Danilo Petrucci was in tears even before starting his final MotoGP race at Valencia on Sunday, the Italian overwhelmed by the reception he was given throughout pit lane.

"It was really, really nice. When I parked the bike on the grid I said to myself, 'now please don’t cry'. But then people started to come, everyone I've worked with and all the people, all the friends in the paddock. I say hello to everyone.

"Then I went to the toilet as always, but then walking back all pit lane started making an applause. All the KTM team and all the Ducati team. I had to say hello to everyone. I just had to cry.

"Fortunately, we were at the beginning of pit lane front. Otherwise, it was difficult to start the race. It was three minutes to go and they said, 'you need to hurry'! So I was already sweating, crying.

"I was really happy to see all this love. In Mugello, the first time on the podium, I cried. I cried again when I was first. Unfortunately, when I’m happy I cannot help it!

One of those to greet Petrucci before his final race was Valentino Rossi, preparing for his own farewell.

"He said to me, 'you are going to race like this!?' I was wearing the tie and hat. I said to Valentino I cannot stop crying!'

3002498.0008.jpg

Taken out by other riders in the last two races, Petrucci initially battled with the likes of Maverick Vinales and Luca Marini before easing off and soaking up his last racing laps on a MotoGP bike.

"I tried from the first moment, but I wanted to finish after the last two races. In the first two laps everyone was so aggressive. I tried to stay there. Then my front tyre got really high pressure and it was not possible to brake hard," said Petrucci.

"I said, 'don’t think about it. I have a KTM MotoGP bike all for me and a track. I want to enjoy these last kilometres on this bike'. It was a great pleasure to see all the people. I’m really happy."

The only rider on the current MotoGP grid not to have raced in any of the smaller grand prix categories, Petrucci reached the premier-class straight from Superstock, on a CRT entry, in 2012.

"When I started this adventure in 2012, I don’t know if I was lost. But for sure in the first race, I was last and I broke also the bike," Petrucci reflected. "Until 2014, for many races I was last in practice, last in qualifying and last in the race. I think I was the only one still believing [in myself]. I never quit. One day the dream has come true."

Managing to score points with the underpowered Ioda and then Aprilia CRT machines, Petrucci finally got his big break when he joined Pramac Ducati for his fourth MotoGP season.

The first of ten podiums came in the wet at Silverstone and he was Pramac's most successful rider by the time he was picked to replace the departing Jorge Lorenzo at the factory Ducati team, alongside countryman Andrea Dovizioso, for 2019.

A dream last-lap home Mugello victory over Dovizioso and Marc Marquez followed, before the podiums dried up in the second half of the season. Replaced by Miller before the Covid-delayed 2020 campaign even began, Petrucci added a second MotoGP victory in the rain at Le Mans before spending a tough final season with Tech3 KTM.

"Maybe I’m one of the last 'normal people' that can make it [in MotoGP] without being a phenomenon, something ultra-natural," Petrucci said. "When I was young I was just a good rider. I was fast but there were people faster than me.

"But I never stopped believing I was the best. Two times in MotoGP I showed I was the best in that circuit, on that day. It was a big relief. If there was just Mugello [2019] maybe it was a ‘one day hero’. But then I showed to myself in Le Mans [2020] I can still win races.

"I have no regrets. It’s easy to look back and say things could’ve gone better. For sure sometimes I made mistakes. In 2016 I was maybe able to win in Sachsenring in the rain. Then in Assen the same year I was leading and my bike broke.

"Maybe in 2019 [at the factory Ducati team] I was really fast but suffered a lot… the team, there was clearly a first and second rider. Even when I was fast, I was not always taken in consideration. I suffered a lot. I started to make mistakes and I lost third in the championship.

"But I always gave my best and I am really happy with what I’ve done.

"MotoGP never saw a rider with my size and there won’t be again. I don’t think there will be (another rider) 1m 80cm and 83kg naked. I'm over 90kg on the bike. When you say this to the engineers, they just start to lose their hair! It was really a bet on me and we won."

2762116.0008.jpg

'The guy is a legend'

Told of Petrucci labelling himself as a 'normal' rider, current factory Ducati stars Francesco Bagnaia and Jack Miller swiftly disagreed:

"I’m don't agree with Danilo that he was the last without [supernatural] talent to win a race, because he was with talent," said race winner Bagnaia.

Miller, a former team-mate of Petrucci at Pramac Ducati, added: "Danilo is one of these guys. He wants to sell himself short every time.

"We all go through this, you say the non-phenomenon word… A lot of people have come in [to grand prix] as a phenomenon and gone back down to planet earth and then [sometimes they] come back up.

"The phenomenon thing I don't think exists. Maybe Pedro Acosta or somebody like that, but they’re few and far between.

"Danilo had a talent. But not only a talent, he worked for it. If you see photos of him on the Ioda with a [big] face out here like a moon and then when he hopped on the Ducati what he did to his body [weight loss] to change it, to be competitive here, he worked for it.

"The guy is a legend."

Petrucci meanwhile named the Australian - along with his fellow Italians - as those he will be cheeering for when he watches MotoGP as a fan from the sofa next season.

Danilo Petrucci - KTM Factory Racing (1).jpg

'Happiness for me is to go fast on a bike'

Fittingly, while Petrucci's entry into MotoGP was unique, so is his exit route; swapping asphalt for dirt with the Dakar Rally.

"My career has been quite unique," Petrucci admitted. "I was coming from Superstock. No one has ever picked a [Superstock] rider and let him race in MotoGP. No one trusted me. But day after day I started to learn.

"I have been quite unique also the way I’m leaving. Since last year I started to feel not so good, not really enjoying what I was doing. Because the pressure maybe. I spent so much effort, so much strength to be in MotoGP I was not enjoying.

"So I started to think, OK, 'what’s your deep instinct?' I answered, 'I just want to ride the bikes'. So I asked, 'which is the sport where you ride the bike the most?' It’s the Dakar.

"Since 15 years old I was racing motocross. I said maybe I can do it. Thanks to KTM, I will go training in the next months a lot. I’ll try to race the Dakar and finish the Dakar because it’s a dream of mine and then I need to understand if I can be happy.

"The happiness for me is to go fast on a bike. If not, I can just go with my bike around the mountains, around my track, or just to take a coffee. Unfortunately, I always want to see a time and fight the stopwatch. Maybe it’s my way. I need to understand if it’s true…"

3001958.0008.jpg