It all started with a recommendation. It was 1995, in fact, when Valentino Rossi, then only a 16-year-old boy, was noticed by Carlo Pernat, Aprilia’s sporting director at the time. To ask the Genoese manager to take a look at Valentino was his father, Graziano, ex
winner of Grand Prix with Morbidelli. Long retired the former elementary school teacher was working hard to promote his son, and with some success.
In fact, by involving the former 500 world vice-champion, as well as his former rival Virginio Ferrari, he had already managed to get the child interested in none other than Claudio Castiglioni, president of Cagiva.
The result was a season in the Italian with the Cagiva 125 in Claudio Lusuardi’s team.
To be serious, however, there was a need for a house that raced in the 125cc world-wide: Aprilia.
“I agreed to go and see him around because of his friendship with Graziano – recalls Carlo Pernat – and I was impressed. That kid made incredible trajectories, he was already tall and slender and his style reminded me of Kevin Schwantz’s. So I offered Rossi a three-year contract, from 95 to 97. He accepted, but it was difficult to convince Ivano Beggio, owner of the Venetian house. He was not persuaded. Ivano, I told him, this is a strong one. So after that first season in 1996 I placed him in the factory team “.
The first victory came in Brno. Was that when you convinced yourself that you were facing a champion?
“Let’s not exaggerate. It is not that, even then, I could imagine that he would win nine world titles and 18 years after the first victory he would still be in the breach. It was clear, however, that he would become strong, that he had a good foundation. And you want to know it. one thing?”
Yes, of course.
“These foundations were given to him by Aprilia, building a competitive training course for him. After the first semi-official bike, the official arrived in 1997, the year of the first title. Then he moved on to 250, the following season, again with a semi-official to obtain
then the top in 1999 as our top driver. A nice path “.
So it is not, as they say, that he immediately had the baby food made.
“No, on the contrary, because at the end of 1996 we would have liked to have him run directly in 250 but he stuck. He wanted to do another season in the eighth of a liter. He had a good temper even then”.
It was not the only occasion that created some problems for you, if we remember correctly.
“Exactly. After winning the first 125cc title he wanted at all costs that we assign Rossano Brazzi as crew chief. But I had already promised it to Loris Capirossi. In the end, Valentino won it and Loris ran with Noccioli in the pits”.
What was it like as a pilot in those days?
“How is Marquez today. Exuberant, cheerful and on the track he passed all over the place. He had fun and it showed.”
Valentino at that time, in three words.
“Nice, outgoing, selfish the first two adjectives need no explanation, for the third I would like to remind you that all great champions are selfish. They want to get there, so they make sure you have all the attention on them. “
It’s been 18 years, do you think it has changed since then?
“I don’t think so. It always seems to me that of 1997. Respect friendship. He has kept all the fundamental values of the time”.
What makes you think so?
“This year he had a numbered edition bracelet made for the people he considers most important to commemorate his 18 years in the world championship: he gave me one. A small gesture that made me very happy”.
What impresses you most about him?
“He is the man of challenges. When he left Honda in 2003 he unleashed a Tsunami, beating him the following year with Yamaha and then winning again in 2005”.
Many say that the world championship is still addictive.
“It’s true, and Dorna is also Rossi-addicted. But have you seen what he unleashed with his victory at Misano on Sunday? When he is absent, press conferences are a deathbed. He is still the point of reference for his team too. young colleagues. Judgments are asked of him “.
We have often had the doubt that the desire to want to race in MotoGP at all costs even on the part of some riders who have no chance of having a competitive bike is to say: I raced with Valentino Rossi.
“He is an icon of our sport and, in my opinion, one of the top five great sportsmen in the world. But do you remember that Armando Maradona wanted to meet him and, on the starting line, kissed his right hand, that of the gas? “.
There are those who say, however, that except in recent times it has had no rivals to its height.
“Nonsense! Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau at the beginning, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo then. Rather it was the latter, all excellent riders, who were unlucky to happen in Rossi’s era”.
Are you amazed that he is still here, that he has not retired? Eighteen years is a long time …
“He loves the bike, in a visceral way. And he has fun. And then he is still able to adapt and change his riding style to get the best out of current vehicles. At 35 years of age it can’t be easy, but he does. does”.
With two more years of contract he will compete up to the age of 37.
“And then he will go on again, he will continue to race. But not in rallies, maybe even in those, because he has fun, I mean on motorcycles. In my opinion he will still be on the track at 40 years old. I am sure. After all, Biaggi did too, but he had one different career, he stopped for a year, then went to Superbike. Rossi will continue as long as he is competitive and to be competitive he will squeeze every last drop of sweat. “
Tell us the biggest one that combined you at the time of Aprilia.
“It was 1997, the year of the world title. Valentino was a big fan of Jacques Villeneuve so I organized a meeting with Gilles’ son, also world champion that year, at the Autosprint Golden Helmets party in Bologna. . He was late for dinner, he didn’t come. Ivano Beggio wanted to kill me or sack me. Maybe the two things together. “
“Also in 1997 he asked me to take the model Claudia Schiffer to Mugello. At that moment there was a story between Max Biaggi and Noemi Campbell, the black Venus, and he wanted to answer the Roman in that way. They didn’t like each other. I informed but the model wanted 50 million. You are crazy, it doesn’t matter, I told him. Beggio does not pay. He bought an inflatable doll and took it with him on the tour of honor. With twenty thousand lire he went around the world and however he succeeded in his intent to mock Max. In the psychological warfare with his rivals he has always been the best “.
This piece appeared in Corriere dello Sport in 2015 signed by Paolo Scalera