Dr. Valentino Rossi
Rossi is the most prolific motorcycle racer of all time. More than likely, if someone is riding on two wheels, they know him by his nickname Valle —especially in Europe.
Monster energy drinks, pizza boxes, apparel and knickknacks of all sorts are labeled with the magical numero 46. Best of all, Valle is easy to like and has been the face of Moto GP for over a decade, providing entertainment to fans worldwide. Rossi is an absolute institution.
With 108 wins (82 in the premier class), he has raced and won every 125, 250,500,990,800 cc world championship and has accrued 196 podiums with a total of nine world championships under his belt (seven in premier class). Only Giacomo Agostini has won more races: 122 GP wins, 159 podiums, and 15 world championships.
Rossi dominated Moto GP from 2001 to 2005 by winning the world championship for five straight years. He went from winning the 2003 championship on-board the Honda RC211V to winning the next year on a Yamaha in 2004. He won against his Roman rival, Max Biaggi, at the first round of the 2004 season in South Africa, making him only the second rider ever to win consecutive races for different factories. This was all done on a supposedly inferior machine compared to the dominating Honda.
Up until his crash at Mugello in 2010, Rossi had never missed a race. Only 41 days after the accident, he was back at it where he scored a 4th place finish at the Sachesenring. Seven podiums (including a win at Malaysia) later he finished third in the overall standings in 2010. He's had many rivals, beating them all except for one. Rossi was able to size up Seti Gibernau, Max Biaggi, Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo; but the younger version of himself, Marq Marquez, has yet to be really beaten by Rossi.
Rossi has never been a one-trick pony. In 2001 he and Colin Edwards won the Suzuka eight hour endurance race aboard a Honda VTR1000SPW—a bike Rossi knew little about. Rossi was also offered rides with Ferrari in Formula 1. He tested in 2006 and was lapped only a second behind then world champion Michael Schumacher. Today he still dabbles in World Rally Car and is the owner of Sky Racing Team by VR46, which debuted in Moto3 in 2014 with Rossi’s young padawan, Romano Fenati, at the controls.
At a minimum Rossi has already accomplished enough to retire and ride into the sunset. But at 35, he still has two more years of racing ahead of him and it’s shaking out to be an interesting 2015 season.
The American King, Kenny Roberts
“King” Kenny was the first ever American Grand Prix World Championship winner. He earned two AMA Grand National Flat Track Championships riding for Yamaha (1973 and ‘74), three Daytona 200s, and won three 500cc Gran Prix World Championships in 1978, 1979 and 1980. As a competitor, he was fierce. As a pioneer, he was instrumental in changing the racing landscape that we see today in every aspect of motorsport: safety, riding style and directions in technology.
He left the US and went to Europe in 1978 to win the 500cc Grand Prix world title on his first attempt. Even though he had never seen most of the tracks before, Roberts applied what he learned back home on the dirt track to the European road courses and took many by surprise. In the final race of the season at the daunting 14.2-mile long (22.8 km) Nordschleife racetrack in Germany, Roberts finished in third place, ahead of Barry Sheene. The rest was history.
Back in the late '70’s Roberts used a cornering style that was contrary to the norm of the time. By wrapping duct tape around his knees, Roberts was able to do what we know today as “dragging a knee.” Knee sliders are now complimented with elbow sliders, and current Moto GP stars are taking what Roberts started even further. “Backing it in” is a term that is commonplace today and its roots come from dirt tracking. Roberts did not invent the maneuver; however, he did bring it to the forefront in European GP racing where the whole outlook of racing differed from what Americans saw as normal.
Riding the ferocious 1975 Yamaha TZ750 dirt tracker probably gave Kenny Roberts the ideas he brought to Europe. The bike is somewhat of a legend in itself, linked forever with the man who dared to ride it. The TZ750 had a liquid cooled, four-cylinder motor pulled out of a road racing bike and it produced 125 HP. Roberts was able to reach 150 MPH on a straight and was quoted saying, “They don’t pay me enough to ride that thing." And ”they” probably didn't consider it had no front brake and technology that, in today’s standards, are pre-historic. Getting on that bike took some balls.
Roberts did many things as King. He brought Grand Prix racing to the states by promoting the development of Laguna Seca by forcing the FIM’s hand in 1980 to re-write the rule book on track safety and improving the pay for riders. He also went out on his own to build Moto GP bikes for his own team. Satellite teams and non-factory bikes that currently sit in the Moto GP paddock have Roberts to blame or thank for that.
Strong Man, Mick Doohan
One word can describe Mick Doohan: tough.
Piloting ridiculously fast two-stroke monsters that churned out 240-plus horsepower looked easy when Mick was at his best. The man from Down Under is known for his triumphant comebacks from injury, and against almost impossible odds, he dominated GP racing in the 1990’s. All that success came after coming close to losing his leg from gangrene.
In a horrible crash at the Assen GP in 1992, Mick broke his right leg and what seemed routine at first became a much larger problem and eventually, life threatening. Gangrene was setting in from compartment syndrome he had in his swelling limb. By the third day after the accident, Doohan was still having a shortage of blood to his muscles and nerves. The doctors were going for the hacksaw.
Enter Claudio Costa. He was the same man who saved Valentino Rossi’s father from certain doom in 1982. Costa served as the trackside doctor for Moto GP until his retirement this year. Costa flew Doohan to Italy and eventually saved his leg by stitching the two together and setting them in a cast for 14 days. Eight weeks later, Doohan was back on his Honda barely able to walk and his leg still oozing blood. Doohan was so fiercely competitive he would stop at nothing to keep Rainey from winning the World Championship-- and he came close to it.
By the end of the season Rainey won the title by only 4 points, even with Doohan missing 4 races. After his recovery from the near career ending crash, Doohan had a custom thumb brake attached to his left handlebar similar to a thumb throttle on an ATV. He used this to assist his damaged right leg when using the rear brake pedal. The Australian went on to win his first world championship in 1994, and he didn’t stop winning them until 1999.
In 1999 while qualifying in Jerez in Spain, Mick Doohan crashed at over 200kph. This was the last time he would ride in anger. After braking a wrist, his shoulder and his bad right leg he retired from professional racing.
Today he is still involved in Moto GP and HRC. He has been spotted in the pit box on occasion with the likes of now retired Casey Stoner and recently with Marq Marquez, who by the way, beat the long standing record that Doohan set for most wins in a single season (12). Marquez one-upped Mick by grabbing 13 wins.