Valentino Rossi 20-years on the Grand-Prix grid. On 18 August 1996, a skinny Italian teenager, a fast but crash-prone rookie at the time, recorded his first Grand Prix victory. Valentino Rossi won the Czech 125 GP on an Aprilia by 0.245 seconds, toughing it out against vastly experienced Spaniard Jorge Martinez.
For he record, Alex Criville downed Honda team mate Mick Doohan by two thousands of a second that day and swashbuckling Max Biaggi won the 250cc race by five seconds.
Barry Sheene had been singing Valentino Rossi’s praises all season. He’d raced against Valentino Rossi’s father Graziano Rossi in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Rossi Junior would soon show some of the Barry Sheene flair drawing a general audience to racing, as well as the dash of his hero Kevin Schwantz. Few would have nominated him as a future superstar at the end of 1996. According to GP scribe Max Oxley, Valentino Rossi best mate Uccio Salucci sensed something would happen after Rossi’s first top-four placing at Jerez in ‘96, ‘not just one victory or podium’.
In fact nine men won 125 GPs in the 1996 season, including Emilio Alzamora (current Marc Marquez’s coach) and Garry McCoy. Opinions firmed in 1977, when Valentino Rossi steamrolled to the 125 title posting 11 victories.
Who would have imaged back then Possi’s winning tally going beyond 110? Or that he’d have 80 MotoGP victories across two makes with an Australian crew chief, Jeremy Burgess?
The incredible bit is that Valentino Rossi is still there, contesting his 21st GP season. That incidentally matches the late Jack Findlay’s active era on the Continental Circus.
And not riding around at age 37, making up the GP numbers or topping up his superannuation in World Superbike. He’s in the main game, fighting younger, supremely good good racers with multiple MotoGP titles to their names. He’s still learning, adapting and capable of winning.
Valentino Rossi’s victory this year at Jerez, on a hot, greasy circuit with tires that wanted to spin up in high gears on the main straight, requited experience and finesse, but also desire.
He is now in the lists of both top-ten youngest and top-ten oldest riders to win in the premier class.