Danilo Petrucci Is The MotoGP Race Winner Who Lives Next Door

The 28-year-old Italian has earned his place among roadracing’s elite.

Danilo Petrucci at Mugello
Danilo Petrucci earned his first MotoGP victory with a final-lap sprint ahead of Repsol Honda’s Marc Márquez and Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso. After 23 laps of racing on a track where speeds reached as high as 219 mph, the top three finishers were separated by 0.338 second.Courtesy of Ducati

Danilo Petrucci proved at Mugello that he is not only capable of winning in MotoGP but he can beat championship leader Marc Márquez—and Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso—in a straight fight. With his superb performance in Italy, following a podium at Le Mans preceded by three consecutive top-six finishes, Petrucci may have even earned a long-term place on the factory squad.

This weekend in Barcelona will be crucial. Dovizioso won his first race with Ducati at Sepang in 2016 after a seven-year dry spell, needed seven months to win again at Mugello, and only seven days to seal his success at Catalunya. Jorge Lorenzo did much the same, scoring his first Ducati victory at Mugello a year ago and repeating at Barcelona. Will Petrucci follow in the footsteps of Dovizioso and Lorenzo?

Petrucci claimed his first-ever Grand Prix win at age 28 six races into his eighth season in the premier class. The mass of fans gathered to cheer seven-time Mugello race winner Valentino Rossi scaled the trackside fencing to applaud Petrucci at the base of the podium. In fact, the entire paddock seemed happy for his victory. Why such warm support? The answer is simple: Everyone can relate to Petrucci because he is one of us.

A simple, friendly guy, Petrucci is often underestimated because he is said to be too tall, too heavy, too sincere, and too good-hearted to become a champion. He also didn’t follow the normal path through Moto3 and Moto2 to reach MotoGP. With an off-road background and many miles under his belt as a test rider, he found his way to the top from his home country’s national race series.

After the race in Italy, Petrucci rewound the path he took to his first GP win. “If I am here, it is thanks to Ducati,” he said. “The first contact with Ducati was back in 2011 when I was in Stock 1000 in the Italian championship. I was riding the 1098, and Ducati asked if I wanted to give my contribution to develop the Panigale V2. It was a key model for them, and I accepted. For me, it was a dream come true.

Andrea Dovizioso trying to take the lead
Andrea Dovizioso attempted to take the race lead on the last lap, but he was forced to pick up his Ducati mid-turn to avoid contact with Petrucci and Marc Márquez. “I'm disappointed because of that,” he said, “but also very happy for Danilo, who really deserved this win.”Courtesy of Dorna

“I was often sharing the track with Valentino; I was even paying the fuel to do the test. The following season, I showed my potential with the CRT. With standard engines, they were absurd bikes considering the level of MotoGP. At the end of 2012, Ducati was thinking of me for the Pramac team. Instead, Andrea Iannone and Ben Spies were chosen.

“In 2014, I wanted to stop because I didn’t trust the electronics of the CRTs. On Friday at Jerez, I told my team this was going to be my last race. The following day the throttle remained open and I crashed, breaking my wrist. It was a sign. The story with Ducati started with a call from the satellite Pramac team. Four years later, at Mugello, Gigi Dall’Igna offered me the promotion to the factory team.”

Petrucci is both humble and gracious, traits that make him a special rider, especially in a paddock full of egos. He dedicated his victory at Mugello to Dovizioso. “Dovi has adopted me like a child,” quickly correcting himself, “like a brother. This winter I moved to Forli, Dovi’s hometown, to train together. Since then, I have been growing a lot as a rider and a person. I feel I owe Andrea a lot.

“You cannot see 90 percent of the things he does for me. He puts my bike on the truck when we go training motocross. He gave me his mechanic. We share the same trainer. I have dinner at his place with his family.”

The following day the throttle remained open and I crashed, breaking my wrist. It was a sign.

The support is not only physical but also mental. “I have always aimed to become a Ducati factory rider, but I was not enjoying it for all the pressure I put on myself. I wasn’t obsessed with not winning, but I was not enjoying riding because of the lack of results. There was a moment when I said to myself, ‘If I couldn’t win with this bike, I had better stop because I would never be a true rider.”

After the Grand Prix of The Americas this past April in Austin, Texas, Petrucci had a key conversation with his teammate. “Dovi told me that I was thinking too much,” he said. “I reminded him of when he was not winning because he was comparing himself with faster riders and feeling unlucky. ‘You need to focus on yourself and your side of the garage,’ Dovi told me. ‘This is what I did when Lorenzo joined Ducati.’ ”

Petrucci with crew
Petrucci is focused and serious on the racetrack, but when the helmet comes off, the 28-year-old Italian can be counted on for a laugh. “Petrux” earned his first MotoGP podium in 2015 at the British GP while riding for the Ducati-supported Octo Pramac Yakhnich team.Courtesy of Ducati

The Mugello victory opened a new chapter in Petrucci’s life as well as the championship; he leapt to fourth overall in the current point standings. In his joy on the podium, Petrucci couldn’t forget that, to achieve his goal, he had to push his teammate out of the way.

“I’m sorry, my friend,” said Petrucci, his eyes still red from crying. “My target this year was to win a race and help Dovizioso to win the championship. Mugello was my race. From tomorrow, I will work for him and Ducati to win the title.”

This is how Petrucci will begin the race weekend in Barcelona, a track where Dovizioso dominated in 2017 after his victory at Mugello and Lorenzo won last year.