Valentino Rossi Names 10 Best Victories In 400 GP Starts

“Winning is different: It’s something that makes you say you can do it.”

Valentino Rossi racing motoGP
Four hundred Grand Prix starts: Valentino Rossi qualified fourth and led the first three laps of Sunday’s Australian GP at Phillip Island. Heading to Malaysia this weekend for the penultimate round of the world championship, the 40-year-old Italian is seventh overall in points.Yamaha

“One, not easily forgotten. Three, lovely, getting into the swing of it now. Five, six…that was my birthday present—16, I think. Eighteen, he broke my heart.”

Valentino Rossi laughs when reminded of the scene from the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral in which Andie McDowell's character, Carrie, lists her lovers to an astonished Charlie, played by Hugh Grant.

“How many were there, 32 or 33?” Rossi asks.

Rossi’s list, on the other hand, is much longer. But his “lovers” are the Grand Prix races of a career that began on March 31, 1996, at Shah Alam in Malaysia.

“It’s a long road, mine.”

When Rossi lined up this past Sunday on the second row of the grid at Phillip Island, 399 races were already behind him out of 939 held since 1949. That’s an astonishing 42.5 percent of all the races run in the history of the sport.

Do you remember all of them, Valentino?

Not all; I remember only the beautiful ones. Well, no, it’s not true, even some bad races. I have a good memory, however, for the bikes.

Valentino Rossi Max Biaggi
Welkom to Yamaha: Rossi made his YZR-M1 debut at the South African circuit in 2004, beating Max Biaggi in a memorable duel to earn the first of nine victories that season and, ultimately, his fourth MotoGP world title after three years on Hondas.Gold & Goose

People say that just by telling you the race you do not hesitate to describe the correct podium.

Yes, yes, I’m ready. I could go on a TV show. If they did one on MotoGP, I would have a good chance to win.

Four hundred races, a crazy number. If you had to think of 10 victories that best characterized your career, the races that have a special place among the memories, which ones would you choose?

The first three are very clear in my mind. The most important one is the first victory with Yamaha, South Africa 2004. That was a very important moment of my career, the day when the “myth,” which maybe sounds bad to say, but the myth of Valentino Rossi exploded. I left Honda, which was then the best bike of all, much better than now—so much better that people said that if you didn’t have a Honda, you couldn’t win—and I went to Yamaha, which at that time was really in trouble. On second thought, I was really crazy, a fool. That wasn’t very smart.

Would you do it again?

I would do it again because it was the most important thing in my career. It was one thing to keep winning with Honda, and sometimes I honestly have regrets because I say to myself, “How many races would I have won if I had stayed another five years?” Maybe I would have beaten [Giacomo] Agostini. In Yamaha, I may have won less, but they were the best. So I did the right thing. At that time, I was, I’m not saying crazy, but very brave.

You still are.

Yes, but then I was much bolder. This victory was the crowning achievement of the first part of my career. It was the best moment, and it ended in 2005, the period in which I dominated, 10 to 12 victories a year, 100 points ahead, etc. Then there was a downturn. In 2006 and ’07, I didn’t win the title and usually when you don’t win anymore after you’ve already won five MotoGP world championships, you’re done. People said, “That’s it. Valentino is finished. He made his career. He won seven world championships in total, he equaled Mick Doohan, he’s done.”

But you were not done.

In 2008 and ’09, I won the other two races I prefer. As a second race in my top list, I would put Laguna Seca 2008, because in 2007 arrived on stage the one that was to replace me, Casey Stoner, the new Valentino Rossi, who beat me with Ducati. But at that point, I made another bet after the Yamaha one: “If you give the Bridgestones also to me, I’ll fool him too, even if he’s younger.” Laguna Seca was the reckoning with Stoner, the race that made me win the world championship.”

Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner at Laguna Seca
Laguna Seca 2008: Casey Stoner landed pole, with Rossi and Nicky Hayden completing the front row. Rossi led 31 of 32 laps and won by 13 seconds, but the Yamaha and Ducati rivals waged an intense, on- and off-track battle for two-thirds race distance.Gold & Goose

That weekend Stoner was half a second quicker than everyone else.

