It was 1986, I had just joined Corriere dello Sport from Motosprint, used to writing about the great American champions of the time, Spencer, Lawson, Gardner, Mamola. We didn’t exactly neglect the minor categories in the weekly magazine, but most of the covers were for the duels between the aces of the 500 cc class.
That year, however, there was a terrific battle that fans could not fail to follow: Luca Cadalora and Fausto Gresini, on the same bike, a Garelli, in 125.
The title went to Luca, by a handful of points, but Fausto won at Misano, in the last Grand Prix. He was unstoppable. It was then that I finally realized why the then editor-in-chief, Sergio Rizzo, kept on asking me for article after article about Gresini.
Initially neglecting 'my' 500 cost me dearly, but I soon fell in love with Fausto's clean riding style, his tactical smartness, and also the fact that he was a bit below the lines. The opposite of Cadalora, witty, fiercely clever. A modern re-edition of Walter Villa, without his good-natured appearance.
It took Fausto to make me realize that a great newspaper needed its popular heroes, and Gresini had unquestionably become one.
The following year Fausto won, consecutively, 10 Grands Prix which with the previous one took his tally to 11 before being defeated - but only by bad luck - in the Portuguese Grand Prix held at Jarama (Spain) by Paolo Casoli.
That was his last season of true glory. He then had another great opportunity in 1990 when those geniuses of the Pileri brothers, Paolo and Francesco, entrusted him with an official Honda by adding an ugly but nice duckling to the team: Loris Capirossi.
For Gresini it was once again an unlucky year: he broke his talus bone, but as a team man he still helped Loris win the title in Australia in an epic duel with Hans Spaan during which, in the race, there were even punches on the helmet. Anyone else would have hated his teammate, but the two became great friends and Fausto played his part, with the same result, also the following year.
A minor category rider, it was once said. That’s a story that is difficult to understand today when there seems to be a mad rush towards MotoGP.
He confessed to me one day, by now at the end of his career, that he would at least have to move to 250. He never did, but instead of regretting it he started studying it as a team manager.
Francesco Pileri always entrusted his first assignment to him: the coach of Loris Capirossi. He was the only one, there were no others to fill that role. The rest is history.
It’s a story that has accompanied me over the years. Dinners, laughter, winks, quarrels, teasing, because Fausto wasn't exactly politically correct: if he had to tell you something he would tell you, outspoken as he was. But without malice or acrimony. He was someone who was needed, he pointed out. He put the dots on the 'I’s', because he was Fausto Gresini, not just some new kid on the block.
Never, and I mean never, have I ever seen him put on airs. Even amongst his team: he was the man in charge for sure, and he also knew how to be a tough guy, but then his smile melted you.
The death of Daijiro Kato first and that of Marco Simoncelli later deeply affected and wounded him. Maybe he was even on the verge of giving everything up, but as a rider, as a champion, he knew that someone like him could never take that escape route. Not even by mistake. Just out of respect for Daijiro and Marco.
In those bad moments we saw him suffer like a father and then, in time, smile again.
He also laughed at himself and the fact that, over the years, he had become more plump. Eh, Fausto, you getting on a bit now, we teased him and he, making the gesture of touching his belly, would tell you to go to hell. ‘You’re not on a diet either, I can see!', he replied heading to the buffet.
Numerous, thousands of conversations crowd my mind. The fact that Aprilia no longer listened to him didn't go down well with him, but he didn't make any scenes about it. He worked instead. And in fact he had decided to return to the premier class, with his own team. It was a done thing, Carmelo Ezpeleta had already confirmed it to him.
When he told you about it, his eyes sparkled. It was the next terrain of conquest because inside, Fausto, remained one of those strong racers who go out on track to win, not to participate.
He was taken away by this cursed disease, which frightened him, like many of us, due to its unpredictability, and which took him by surprise, from behind, like a bloody coward…
So now there are those who are mourning a great rider, a competent and correct manager but now, at this moment, we especially miss our friend.
And there Ulysses and the Cyclops come to mind, because this is our sport. There is the track, the fun, the risk and, unfortunately, sometimes even tragedy.
Paolo, Otello, Pat, Tommaso, Patrick, Michel, Sauro, Jock, Ivan, Nobuyuki, Daijiro, Shoya, Marco. That’s not all of them, but too many, and they left us way too soon. As well as Barry and that hug at Phillip Island a few months before a farewell that we will never forget.
Fausto, I don't remember what we said to each other the last time, but it doesn't matter. If I walked away after turning my back, I'm sure you smiled at me.