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by Peter Guld
Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Father of perhaps the greatest rider the world has ever known, Graziano Rossi says the key to being the best is never believing you are the best.
image by soup's own wolf jay flywheel
Graziano Rossi, father of one of the most successful motor racers of our times, told us about the past, about legendary seashores, and of why his son became a world champion nine times. To what extent has his father's honesty, his hypocrisy free mind and his wisdom that can only be compared to Buddhists, contributed to the success of Valentino Rossi?

Q. How can one become an artist of life? You always do what you enjoy.

A. When you reach a certain age and standard of living, you always strive to do things in every day life that you really enjoy doing. In their old age, people do not make compromises any more. This is how my relationship with cars came about. I always had an interest in motorsport. In my opinion, all bike racers reach a point in their career, when they come into a closer proximity with cars as well. Curiosity is their drive on the one hand, security on the other hand. After all a car is a lot safer than a motorbike. Then the racer either gets to like the roaming on four wheels and takes part in a couple of races, or not at all. The majority of them would take the new challenge though.

Of course my case is quite different. Because my son is one of the best motorbike racers in the world, I couldn't have given up motorbikes. What also added to this that I was a motorbike racer myself. You know, in a situation like this one will try to help his son in the winter preparations, compose an efficient training schedule, which will help him to become faster.

My honest answer to your question, whether there is a recipe of how to always do what one likes? It's possible if one's son is called Valentino Rossi.

Q. You originally had plans to become a teacher?

A. Yes, indeed, I am trained as a primary school teacher. But I haven't taught a day in my life. Lucky for the kids. After completing my course, I immediately started to race.

Unlike a great many rider dads, Graziano Rossi is very much an 'in the background' kind of parent. Here, he listens to what his son is saying in Clinica Mobile, Valencia 2007.
image by soup's own wolf jay flywheel
Q. Then how did you become a motorbike racer?

A. When I started school, I was always trying to work it out how I could ride even faster with my bicycle. All of this because I wanted to get home from school as soon as I possibly could. Since then I love speed. In Italy, all of the boys want to become a footballer at the age of 14. Except if they are born in Pesaro, like me.

Pesaro is a citadel of motor sport and the whole Italian motorbike production. Such famous brands are produced here as Benelli and Morbidelli. This changes a kid's life too. Those who were born in Pesaro either want to be a footballer, or a motorbike racer.

Q. The part of Italy where you come from seems magical; Pesario, Rimini, Tavullia, Ravenna, are located almost next to one another, and they have produced a number of motorbike racers who have taken part in the World Championship. Is there something in the air there?

A. I would put that down to tradition. This region has been influential for many years in contribution to the speed motorbike racing world championship. In Italy, just like in any other country, in old times they organised the races on public roads, and this part of the country had the most racing courses. The spirit of the place and motorbike racing here are closely connected.

Q. Is Panoramica such a place too?

A. No, the route of Panoramica wasn't one of the designated racing courses, but it had a defining role in reference to my own career. You know, from our course, the view is amazing. To complete the story, test drivers and racers from Benelli used Panoramica, and often they would test the racing machines there for the first time. When we were kids, we used to wait for them, and then we rode directly behind them so we felt like world champions.

Q. Why have you cut your legendarily long hair?

A. I bet with Valentino, that if he gets his first world champion in the 500cc, I will have my hair cut. He really wanted it, and luckily, he won it, so I submitted myself to a haircut. But now, I actually like short hair.

There is no hiding his concern for his son, though.
image by soup's own wolf jay flywheel
Q. If I remember right, you weren't there at that ominous competition in 2001 in Australia when Valentino won the 500cc world championship.

A. Yes, that's right. I don't like flying, so I don't often visit the races outside of Europe. But I try to be at all of the European races. I normally drive to the venue. Otherwise, I think Valentino does his job perfectly, even if I am not right beside him all the time. (Laughs)

Q. In the past couple of years Valentino had a few very strong opponents. Was there anyone who you particularly hated?

A. No, I have never hated anyone. But it is different every now and then; I tend to dislike those who represent the highest risk to Valentino in the race. Right now for example, I could name Lorenzo, or even Stoner. Of course Pedrosa is also very fast, I always viewed him with respect.

