When someone mentions “The Doctor,” most American sports fans still think of Doctor J, Julius Erving. But for motorcycling fans around the world, “The Doctor” is a free-spirited Italian who’s arguably the greatest MotoGP rider of all time, Valentino Rossi. He was delayed on his rounds this week, but he will be making be making a house call at Austin’s new track for the inaugural Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas.
Thursday, while some of the other top riders addressed the media at the circuit, Rossi was presumably resting in bed at an area hotel. According to Yamaha racing’s managing director, Lin Jarvis, Rossi had a two and one-half hour delay while waiting in line for customs at the Chicago airport, and that delay — along with rough weather — caused him to miss his connecting flight to Austin. He ended up flying into Houston and then driving to Austin. Jarvis said. So on Thursday, “The Doctor” was trying to recover from fatigue and jet lag.
There’s no real agreement as to how Rossi acquired his nickname. One theory is that it’s a sign of respect. Another is that Rossi, 34, has an honorary degree in communications from the University of Urbino, which is in his hometown. No matter, the nickname fits.
“Rossi is Rossi. What has really made him is his personality. He’s a genuine character,” said Chuck Aksland, Circuit of the Americas vice president of motorsport operations. “He’s well-known for his antics after winning races, which kind of captured the imagination of fans world-wide.”
Added Jarvis: “He’s the complete pilot as a rider, but also off the track as well he’s managed to bring the appeal towards the masses. I think that’s been one of his additional things that many other riders would aspire to but would have difficulty to achieve because he’s an open character. He’s always been having fun.”
Rossi once dressed up as Elvis Presley for “Rolling Stone” magazine, but he’s best known for his victory celebrations that are better orchestrated than the end zone theatrics of Terrell Owens or Chad Ochocinco. The tradition began when Rossi was a teenager and brought out an inflatable doll he named Claudia Schiffer, after the super model, and took it for a ride.
In a biography published in 2005, Rossi explained, “We studied the other pilots, the way they raced and the way they interacted with others, whether the riders, the press or fans. The more we thought about it, the more we realized that too many of them were boring, unremarkable, conformist … How boring, they win and then all they do is wander around with their country’s flag!”
For more than a decade, there was much for Rossi to celebrate.
Rossi was almost born to the sport. His father, Graziano, was a motorcycle racer. Valentino won his first world championship, in the 125cc class, in 1997. Two years later, he was the world champ in the 250cc class, and in 2001 he won the 500cc class, motorcycling’s highest level at that time. When MotoGP replaced the 500cc class for the 2002 season, Rossi claimed the first of four straight championships and then added two more in 2008 and 2009.
Aksland was the manager of another MotoGP team during that era, Team Roberts, and said of Rossi, “He obviously has a tremendous amount of talent. He started racing at a very young age and came through the ranks. When he came on the scene at the 125 category, which his now Moto3, he was fast from the git-go, and he’s extremely dedicated to the sport … He’s the full package.”
While riding for Ducati in 2011 and 2012, though, The Doctor did not pick up a single win and only stood on the podium three times.
“(For) two years he went to Ducati and he struggled. And so when you see an icon struggling, that turns off a lot of spectators,” Jarvis said. “There’s a certain amount of interest that was lost.”
This year, however, Rossi is riding for the Yamaha factory team, replacing Texan Ben Spies and teaming with defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo. It didn’t take long for the switch to have an effect. In the first race of the season on April 7 in Qatar, Lorenzo won going away, but it was Rossi who provided the drama. After falling far behind Repsol Honda riders Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez, Rossi managed to regain contact with them and then pass them.
“What he did in Qatar was back to the old days. He came from behind. He was pushing and challenging and he finally finished second after beating the factory Hondas. So for us it was a dream start,” Jarvis said. “He was entertaining the crowd and lighting up the show. So I think he still has a lot to offer and that’s mainly due to his passion for the sport.”
Rossi, too, was clearly pleased.
“He was so happy to be able to push again and to ride a bike that he knows will do what he wants it to do. He was absolutely over the moon,” Jarvis said. “His career has been outstanding and the fact that he’s now come back to competitive performances is a real shot of adrenaline to the championship.”
Born: Feb. 16, 1979 in Urbino, Italy
Nickname: “The Doctor”
Also a fan: Rossi is a huge supporter of Italian soccer team Inter Milan
Rookie success: His first motorcycle Grand Prix race was in 2000 in South Africa, and he went on that season to win in Great Britain and Brazil.
- He’s the only rider to win all four of motorcycle racing’s World Championship titles: 125cc, 250cc, 500cc, and MotoGP.
- 7 Top-tier world titles (five in MotoGP, two in its predecessor, the 500cc class)
- 49 Pole positions
- 16 podium finishes in a season (2003, 2005, 2008; shares this record with Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner)
- 23 consecutive podium finishes (2002-2004)
- 79 race wins in MotoGP, 500cc class
- 170 consecutive race starts (2000-2010)