He was very strong in practice. He had dominated. He started on pole. Beating him there was really a highlight of my career. In that year, before I forget it, I would choose another one, but it does not belong to the top three: China. Because I came back to victory after a long period, and it was the first one with the Bridgestone. It was even better because the first three to four races were not great ones, and so everyone said, “Ah, here you go, you see? He’s an asshole, even with the Bridgestone he loses.” And then there was Jorge Lorenzo, who with the Michelins, had made three pole positions in the first three races and won in Portugal. “Valentino is over. Besides Stoner, Lorenzo will be his heir,” people said. But I won in China, and from there we all started for a totally different season.

The third win?

Barcelona 2009. In 2008, I beat Stoner, who then had some problems, also because, to me, the Yamaha was better than the Ducati. But, in 2009, there was Lorenzo, the new, new Valentino Rossi. So there were two of them. Lorenzo was tough, very strong, very talented, very convinced, and concentrated. After Barcelona, we were on an equal points—he, Stoner, and I, all at 106. But there was another showdown, fighting all weekend to the death with Lorenzo, that overtaking at the last corner.

An overtaking that has become history.

I was very good in head to head, and Lorenzo said, “Now I want Valentino. Sooner or later I’ll catch him in the last lap; I'm ready to kick his ass.” And instead I fooled him. That was a super overtaking, exciting.

And with that, the podium is settled.

Another very important moment are the 125cc and 250cc world championships with Aprilia. Brno 1997, the first time I became world champion. But I would also choose Brno 1996, my first victory. And the first one is never forgotten.

Valentino Rossi wheelie on Yamaha
A career worthy of a celebratory wheelie: Rossi has tallied 89 Grand Prix victories across four classes—125cc, 250cc, 500cc, and MotoGP. In addition to his seven premier-class world titles, he finished second overall in 2000, ’06, ’14, ’15, and ’16.Yamaha

Did something change in your head in that moment?

Yes. I was becoming strong. But winning is different: It’s something that makes you say you can do it. I had my first podium the race before in Zeltweg, and from there it all started. After 1997, I passed into 250cc. It was a transition, but I still won the title in ’99 on the second attempt, and then the 500cc class.

You become a legend.

I grew up dreaming of the 500. I watched them on television with Graziano [Rossi] and Uccio [Salucci], who always hung around my house. The first-ever race I remember is Assen 1986. The 500s were the bikes of the great riders—Schwantz, Doohan, Spencer, Rainey—they were the top. And my first win, Donington 2000, I put it as fourth. In the wet, where I was never too fast. And then 2001, the first world championship won right here in Phillip Island, the great fight with [Max] Biaggi. In fifth place, I would put Brno 2001, that was another showdown. Biaggi arrived in a great mood; he had won at Sachsenring and Brno was his track. But I managed to beat him.

Let’s jump forward in time.

The third part of my career. Or maybe the fourth, I don’t know. Yamaha remained Lorenzo’s after my leg and shoulder injuries, then the two years with Ducati... In that moment, it really felt like I was at the end.

Did you think so too?

No, I didn’t. But in 2013, I was 33 years old, and for many I had to be finished by 2005. Instead, getting on my knees, I managed to get myself back on track at Yamaha, where they didn't want me after, let’s say, an abrupt divorce. At first, it was, “No, we won't give it to you; it’s over.” And, honestly, if they hadn't given me back my Yamaha, I would have stopped racing.

Instead Lin Jarvis came to your house in Tavullia.

Exactly. Lin did a good move. We started talking again. Among the Japanese, there were those, like [Masahiko] Nakajima, who said no, but others were pushing for my return. In the end, we made it. And the victory at Assen 2013 is one of those moments that we can put in this 10. Also because the victory before dated Sepang 2010, the day that Lorenzo had won the title. Two and a half years had passed; it was nice. So, if I have to choose 10 moments, I would say that with these the list is complete.

Happy 400, Valentino.