'Happy, proud' Valentino Rossi: 'I tried to hypnotise Pecco!'

Valentino Rossi delighted to see VR46 Academy rider Francesco Bagnaia celebrate his first MotoGP victory at Aragon; 'It's a moment a motorcycle rider never forgets'.
Francesco Bagnaia Valentino Rossi , Italian MotoGP, 27 May 2021
Francesco Bagnaia Valentino Rossi , Italian MotoGP, 27 May 2021
© Gold and Goose Photography

When Valentino Rossi hangs up his helmet at the end of this season, he will have had the satisfaction of already seeing two of his VR46 Academy riders winning races in MotoGP.

Ducati's Francesco Bagnaia became the second Academy rider, after Franco Morbidelli, to triumph in the premier-class with a brilliant debut victory over Marc Marquez at Aragon on Sunday.

Stalked by the eight-time world champion from the start, Bagnaia coolly counterattacked after the Repsol Honda rider launched no less than seven passes for the lead in the closing three laps.

Bagnaia's victory is also his first grand prix win since the Moto2 class at Motegi 2018, during his title-winning season for the VR46 team.

The Italian then joined MotoGP with Pramac Ducati, took his first podium the following year and was moved up to the Official Ducati team for 2021, where he had claimed four podiums prior to Sunday's win.

Rossi was delighted with Bagnaia's long-awaited triumph, which came after previous disappointments such as falling from the lead at Misano last season, Mugello this season and suffering tyre issues when a favourite at several other rounds.

"I want to say first of all that I am really, really happy for Pecco personally," said Rossi, whose own race finished with a 19th place for Petronas Yamaha. "Because I am a great friend of Pecco and we spent a lot of time together.

"So I have to say my congratulations because the first victory in MotoGP is a moment that a motorcycle rider never forgets. And also a victory like this with a battle to the last lap is something great.

"I think that he deserved this because all this year he was very fast and he rides the Ducati in a fantastic way.

"Yesterday I said to him, 'it's the moment to win'. Because he is always very fast, sometimes he was unlucky with the tyres, but today is the day."

Bagnaia joined all of the field (except Johann Zarco) in choosing the hard front and soft rear tyres for the race - much to Rossi's relief!

"I tried yesterday to hypnotise him: saying 'hard-soft, hard-soft, hard-soft, hard-soft', because sometimes Pecco makes some strange decisions for the tyres!" Rossi smiled. "I saw him this morning and I said another time, 'hard-soft', so I'm very happy for him.

"Secondly, I'm also very proud of the work of the Academy because we take Pecco from Moto3 and help him to reach this level. At the end, their destiny is in their own hands, because you need to be a strong rider, but we are very proud to help him to arrive at this level.

"Also for Italy it’s great because Pecco won with the Ducati, it's something fantastic.

"I saw a little bit the race highlights and I saw a fantastic battle [with Marquez] but Pecco stayed always in front. He rode the bike from Friday morning in a fantastic way and also in Silverstone he was very fast.

"It's the moment to win and I'm very happy for him because first of all he's a great guy."

Bagnaia's victory has also moved him up to second in the world championship, 53 points behind Fabio Quartararo heading into his and Rossi's home Misano round next weekend.

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