When Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) was still riding in the Moto3™ World Championship we sat down in a tiny swimming pool in Argentina to talk about the TT Races in the Isle of Man. The teenager was fascinated by the history of Grand Prix racing and on Sunday he became part of that history in such an emotional evening not only for the Gresini team but the complete MotoGP™ Paddock
For over an hour we sat and talked in the hotel pool in the back streets of Termas de Rio Honda about the 60.721 km mountain circuit that staged the first-ever premier class race on June 17th, 1949. On Sunday Bastianini joined that elite band of premier class winners with a stunning victory under the Lusail International floodlights. Who would have ever dreamed of floodlit Grand Prix races 74 years ago?
What a fantastic start to the 2022 season. Never has there been a more graphic indication that times are changing. The new breed of MotoGP™ riders has arrived led by the likes of winner Bastianini and pole setter Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing). The podium was completed by two more riders who are surely going to figure in the headlines as the season unfolds. What a start to the race by Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) on the KTM while Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) , who did all the donkey work at the front, is surely going to secure his first premier class victory on the revitalised Honda long before the season ends.
At last, hopefully, a Covid free season lies ahead. We certainly had our appetites whetted on Sunday, but this was a night that belonged to one of MotoGP™’s true heroes, who lost his life to Covid last year. His legacy could not have been celebrated in a finer way and how he would have loved every minute of it. Fausto Gresini so loved nurturing young talent in the smaller classes before launching them on the biggest stage of them all. No wonder there were tears when the rider they nicknamed the Beast arrived back in pit lane on Sunday after that maiden MotoGP™ victory. I am sure Fausto was looking down with a massive smile and already planning the next win and even World title.
After he had won two 125cc World titles and twenty-one Grands Prix Fausto formed his own team based near the Misano circuit in that hotbed of Grand Prix racing on the Adriatic coast of Italy. He produced World Championship-winning machines for Daijiro Kato and Toni Elias in the 250cc and then Moto2™ World Championships. In a similar style to Bastianini, who won the 2020 Moto2™ World title, both moved into MotoGP™. Elias brought the team success in the 2006 Portuguese Grand Prix, while the likes of Marco Melandri and Sete Gibernau won MotoGP™ races for the team but never the World Championship. Both Gibernau and Melandri came closest in 2004 and 2005 when they were runners-up riding the Movistar Hondas behind Valentino Ross
The team has also had to handle tragedy. Kato was killed at the 2003 Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka. Eight years later another former 250cc World Champion Marco Simoncelli lost his life at the Malaysian Grand Prix just a week after securing his second MotoGP™ podium finish in Australia. On both such tragic occasions, the team led by Fausto handled the heart-breaking situations with both pride and dignity. They continued racing, and who will ever forget Michele Pirro’s emotional Moto2™ win in Valencia just two weeks after the death of Simoncelli.
Dignity and pride are what Fausto Gresini was all about. He led from the front, both from the saddle and then in pit lane. I am sure everybody in Qatar and across the World celebrated Bastianini’s historic win with his team and especially his wife, Nadia.