He’s with them every step of the way, not only on the track, but also in Tavullia. We’re talking about Alessio Salucci, Valentino Rossi’s inseparable friend and director of the VR46 Riders Academy. He was also there at the Sky Racing Team VR46 presentation in Milan, which officially opened the 2019 season.
Last season was a joyous one for VR46, with Franco Morbidelli promoted to Yamaha and Pecco Bagnaia as Pramac’s star and with a world title in the intermediate class. Now the two will both encounter the Doctor on their paths.
“Pecco and Franco will certainly not let Vale get in their way, given that each will follow their own path,” stated Salucci. “We’ll obviously ask him to be respectful on the track, perhaps avoiding risky or useless moves. When we founded the Academy, we were expecting this situation to arise. Yet, at the same time, it’s useful, since this means that we have worked well and have grown.”
After 2018, the bar has risen further.
“Every season is tough, and we must immediately be able to interpret it correctly, trying to put the riders in the best condition possible. In fact, we must interpret the World Championship right from the beginning, in order to get on the right track.”
Marini picked up where Bagnaia left off in pursuing the title. What should we expect?
“I honestly never thought about the legacy of the World Championship. Luca enters this Championship after complicated shoulder surgery. He had an unexpected winter, since he was recovering and has not yet gotten back on a bike. Among other things, we must see whether or not he'll participate in the Jerez test, given his condition.”
The spotlight will be on Marini.
“Luca was born under pressure, since he is Valentino’s brother. But he has always had the ability to deal with it in the best way possible, and I think this is evident.”
We mustn’t forget Bulega in Moto 2, who’s back from a bumpy 2018.
“Nicolò is a great talent who hasn’t yet expressed himself 100% for various reasons. Last year, unfortunately, he had a hard time staying on his bike, so I think he can adapt to Moto2. Besides this, he’ll have to work a great deal at home, knowing that he’ll be in a world championship team. I believe that he’ll take advantage of this occasion, also because I think a light bulb went off in his head.”
Let’s talk about single-cylinders for a moment. How come Italy has not won the title since 2004?
“That’s a good question, and I find it hard to formulate an answer. We hope to dispel this taboo with Foggia or Celestino, since there’s always someone every year who ends up ruing the party.”
On February 4th, the Yamaha will be unveiled. Rossi said it’s like the Inter. Is it?
“I saw it in photos, and it’s quite like the Inter. It’s a nice bike, but it needs to be fast. In the end, that’s all that matters.”
Meanwhile, the Rossi brothers will be starting on February 6th. On more than one occasion, Valentino said he felt particularly strong from a physical point-of-view.
“We will face the tests with the same drive as always. Last year, Yamaha was fast with Vinales, then several problems emerged. Valentino is, however, really psyched. The team did a great job, and I know that the M1 will be fast.”
Besides being brothers, Rossi and Marini both have a race for the title in common. If you were they, what would you borrow from one and from the other?
“They are very much the same in what they do. Maybe Luca should borrow from Valentino the laid-back way he faces a race, while Valentino should borrow Marini’s meticulousness. I don’t mean to say that Rossi doesn’t pay attention to details. It’s simply that, for his age, Luca is already studying like a grown up.”
One last thing. You spent many years in Yamaha with Lorenzo. How do you see him now with Marquez?
“I honestly don’t know.”