Valentino Rossi is a legend known to many, but his VR46 Riders Academy could a game-changer for racing. By Jade du Preez
The majority of riders would give an arm and a leg to race at Valentino Rossi’s Ranch. For a small group of Italian riders, however, they get to train with their hero every day. Whenever the Doctor’s in town, as many of them as possible descend on the track to learn from their nine time world champion mentor, and many have gone on to do amazing things.
Founded in 2013, the Academy was meant to be an opportunity to foster Italian talent. In a time where Spanish riders are increasingly popular, with Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo in MotoGP, the Italians looked like they needed a helping hand, which Rossi was willing to provide.
For a long time it felt like it was just him dominating on behalf of Italy and he managed to thrive in a time when Spanish riders were favoured. It’s well known that his father tried to get Jorge Martinez ‘Aspar’ to sign him to his team in 1995 but he refused on the basis that he was focusing on Spanish riders. A decision he would regret for many years.
In his attempts at nurturing the talents of Italian riders, he founded a group of 11 riders who have come together to learn the ‘Valentino Method’. He’s known to keep an eye on his riders, watching them before races and celebrating with them after.
Rossi has even given them seats with his own team, Sky Racing Team by VR46. Track time with a legend, as well as the means to better themselves with good teams, means he’s managed to create a formidable team of riders who are set to become crowd favourites at Misano and Mugello, but exactly who are they? Here are five of the most promising names in Rossi’s camp.
Probably the most successful product of the system, Franco Morbidelli was the Moto2 world champion in 2017 and is the first from the VR46 Riders Academy to sign a MotoGP contract. His career has been stunted by cash flow problems, but in his first point-achieving Moto2 season in 2014 he managed a very respectable 11th place overall and continued to climb the rankings until he was finally crowned champion. The Brazilian- Italian will be hoping to stay grounded when he makes the jump up to MotoGP in the 2018 season, but how long it’ll take him to settle into the new bike could make this a very interesting season for Morbidelli.
So far, the 21-year old’s best season was in 2016 when he was an impressive 6th place overall, achieving 1 win and 2 podiums. 2017 though, was not his year. For Lorenzo Baldassarri it was his second worst season of his young career finishing in 16th place, but the rider seems undeterred, signing with Pons Racing for 2018 and continuing on the Kalex bike. He’ll need to remain more consistent in 2018 to get back on the right track, nothing that a little advice from Rossi can’t fix.
Rossi’s half-brother Luca Marini is also on the team. The Moto2 rider finished 2017 in 15th place, but has yet to finish on the podium. 2018 could be his year and after signing on to the Sky Racing Team by VR46 for the next season, it seems that the Italian has no fear of his brother’s looming shadow. At Marini’s age, 20, Rossi was a world champion, but if anything it looks like the good relationship between the two could skyrocket Marini to great career opportunities.
If you were even vaguely interested in the 2017 Moto3 season, then you’ll have heard Andrea Migno’s name muttered during the 6th race of the calendar. After his incredible win at Mugello, Migno became a fan favourite overnight. His win was, of course, celebrated with Rossi, but it’s only the 3rd podium of his young career. Switching teams in 2018 for Team Aspar-Ángel Nieto at the KTM bike. Could his form continue to improve in 2018?
Nicolò Bulega is a bright talent and one of the youngest on the team, starting his career in Moto3 in 2015 but only truly kick starting it at the age of 17 in 2016. In 2017 he finished 12th overall, impressive for a rider of such a young age. He will continue on the KTM in 2018 and will undoubtedly be looking to achieve another podium, having only stepped onto it twice in his career.