Despite the odds stacked against him, Valentino Rossi of Italy produced a remarkable comeback to win the Valencia MotoGP on Sunday, fulfilling his promise and making a race-long spectacle of his final race with the team. After being placed on probation for several years by the stewards for pushing and touching rivals during races, Rossi atoned for his sins by taking full advantage of Honda’s bid to dominate at Valencia.
“I came here for this race to win,” Rossi said after Sunday’s win. “My mindset was to win the world championship, it would be the right message. I was on the limit today in the last lap and I lost the front of the bike. But I always had a good chance to win, I never had to wait to win. “This was my last race. It was a difficult race, sometimes dangerous, but I can’t ask for more than this. This win is for all the people who supported me all these years, for you, for my family.”
It was a remarkable way to go out, and sadly, not one of the more memorable top-speed races for the tracks at the Valencia circuit. The Italian had already raced his last lap to victory in that same city back in 2010. It was also his 19th career win in the world championship, one short of his own record with the Yamaha team he called home.
How fitting that he won in one of his best bikes of the season, against his former team’s top rider, Maverick Vinales, who retired with a broken collarbone following a crash of his own. Vinales, who won the championships two years in a row (with Aragon 2008 and Qatar 2010), is now one win away from breaking the record for most titles by a rider outside the top four teams.
The only rider to close the gap in his time for victory, Rossi had needed to win by more than seven seconds to top the qualifying qualifying time for the race, something that was even more unlikely because he set a record with three overtaking moves in qualifying. He took full advantage by doing just that, getting his tyre-management strategy just right in Valencia’s blistering hot and humid conditions.
Rossi was all of that and more, winning by 8.17 seconds in a race full of accidents in the closing laps. He had won at his home venue for the previous two years, including an equally title-winning double in 2011 and 2012, but this day was for a different era in the history of the sport, a race where Rossi couldn’t afford to miss a lap.
It could not have been the right time for him to go. Sunday’s race was only the ninth time in the last 15 seasons that a race did not end in a driver’s retirement after starting on pole position. Rossi had let his win in Spain last year slip away after overtaking and then crashing with four laps remaining.