Valentino Rossi fever may grip almost every circuit on the MotoGP calendar but at Mugello in Italy, was quite something as 90,000 baying fans invaded the track to salute their hero. A wave of yellow, a throng of number 46-adorned items of clothing and one vociferous chorus of ‘Vale! Vale! Vale!’
The Doctor celebrated a double podium at the Tuscany track as his racing day started with the Moto3 race and the third place of Romani Fenati, a rider of SKY VR46 Racing, the team he founded last year. In the afternoon Rossi emulated his young rider with his own third position finish, which was vital to keep him right in the title hunt.
“It’s great to see the new generation of Italian riders are coming,” he said. “After the victory in France, Romano scored a strong podium finish on the demanding Mugello track. But he is not alone, (Francesco) Bagnaia and (Enea) Bastianini are also doing very well.”
So the hunt for the new Valentino Rossi has started. Fenati can be considered to be one of those vying for such a mantle, and advantageously for him, he is a rider of the VR46 Academy, the structure that Rossi founded to help produce young Italian talent. This year the 19-year-old moved to Pesaro to live close to his illustrious mentor, giving him more time to train with Rossi at the VR46 Motor Ranch along with the other riders in the Academy.
In total, the Italian and his professional team support eight riders in several classes: Romano Fenati, Andrea Migno, Nicolò Antonelli and Francesco Bagnaia in the Moto3 class, Franco Morbidelli and Lorenzo Baldassari in Moto2, as well as Niccolò Bulega (Junior World Championship Moto3) and Luca Marini (CEV Moto2).
Tavullia, a small village of 8,000 inhabitants not far from Pesaro, is the center of Rossi’s universe and his headquarters. Although Rossi is almost famously proud of keeping his privacy intact, for one day the motorcycling maestro opened the doors of the place where everything started for him way back in 1996. 20 years and 9 world championship titles later, his name and racing number have turned into a brand that is universally recognized as being synonymous with MotoGP.
The number 46 is everywhere in Tavullia and next to the church there is the fan club that counts 8,000 members, a dedicated shop for the merchandising and the pizzeria “Da Rossi”. Just a couple of miles away there is the Motor Ranch and the headquarters of VR46, the company that runs all the different activities that the nine-time world champion is involved with.
Rossi’s eminent passion for motorcycling (and life!) was contagious to his group of friends, so much so that they now are involved in the management of his company – not to mention the fact that they have accompanied him around the world during his long and celebrated career. Both the Yamaha rider and his friends feel such vitality for what you do is essential for the young riders of the VR46 Academy.
“The target is to raise young Italian talents and give them an opportunity to shine,” said the 36-year-old. The idea is to recreate the golden days of the Italian school of the 1990s that produced great champions such as (Loris) Capirossi, (Max) Biaggi and Rossi himself before being swept away and overshadowed by the Spanish Armada arriving in the mid 2000s.
“During a race weekend I can help Romano (Fenati) and Andrea (Migno) technically, giving them some advice about lines and so on, but the work starts at home,” said Rossi.
It’s at the Motor Ranch that Rossi finds the extra motivation and the boost to call himself into question despite nine world titles and a vast array of race wins, honours not to mention his current great form. The merit is also of the young guys of the Academy. Rossi trains with them every day in the Gym and at the Ranch.
“In the 1980s the Americans came to Europe and they were beating us,” Alberto “Albi” Tebaldi, Valentino’s close friend and CEO of the VR46, said. “The idea is inspired by the ranch of Kenny Roberts Sr. and the system he built to raise young talent. We follow the guys of the Academy at 360 degrees, from the training to the technical side. We also take care of the contracts.”
At the moment the Academy is only for Italians but it is a formula that can be copied and exported also abroad. “We believe in this project for young guys from 14 to 19 years old,” Albi said. “In the contract of the riders there is a clause that if in future they will become professional motorcycle racers, a part of their income will be devolved to support other young talents of the Academy in the future.”
But the VR46 is more than the Ranch. It’s a company with 30 employees and an annual sales volume that exceeds 12 million Euro. The facilities are superb and reflect Rossi’s approach to life and business.
He is a winner, and this year he could add a tenth world title to the brand he has created, but even once he hangs those legendary VR46 leathers up it is ventures like the Motor Ranch and Riders Academy that have the indomitable Italian hoping his name continues in motor racing for years to come, whether he’s on the grid or not.
The Ranch - home of success
The ranch is run by the same friends that 15 years ago spent the weekends at “La Cava”, following Graziano Rossi’s intuition to train his son on dirt to improve his handling. There is a dirt track 1.8mile long, as well as a bunkhouse, a farm, vineyards and olive trees. As ‘Albi’ underlined, “Valentino really enjoys what he is doing and this is one the secrets of his long career. The second point is the spirit of competition and challenge. In fact there is no training at the Ranch without ending with a race. We also arrange special events such as the 100km of the Ranch, an endurance race that see all the Ranch riders and many friends involved.
From Doctor to businessman
Valentino’s attention to the details that made his helmets and leathers icons of motorsport have turned into a business. The VR46 was founded to follow Rossi’s merchandising from scratch to distribution.
Together with Valentino, the company produced also racing apparel for his very close friend Kevin Schwantz. Then Marco Simoncelli arrived and convinced Valentino to take care of his merchandising. Nicky Hayden followed and nowadays the VR46 produces the merchandising for over 15 GP riders, including Marc Marquez and his brother Alex, Dani Pedrosa, Cal Crutchlow and Pol Espargaro, just to mention some names.
Thanks to co-branding activities, the VR46 serves also important brand and manufacturers such as Yamaha, Honda, Monster energy, Bridgestone and Oakley. Valentino follows the design and his special taste is always taken into consideration. It’s no wonder that the VR46 merchandising has such success.