In Valentino Rossi's garage, alongside Garrett Gerloff, in the role of coach we found an old acquaintance: Niccolò Canepa. The 32-year-old from Genoa is the only Italian to have won the Endurance World Championship and the Bol d'Or in 2017.
Canepa has a long career behind him: in 2009 he made his debut in MotoGP, with Ducati, after winning the Superstock World Cup in 2007 in the Xerox Junior team with the 1098. Those were the years of a difficult bike, only Casey Stoner was capable of riding it but Niccolò was able to take an honourable 8th place as best result, at Donington and an outright 16th in the year in which Nicky Hayden finished just three places ahead of him.
After MotoGP Canepa rode Moto2, then Superbike, in 2016 he was the titular rider in the World Endurance Championship, teamed with Louis Rossi and David Checa, riding a Yamaha YZF-R1 of the GMT94 team. In the championship he finished with a second place in the team standings with 2 wins out of 4 races. The title came the following year, in 2017, with 3 wins out of 5 championship races.
In short, a highly experienced rider, but how did he arrive at the side of the American who in Valencia had the honour and burden of replacing Valentino Rossi in the two free practice sessions on Friday?
“I'm basically the coach of Razgatlıoğlu, Van Der Mark, Caricasulo and, in fact, Gerloff, the four Yamaha riders in Superbike - says Niccolò Canepa - so we get to know each other a lot. When he arrived it was his first time in Europe he didn't know the tracks. He is a guy you work with very well. As soon as he heard the news that he was going to try MotoGP, he called me. I follow him on the track, I make videos, data analysis, etc. We use tools to try to improve ”.
He arrived in MotoGP without any preparation, what impression did you get of him?
“One of his stumbling blocks was that he didn't know the track. Everything was new for him: track, bike, tyres, brakes. He was super impressed by the seamless gearbox which is the biggest difference with Superbike and obviously he struggled a bit to get used to the carbon brakes. They need a few more kilometres to understand them fully ".
Nonetheless, he did quite well, and made no mistakes.
“In FP2 the track was almost dry but you had to be careful because it was still wet outside the line. He behaved very well because in some moments he was fifth or sixth, then when the others put on the soft tyre they improved more. Understanding tyres right away is not easy. Everyone in the team was very happy ”.
What did he say to you as soon as he got off the Yamaha M1?
“His first words were: it's the best bike I've ever ridden. He must have told me twenty times. He is thrilled to work with such a team. The best team, Vale's bike. Getting on that bike is legendary ”.
Unfortunately he will have to abandon it already on Saturday. Does he have what it takes to return? MotoGP needs an American rider…
"In my opinion he is an excellent rider, he has made a good step forward this year without knowing the tracks and the Pirellis. He was the protagonist of an incredible crescendo taking into account that he was riding the 2019 bike. He finished the championship with podiums. He is a rider who leaves nothing to chance and this type of work pays off. "
Unlike the Americans of the 'Golden Era', Gerloff decided to move to Europe…
“Yes, he lives near Barcelona, he will continue with Yamaha in Superbike. He is very happy, obviously he will have a higher target ".
Even that of Nicolò Canepa is not bad…
“Next season I will continue in the Endurance World Championship with Yamaha and I will continue as the coach of the Yamaha riders in Superbike. It is a demanding program but I like it very much. I want to keep racing as much as possible, I'm not old yet, I'm 32, in Endurance it’s going very well. We are competitive, but I also like working with young talents, like Alex Lowes and Gerloff and I also learn from them when I compete. The endurance world championship has only 5 races so I can follow both championships and I can do practically all of them ”.