With a career that has spanned sixteen years, what Roberto Rolfo lacks in overall plaudits he certainly makes up for in sheer experience.
With credits in 125cc, 250cc, Moto2, Superbikes and MotoGP, while Rolfo doesn’t have a high-profile title victory to his name, he remains one of the most versatile riders to grace the 2011 World Superbike grid.
The vast majority of Rolfo’s career has been spent grand prix racing, in particular his ten years competing at 250cc level before making the belated step up to the MotoGP World Championship.
Enjoying success with Aprilia during the early days with a run to fourth and then third during the 1996 and 1997 European 250cc Championship, Rolfo graduated to the international stage in 1998 riding the Scuderia AGV Carrizosa Honda.
It proved to be a solid debut season, Rolfo shrugging off a slow start to the year with a run to tenth at Madrid, before he lowered his personal best to eighth at Imola and then Catalunya. A fine fifth place finish at the season ending Argentine race lifted him to 11th in the standings, just behind Luis D’Antin – the man whom he would race for in MotoGP almost a decade later…
A return to Aprilia followed in 1999 and 2000, firstly with the Vasco team and then Racing Factory, but the returns weren’t as plentiful, Rolfo failing to improve on that fifth position and ending those seasons in 14th and 16th respectively.
Nonetheless, he persevered with the Italian manufacturer into 2001 where he finally rose to prominence with a series of strong performances on the kitted machine. Finishing second on home soil at Mugello for a maiden podium finish, Rolfo followed that up with further rostrum visits in Catalunya, Donington Park and Phillip Island. It helped him to fourth in the standings and as the highest classified privateer.
Catching the attention of Honda, Rolfo was promoted to one of its factory-represented efforts under the Fortuna Honda Gresini banner. A fairly average start to the year blunted any hope of a title challenge, but Rolfo proved a frequent podium visitor (seven occasions in all) and while he failed to break his victory duck, it was enough for third overall.
Earning a second season with the team, Rolfo posed a more convincing threat, winning for the first time in Germany, before a second victory at the penultimate Phillip Island round set up a ‘showdown’ with Manuel Poggiali at Valencia. However, his run to seventh in the race enabled his rival to wrap up the title, leaving Rolfo 14 points adrift as runner-up.
Tipped as the title favourite heading into 2004 – and a third year with Fortuna Honda -, Rolfo struggled to replicate the form of the previous season. Though he won the second round of the year at Jerez, Rolfo finished no higher than sixth for the remainder of the year as he was forced to settle for a mere eighth overall.
Despite his declining fortunes, Rolfo was offered the chance to progress to MotoGP in 2005 as part of the one-man D’Antin Ducati team. Riding a year-old Desmosedici on unfavoured Dunlop tyres (all but the rival WCM team competed on Michelin or Bridgestone rubber), Rolfo struggled to make significant inroads.
Even so, taking into account the limitations of the bike, Rolfo performed respectfully, finishing all but three races, even if he failed to break into the top ten.
It was an effort that put him on the radar of Tech 3 Yamaha, but the team would eventually choose James Ellison over him. With D’Antin having already sealed its 2006 line-up too, Rolfo was left without a MotoGP ride for 2006, forcing him to look elsewhere.
He eventually completed a switch to the World Superbike Championship with satellite Ducati operation SC Caracchi, which had enjoyed success with Lorenzo Lanzi the previous season.
Rolfo made a promising start to his new career, posting a top five finish in only his third race aboard the 999F05, but this is where his season would peak. Solid top ten finishes followed, but Rolfo’s results waned as the year progressed, his SC Caracchi team unable to keep up the development of its rivals. As such, Rolfo ended the year 16th overall, though only two spots behind fellow Ducati privateer – and MotoGP exile - Ruben Xaus.
A return to the Honda stable followed in 2007 as Rolfo – somewhat surprisingly – was snapped up by the factory-supported Ten Kate Honda team in place of Karl Muggeridge and alongside James Toseland.
Failing to finish higher than seventh during the opening nine races – compared to his team-mate’s five wins -, some questioned Ten Kate’s wisdom in signing Rolfo, but he become more consistent during the second-half of the year. Even so, by the season’s end, Rolfo hadn’t cracked the podium – his best results being fourth place finishes at Monza and Brands Hatch – and with Toseland winning the title (compared to Rolfo’s eighth), he was quietly dropped from the line-up.
Utilising his links with Ten Kate sponsors Hannspree, Rolfo secured a seat with newcomers Althea Honda for 2008, but his results failed to improve. With a top finish of eighth coming at Vallelunga, Rolfo ended the season in 17th position.
Despite this, Rolfo continued to find favour with the Honda family as he was snapped up by World Supersport graduates Stiggy Racing to compete alongside BSB front runner Leon Haslam. However, it was a relationship that lasted no longer than two events as Rolfo was forced aside to make way for the incoming John Hopkins, who brought greater finance and coverage to the fledgling team.
Leaving Rolfo out of a ride for the first time since his career began, he reappeared with Honda again as a test rider for its new Moto2 project. His insight into the brand new bike duly earned him a seat for the championship’s inaugural season in 2010, Rolfo joining the Italtrans STR Suter team.
A top five finish at the opening Qatar event signalled his best finish in three years, before a third place finish at the Sachsenring resulted in a first podium since 2005 for Rolfo. A victory at Sepang elevated his reputation as a GP rider once more, though less notable results elsewhere meant he was still only classified 14th overall – the lowest placed race winner.
Having gone a long way to reviving his career, many expected Rolfo to remain in Moto2, so there was surprise when he announced he was returning to Superbikes as part of a new Pedercini Kawasaki line-up.
With the team hoping to utilise his experience to help develop the new ZX-10R, Rolfo did not stray beyond the tail-enders in 2011, even if he wasn’t always the slowest rider on track. Indeed, Rolfo proved a consistent scorer and would have likely looked more accomplished had there been more comparative satellite teams to measure himself against beyond his team-mate Mark Aitchison and Supersonic Ducati’s Maxime Berger.
As it happens, though Rolfo out-scored Aitchison, the Australian was far quicker in qualifying and also had the distinction of two top ten finishes, unlike the Italian.
With this in mind, Rolfo was not retained by Pedercini for 2012 and will instead go back to Moto2 having penned a deal to race with Technomag-CIP. Career Highlights: 2011:
World Superbike Championship, Pedercini Kawasaki, 18th 2010:
Moto2 World Championship, Italtrans STR Suter, 14th (1 win) 2009:
World Superbike Championship (4 races), Stiggy Honda, 39th 2008:
World Superbike Championship, Althea Honda, 17th 2007:
World Superbike Championship, Ten Kate Honda, 8th 2006:
World Superbike Championship, SC Caracchi Ducati, 16th 2005:
MotoGP World Championship, D’Antin Pramac Ducati, 18th
b>2004: 250cc World Championship, Fortuna Honda, 8th (1 win) 2003:
250cc World Championship, Fortuna Honda, 2nd (2 wins) 2002:
250cc World Championship, Fortuna Honda Gresini, 3rd 2001:
250cc World Championship, Safilo Oxydo Aprilia, 4th 2000:
250cc World Championship, Racing Factory Aprilia, 16th 1999:
250cc World Championship, Vasco Rossi Aprilia, 14th 1998:
250cc World Championship, Scuderia AGV Carrizosa Honda, 11th 1997:
250cc European Championship, Aprilia, 3rd 1996:
250cc European Championship, Aprilia, 4th 1995:
250cc Italian Championship, Aprilia, 5th 1994:
125cc Italian Championship, Aprilia, 5th