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MotoGP, Pernat: "Valentino’s 20,000 lire prank with the inflatable doll went all around the world"

“In 1997 he asked me to bring the model Claudia Schiffer to Mugello, because everyone was talking about a love story with Biaggi. Aprilia wouldn’t pay and Vale with 20,000 lire bought an inflatable doll and went around Mugello"

MotoGP: Pernat:

It all started with a recommendation. It was 1995, in fact, when Valentino Rossi, then only a 16-year-old boy, was noticed by Carlo Pernat, who was the sporting director of Aprilia at the time. Asking the manager from Genoa to take a look at Valentino was his father, Graziano, ex-GP winner with Morbidelli. Having been retired for some time, the former primary school teacher was working hard to promote his son, and with moderate success.

In fact, he had already succeeded, involving the former 500 world championship runner-up, as well as his former rival Virginio Ferrari, in arousing interest in the kid from none other than Claudio Castiglioni, president of Cagiva.

The result was a season in the Italian championship with the Cagiva 125 in Claudio Lusuardi's team.

To do things seriously, however, there was a need for a manufacturer that raced in the 125cc world-wide: and that was Aprilia.

"I agreed to go and see him race because of my friendship with Graziano - recalls Carlo Pernat - and I was impressed. That boy did some incredible trajectories, he was already tall and slim and his style reminded me of Kevin Schwantz's. So I proposed a three-year contract to Rossi, from ‘95 to ‘97. He agreed, but it was difficult to convince Ivano Beggio, owner of the Venetian manufacturer. He was not persuaded. Ivano, I told him, this is a strong one. So after that first season in 1996 I put him in the official team ".

The first victory came at Brno. Was that when you were convinced you were face-to-face with a champion?

"Let's not exaggerate. No way, even then, could I have imagined that he would win nine world titles and 18 years after the first victory he would still be in the breach. It was clear, however, that he would become strong, that he had a good basis. And you want to know one thing?"

Yes, of course…

"This basis was given to him by Aprilia, which built a competitive training course for him. After the first semi-official bike, the official one arrived in 1997, the year of his first title. Then he moved on to 250, the following season, again with a semi-official bike to reach then the top in 1999 as our top rider. A nice path".

So it is not, as they say, that he immediately found the silver spoon....

"No, on the contrary, because at the end of 1996 we would have liked to have him race in 250 but he baulked. He wanted to do another season in the eighth of a litre category. He had quite a temper even then".

It was not the only occasion that he created some problems for you, if we remember well…

"Exactly. After winning his first 125cc title he wanted at all costs that we assigned Rossano Brazzi as crew chief. But I had already promised him to Loris Capirossi. In the end, Valentino won out the argument and Loris raced with Noccioli in the box."

What was he like as a rider in those days?

"Like Marquez is today. Exuberant, cheerful and on the track, he passed everyone everywhere. He was having fun and it showed."

Valentino at that time, in three words…

"Nice, outgoing, selfish. The first two adjectives need no explanation, for the third I would like to remind you that all great champions are selfish. They want to arrive, so they make sure all the attention is on them."

It's been 18 years now… do you think he has changed since then?

"I don't think so. He always seems to me to be the Rossi of 1997. He respects friendship. He has kept all the fundamental values ​​of the time."

What makes you think that?

"This year he had a numbered limited-edition bracelet made for the people he considers most important to commemorate his 18 years in the world championship: he gave me one. A small gesture that made me very happy."

What impresses you most about him?

"He is the man of infinite challenges. When he left Honda in 2003, he unleashed a tsunami by beating them the following year with Yamaha and then winning again in 2005".

A lot of people say that the world championship is still Rossi-addicted…

"It's true, and Dorna is also Rossi-addicted. But have you seen what he unleashed with his victory at Misano on Sunday? When he is absent, press conferences are a deathbed. He is still the benchmark for his young counterparts. Everyone always asks him for his opinion".

We often think that some riders who have no chance of having a competitive bike want to race in MotoGP at all costs just to be able to say: I raced with Valentino Rossi.

"He is an icon of our sport and, in my opinion, one of the top five great sportsmen in the world. But do you remember that Diego Armando Maradona wanted to meet him and, on the starting line, kissed his right hand, that of the gas? ".

There are those who say, however, that except in recent times he had no rivals who were at the same level as him.

"Rubbish! Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau at the start, Dani Pedrosa and then Jorge Lorenzo. Rather, it was the latter, all excellent riders, who were unlucky to find themselves in Rossi's era. "

Are you amazed that he's still here, that he hasn't retired? Eighteen years is a long time ...

"He loves the bike, in a visceral way. And he has fun. And then he is still able to adapt and change his riding style to get the best out of the current machines. At 35 years of age it can't be easy, but he does it".

With two years left on his contract, he will compete up to the age of 37…

"And then he will go on again, he will continue to race. But not in rallies, maybe even in those, because he has fun, I mean on the motorcycle. In my opinion he will still be on the track at 40. I am convinced of it. After all, Biaggi did it as well and he had a different career, he stopped for a year, then went to Superbike. Rossi will continue as long as he is competitive and to be competitive, he will squeeze out every last drop of sweat. "

Tell us the craziest thing that he whipped up for you at the time of Aprilia…

"It was 1997, the year of the world title. Valentino was a big fan of Jacques Villeneuve so I organized a meeting with Gilles' son, also world champion that year, at the Autosprint Golden Helmets party in Bologna. He was late for dinner, he didn't come. Ivano Beggio wanted to kill me or sack me. Maybe the two things together. "

That's all there is?

"Also in 1997 he asked me to bring the model Claudia Schiffer to Mugello. At that moment there was a love story between Max Biaggi and Noemi Campbell, the black Venus, and he wanted to answer the Roman in that way. They didn't like each other. I made inquiries but the model wanted 50 million. You are crazy, we can’t do anything, I told him. Beggio won’t pay. So he bought an inflatable doll and took it with him on the lap of honour. With 20,000 lire the prank went all around the world and in any case, he succeeded in his intent to mock Max. In psychological warfare with his rivals he has always been the best ".

This article by Paolo Scalera appeared in Corriere dello Sport in 2015


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