Q. Let's go back in time a little bit. You had a very short racing career. Your year of introduction was 1979, at 250cc, and you won three rounds straight away. In 1980 you were seen amongst the racers of 500cc and eventually in 1982 due to a huge accident, your career was shattered. Why was it necessary to change categories, almost immediately after your first 250cc season?

A. Yes, I started off relatively well in 1979, but my three victories can not be compared to Valentino's long list of over 100 victories. If I had to describe my career, perhaps the most appropriate words would be "short and unfortunate".

You know its everyone's dream to race in the best categories against the fastest racers on the fastest motorbikes. Although in the 250 category I had an incredibly fast Morbidelli, I wasn't an exception either, as soon as I had a chance I changed categories. I have to add I believe it was the right decision, only life turned out differently. Few people know that in February in 1980, in the winter right before my first season, I had an accident on a public road, in which I was seriously injured. Getting well again took a long time, so I hadn't had any real chance in the race for winning in 1980. In that year there were four or five racers in the competition.

To tell the truth, I am very lucky that after such a serious accident I can sit here having a conversation with you.

Q. And then your second accident followed in 1982, at the 200-mile race in Imola.

A. Yes, to the effects of which I had to give up racing completely. I can't remember a thing, but thanks to Claudio Costa I am still alive. If he was not there then, it is almost certain that I wouldn't have survived. I personally believe, Claudio's work is the most important one in the whole world championship, as all of the participants' careers depending on him to a certain extent.

Q. Do you keep in touch with your old racing mates?

A. Yes, I get on with Uncini and Lucchinelli, but we are not friends. If we meet we exchange a few words, but that's all.

Q. I have heard your daughter Clara is drawn to technical sports, and that she does go-kart. Has she got plans to become a car racer?

"The parent can do only one thing, which is the most important one at the same time. He can give his son the opportunity to get to know different things, people and life situations, so after that he can decide it for himself which one of these will be his ideal. The parent can do no more than that."
A. No, she does it as a hobby. I don't think racing is such a good idea. Although, she is incredibly skilled. She can make that little machine slide so well in the corners, it's amazing. The motor is just screaming, and she is turning without taking her foot off the gas. (Laughs)

Q. Does she enjoy that her brother is a superstar? Does she care at all?

A. Yes, at certain situations she enjoys it, for example at school. But it can be just as much of a burden for her in other situations. Anyhow, I don't think this really has any significant influence on Clara's life.

Q. Do you try to influence Valentino's decisions in general? Does he listen to you?

A. (Laughs) If I remember right, the last time I tried to advise him on something was when he was six years old. Valentino is a very strong character. When we first started to play with go-karts and mini motorbikes, a couple of times I tried to advise him, but soon I realized it was pointless, because he didn't need my advice. He doesn't like if someone tries to teach him something, he would rather work it out on his own. Of course, in life, there were occasions when it was good that I was beside him. I mean, for example, when he had to choose a team, the mechanics, and buying the motorbikes. Of course this mostly happened at the very beginning of his career.

Q. It seems that you two have a close relationship, but it is more like friendship rather than father-son relationship.

A. Yes, it is true. I am very close to my son, but in any case, it would be impossible to create a classic father-son relationship with him. Because a father would always want to give advice to his son, and as I mentioned it earlier, in Valentino's case it's out of the question. Our relationship is therefore quite different, maybe more intimate. Valentino led quite an ordinary life at the age of five, ten and even at fifteen; but it is always difficult to control a teenager. The parent can do only one thing, which is the most important one at the same time. He can give his son the opportunity to get to know different things, people and life situations, so after that he can decide it for himself which one of these will be his ideal. The parent can do no more than that.

According to his father, the last time Valentino listened to his advice he was six years old.
image by soup's own wolf jay flywheel
For example I get on well with Carlo Pernat, and I also have a good relationship with Aprilia. This is how at the beginning of his career Valentino started to ride on Aprilia, and Carlo also helped us. So my son was able to meet quite a few people, and a new situation, from which he could learn a lot, and this is how I helped him the most.

Q. I have heard about a new project called Ouroboros, that you are taking part in.

A. Yes, the new motorbike. It's great. It is a short track motorbike, which we built because in Europe it is not possible to buy ready made short track motorbikes. This is gonna be the only one.

