MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Happy 24th MotoGP birthday to Valentino Rossi!
Valentino Rossi contested his first GP 24 years ago today, so we’re looking back at his first race and wondering when he will ride his last
Today is Valentino Rossi’s 24th grand prix birthday, marking the anniversary of his world championship debut on 31 March 1996.
On that day he finished sixth in his debut world-class outing, at Shah Alam, Malaysia’s first grand prix circuit. Winner of the 125cc race was countryman Stefano Perugini.
Victory in the 250cc race went to Max Biaggi, the man that Rossi already loved to hate. The headline 500cc race wasn’t won by Mick Doohan, which was unusual. The tropical heat chunked Doohan’s rear tyre, so he limped home in sixth, some way behind winner Luca Cadalora.
Shah Alam was a great little racetrack, hacked out of the jungle to the south west of Kuala Lumpur city, on land since swallowed up by the urban sprawl. Paddock amenities were somewhat basic, so much so that Doohan used to drive back to his hotel when he needed a number two.
I have to admit I took little or no notice of Rossi that weekend. By then there were already plenty of teenagers venturing into GPs and there was no sign that the son of 1970s 250cc GP winner Graziano Rossi was anything special. He had only just scraped onto the 1996 125 grid by finishing third in the previous year’s 125cc European championship, behind winner Lucio Cecchinello and young Frenchman Frederic Petit. That series ran over 11 races, and Rossi hadn’t won a single one of them.
Rossi was lucky that his father was well connected in Italian racing. Two years earlier Graziano had convinced Aprilia race chief Carlo Pernat to back his boy. Pernat was impressed by the youngster’s riding, so signed him to a long-term contract.
In 1996 Aprilia paid Rossi his first real salary – 30 million Lira, about £12,000 – and gave his Scuderia Carrizosa team increasing technical support as the season went on. It was no coincidence that Rossi scored his first podium and first victory immediately after the midseason break, during which Aprilia gave him various engine and chassis upgrades.
Rossi first stood on a podium at Austria’s A1-Ring – now Red Bull Ring – on August 4, chasing Honda riders Ivan Goi and Dirk Raudies over the finish line. The following weekend he took his first pole position and first victory, after a ferocious duel with Jorge Martinez at Brno. The veteran Spaniard – winner of 37 GPs and four world championships – was stunned by his teenager rival’s aggression
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.