Nick Harris has witnessed all of Valentino Rossi’s 89 MotoGP wins but has commentated on only 88. It is hard to believe but it was 19 long years ago today that Valentino Rossi made it three wins in a row with victory on the 500 cc Honda at the 2001 Spanish Grand Prix at a packed crazy Jerez. It was the fifth of his 89 MotoGP wins and a real indication, not that we needed one, to what lay ahead.
I witnessed every one of those 89 victories but it would be a lie to state that I commentated on all of them because I was speechless at probably the greatest of them all.
What a time and place to lose your voice but it happened in the Californian sunshine at Laguna Seca in 2008. I started to croak during qualifying and the press conference on Saturday. By Sunday morning after BBC World Service had to curtail my pre-race chat back to London when that usually so loud voice finally gave up the ghost, I knew I had no chance. I sat at the back of the commentary box on the finish line at Laguna croaking with excitement as the brilliant Gavin Emmett and John Hopkins described that head to head confrontations of all confrontations between Rossi and Casey Stoner. That move at the legendary Corkscrew is still regarded by many but not Ducati, as one of Rossi’s greatest. This was a true World Champion at his very best and showing the World why regaining the title meant so much to him, Yamaha and Italy.
I remember that first win at the British Grand Prix at Donington Park in 2000. It was crucial to MotoGP in Britain with World Superbikes led by Carl Fogarty ruling the roost. Just 18,500 spectators turned up that whole weekend but Rossi’s win and Jeremy McWilliam’s third place lit the fire. There was three times the number one year later to cheer their new hero Rossi to victory.
Seventeen amazing years later in 2017 I was on the microphone at Assen when ‘the Doctor’ fought off the considerable challenge of Daniel Petrucci chasing his first grand prix win. It was his 89 th win in the Premier class and he came mighty close to making it 90 a year later in Malaysia when he crashed while leading with the chequered flag beckoning.
After my speechless performance at Laguna perhaps I am biased but my favourite victory in those 89 came at Welkom in South Africa in 2004. You could not have written the script. Rossi’s debut for Yamaha after leaving Honda going head to head with his bitter rival Max Biaggi who had left Yamaha to join Honda. Nobody, including myself gave Rossi much of a chance. Yamaha were in a big mess and had not won a race the previous year. Rossi changed all that in 28 laps of pure drama around the Phakisa Freeway circuit. Sliding the Yamaha and braking so late somehow he won the duel after an amazing last lap in which Biaggi set the fastest lap of the race. At the finish Vale parked the M1 Yamaha against the guardrail kissed the number 46 as the tears flowed inside his helmet.
I was so lucky to commentate on the performance of somebody so special as I was for the other 88 wins minus one.