. “Certainly he was there from the beginning of the electronics age right through to where we are today. Other guys came on board, accepted that sort of technology quite readily. The dulling down of the general competition in terms of the level of the machines with the single make of tire and continuing messing about with the rules has probably had the desired effect for the organizers of creating what appears to be a closer show.”
Will everything be rosy in 2013 or will Rossi’s talents have declined to the point that he’s a supporting actor rather than the star? The question is somewhat moot. Yamaha’s Lin Jarvis knows his value. “If I was a team manager or a bike manufacturer I would choose him,” says Ezpeleta.
Rossi’s longevity is impressive....
Rossi’s longevity is impressive. Of the finishers of the first ever MotoGP race, which Rossi won aboard a Honda at Suzuka in 2002, only two other riders are currently active — and they’re both in World Superbike.
Yamaha’s senior management...
Yamaha’s senior management knows Rossi’s value. When Rossi left at the end of the 2010 season, after he’d won titles in ’08 and ’09 and Lorenzo had won in 2010, the Fiat sponsorship left with him.
“The group of people we have...
“The group of people we have around him gets enormous enjoyment out of it and I think he gets enormous enjoyment out of giving them the enjoyment, so to speak,” says longtime crew chief Jeremy Burgess.
What Ezpeleta and others marvel at is his enthusiasm after 16 years on the circuit. The grind of traveling — yes, it’s first class and private planes, but still — is one of the main reasons many riders quit. On top of which he has promotional activities not only for his brand but other sponsors, including Bridgestone. Then there’s the relentless glare of the media, both specialist and national, which he faces four times every weekend. Still, he remains motivated. “It’s unbelievable,” Ezpeleta says. “I understand. It’s his life and he enjoys that. He’s a very young person. And he said, ‘When I’m retired you become old.’ If you are enjoying is not any reason to say, ‘hey, I prefer to stay home’. Doing what?”
Ezpeleta’s admiration is understandable. He’s worked with a number of the great champions, Mick Doohan, Kevin Schwantz, and Wayne Rainey. “There have been many, but he’s spent more time with us than any other rider. It’s true we are very close. I think it’s, we both have a lot of respect for the other person.” The closeness of their relationship gives Rossi more influence on MotoGP than any other rider.
Rossi now has at least two more years in MotoGP. Whether he continues or not will depend on his competitiveness. Ezpeleta wouldn’t predict the future, though he did say if he does continue to race it should be at the highest level and not in World Superbike, where riders of a certain age dominate the championship. “Yes, we need to contemplate that, but this is something we can do nothing about,” Ezpeleta said of Rossi’s eventual retirement. “I hope still he will remain with us many years. For me is not a question of age, it’s a question of how he feels himself. If he still enjoys that…he will be with us minimum two years more, ‘13 and ‘14, but I hope he will continue later.” SR