The title of the Grand Prix and the name of the circuit tells you all you ever want to know about Misano. The Gran Premio Lenovo di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli is pure magic, conjuring up images that embrace the very history of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Great battles, tragedy, innovation, national pride and humour. Where do you start?
Personally, I was dispatched by Motor Cycle News to Misano in March 1976 to report on my very first motorcycle race. There was no pre-season testing in those days. Either you bit the financial bullet and went to Daytona in Florida for a week of fun, games, drinking and some racing or you went to the new purpose-built circuit at Misano on the Adriatic coast of Italy.
There had always been pre-season races in this part of the world. The seafront Riccione road circuit had long been established but like many others, a tragedy brought about its demise and the building of the new circuit a couple of kilometres inland at Misano. MV Agusta factory rider Angelo Bergamonti had won both the 350cc and 500cc Grand Prix races at the final round of the 1970 season at Montjuïc Park in Barcelona but was killed at the start of the 1971 season when he crashed at a roundabout on the Riccione seafront.
Both multi World Champions and bitter rivals, Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read were competing at Misano on private Suzuki 500cc two-strokes and, somehow, I managed to have dinner with them both on successive evenings at the legendary Abners hotel. That is where the good news ended. Ago decided when it started to sleet on race morning he would not compete and without their star man, the organisers immediately cancelled the meeting. That was bad enough but then I upset Ago with my Motor Cycle News headline which included the words ‘Pathetic Ago’. Not the great start to a career upsetting the 15-times World Champion with over 100 Grand Prix wins to his name as he reminded me when we met in the paddock at the re-scheduled race meeting on the Modena aerodrome circuit two weeks later.
This Adriatic coast of Italy has always been a hotbed of motorcycle racing. Youngsters brought up racing minibikes on the kart circuits that dot the seaside resorts have produced more World Champions and racing heroes than any other place in the World. Marco Simoncelli’s name is embedded into the name of the circuit. The rider with big hair and a big voice. The 250cc World Champion from Cattolica, who lost his life chasing his first MotoGP™ win Malaysia in 2011, is part of an elite band. Andrea Dovizioso from Forli and, of course, the most famous of them all, a certain Valentino Rossi
The small town of Tavullia is situated just over the hill from Misano and has turned into a shrine for the number 46. When he was voted Mayor of the town, the population walked to the circuit where the new Lord Mayor held the Annual General meeting in the grandstand at the Tramonto corner during a Grand Prix weekend. The celebrations when Rossi won the MotoGP™ races in 2008, 2009 and 2014 lasted for days and even longer than when Casey Stoner brought Ducati a patriotic win in 2007 en route to his World title. Grand Prix racing returned to Misano after a 14-year absence that year on the circuit running the opposite direction to the original. Rossi is determined that the heritage will continue and his racing ranch near Tavullia is already feeding the production line with Italian World Champions.
Pier Francesco Chili was another local hero running a bar and restaurant on the Misano beach. He won his only 500cc Grand Prix at his home circuit in 1989. I remember more about the antics of World Champion Eddie Lawson than the ever-popular ‘Frankie’. The original race had been stopped because of rain on the fifth lap and the top riders refused to return to the track. Chili was contracted to race and duly won. Every lap he passed pit lane Lawson was sat on the wall with one finger in the air that was not indicting to the Italian who was in first place.
Every time I fly into Bologna and drive down the Autostrada to Misano there are two people I always think about. I will never forget the silence of utter despair that descended like a black cloud engulfing the paddock when the news broke of Wayne Rainey’s terrible injuries sustained in his crash at turn one in 1993. Seventeen years later that black cloud fell again on the paddock when that delightful and so talented Japanese rider Shoya Tomizawa lost his life in the Moto2™ race.
Misano has seen it all. It is such a special place with so many memories.