It was Paolo Chiaia's idea, the Italian importer of Confederate, and I am working on this project as the test driver. We have another test driver too, Marco Belli, who won the English short track championship in 2008. Marco will take part in the championship in 2010 with an Ouroboros. The frame comes from the USA, through Marco's connections. The first batch that comes from a MX Yamaha 450, we bought from Michele Rinaldi. The motorbike weighs 101kg altogether, and it's incredibly pleasant to ride it.
The first fork will be our own development.

Another interesting thing is, not only this is gonna be a racing bike, but we will create a street version of it as well. To be perfectly honest, this motorbike is a huge help for racers, because it can turn both directions and the rider can test the sliding limits too.

Q. Now we have come to my next question that is closely related to the new achievements of Ouroboros. Tell me something about the special 'Graziano' school!

A. Yes, perhaps this is the whole reason why we invented this motorbike. Personally I prefer sliding both directions. While in short track racing the contestants only turn left, in my opinion the rider should learn this technique in both directions. Apart from Valentino, we have quite a few other riders who also come to train with us. The method you asked about is really quite simple. The whole thing lies on the facts that I mentioned earlier. The rider learns to slide his motorbike in both directions. If he can master this during the training sessions, his confidence will grow and he will start to believe that he can increase his speed, and he will become faster than the others.

The training Kenny Roberts provides is similar, the only difference is that they train on a short track course, and they only practise the sliding technique in one direction.

Graziano Rossi's connections in racing helped Valentino get his first ride with Aprilia.
image by dean adams
The Ouroboros is different from the other short track motorbikes; while the footrest on the others is not in one line, on our machine it is exactly because of the change in directions, and we use the front brakes as well. I think it's better this way.

You know we have a secret place in Italy, it's called Cavana. Its a quarry, there are lots of tracks going back and forth, so due to the weight of them the ground is incredibly hard, and the whole winter, from November to March we are able to practice there, even if it rains. Until now we have been using 'enduro', with front cross tires, and street tires at the back, this is how we could practise the sliding. Of course from now on we will be using our own machine here too. The advantages of the sliding method were really significant in the times of the 500s and 1000s. It was incredible what one could do with these motorbikes. The races have been less spectacular since they have been using 800s, and due to the fact that the presence of electronics has been increasing. Against all the odds, I still think that in this category too, only the best and fastest racers are able to win.

Q. You mentioned that apart from Valentino, others also do like to use your method. Do you work as a trainer too?

A. No, not at all. I rather just do the preparations for the game.

Q. So do you ever take part in the racing as well?

A. No, unfortunately not nowadays. Two years ago, I did, but following a very unpleasant injury I decided I am not going to push it. You know, when you are 20, you get away with falling off the bike almost daily, but being 55, after a fall, everything hurts for weeks. You need more time to regenerate. This is why I slide with a car rather than a motorbike. (Laughs)

Q. In your opinion, what is the most important thing in life, which you would want to pass down to your children?

"As soon as you believe you are the best, you are not the best any more."
A. Honesty and sincerity. Valentino is a very honest and frank man. This means he always says what he thinks, and doesn't talk rubbish.

Q. What is it that you would like to protect them from?

A. Drugs.

Q. And what is it about them that you are most proud of?

A. Honesty, again.

Q. Graziano, what do you think, what is that extra thing that Valentino has, and the others might lack? Why is he the best motorbike racer in the world?

A. For example, let's say you are running well, and the people around you say, 'you are good, you are the best'. If you believe this, you will become bigheaded, and you forget where you came from. The most important thing is to stay truthful to who you really are, and be down to earth. As soon as you believe you are the best, you are not the best any more. From that stage there is no progress. Valentino never believed he was the best, not even now. He works really hard, and at every race he is able to learn new things, and progress.

A good rider will learn until the point when he decides to give up racing. Valentino remained his same old self, just as he was when he first started, and he is still humble in his approach to racing in general.

Q. What is the most important thing in life? What do you think about money?

A. There are three things in life that are the most important; they are women, health and money. (Laughs)

Q. You are great fan of drift racing, aren't you?

A. Yes, what is more, I do take part in drift races regularly. I have wonderful cars, and I love every one of them. I have a BMW M3, a Maserati, and a Shelby GT 500 Ford Mustang with 500 horsepower, but it's really easy to drive. It gives me so much pleasure, it's inexpressible.


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