Valentino Rossi will certainly remember August 18, 1996 for the rest of his life. Back then, Rossi clinched his first victory in the motorcycle world championship at the Czech Grand Prix in Brno. In the 125cc class, Rossi and his Aprilia prevailed over veteran Jorge Martinez.
“My life changed suddenly. Within a month I was very well known,” said Rossi in an interview with ‘MotoGP.com’, looking back on his first Grand Prix victory. The then 17-year-old from Tavullia met a number of prominent names in the 125cc World Cup. Haruchika Aoki, Emilio Alzamora, Jorge Martinez, Kazuto Sakata, Dirk Raudies and Noboru Ueda fought for victories and podium places in the eight-liter class.
Motorcycle legend Loris Capirossi remembers: “Back then there were many strong champions and former world champions with a lot of experience. You learn a lot from these drivers. Valentino learned a lot from these world champions.”
Valentino Rossi enters the World Cup stage and brings a breath of fresh air
Rossi came to the World Cup as Italian champion and third place in the European Championship. “In the 1996 season I was really excited because even participating in the World Cup was a dream for me,” remembers the Italian. Rossi attracted interest early on with his flippant and easy-going manner. Compared to his rivals, Rossi was less serious and thus brought a breath of fresh air to the class.
But in contrast to the Italian championship and the European championship, Rossi had a much bigger challenge in front of him in the world championship. “When you make the leap into the World Cup, you can never be sure. You are afraid that you will be last and not be on the same level,” he remembers his fears before the 1996 season.
Motorcycle World Championship 1996: Valentino Rossi on the Aprilia RS125
Photo: Motorsport Images
“I wasn’t very experienced. I had great courage, but didn’t act particularly clever,” said Rossi, looking back on his first World Cup season. Already at the season opener in Shah Alam (Malaysia) he clashed with the established drivers. There was an incident with Jorge Martinez during the race.
Martinez fell and then visited Rossi’s pit to make it clear to the rookie that such an incident should not be repeated. “The older drivers always wanted to make it clear to the younger ones that they should proceed calmly and that it was their territory,” explains Rossi.
Great self-confidence after the first podium in the World Cup
At the tenth race of the season, the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg, Rossi made it onto the podium for the first time. Ivan Goi took the win, Dirk Raudies came second and Valentino Rossi climbed onto the podium in third. Two weeks later, Rossi traveled to the Czech Republic with great self-confidence.
Valentino Rossi in front of the impressive backdrop of the Automotodrom Brno
Photo: Motorsport Images
“I knew the course in Brno because I was already racing there in the European Championship. I liked the course, I liked it a lot,” reports Rossi. “I took pole on Saturday. That was a surprise because training wasn’t my forte even then.”
The excitement before the race was great. Rossi could not use the pole. Due to a bad start, the Italian fell back into midfield and had to struggle to get to the top. A duel with Jorge Martinez for victory developed, which was only decided in the last lap.
Valentino Rossi defeats Jorge Martinez and almost crashes into the pit wall
“Martinez was very good on the brakes. We dueled,” remembers Rossi, who started the decisive maneuver in Turn 10. “I had a little more to give that day,” said Rossi, who crossed the finish line 0.245 seconds ahead of Martinez and celebrated his first victory.
Valentino Rossi defeated Jorge Martinez in the duel for victory in Brno
Photo: Motorsport Images
During the wild celebrations, Rossi’s Aprilia drove closer and closer to the pit wall. At the last second, Rossi prevented a collision.
“It didn’t look that scary on the motorcycle, but from the outside it did (laughs; editor’s note), he jokes.” I was very close to the wall. Going into the pit wall after your first win is not a good idea. “
The certainty of being one of the best in the World Cup creates euphoria
The first race win in the World Cup gave Rossi a big boost. “After the first victory everything changes. You know that you can do it. After that you want more. When you get to know the taste of a victory, you always want more,” he explains.
“With this win he took a step forward,” confirms rival Jorge Martinez. “He knew that he was one of the best drivers in the field.” When Rossi won the World Cup for the first time, important decision-makers from Aprilia were there. With the success in the Czech Republic, Rossi secured a place in the Aprilia factory team.
Valentino Rossi celebrates dominant world title and moves up to the 500 World Cup
In the further course of the 1996 season, Rossi did not achieve another podium. He finished his rookie season in ninth place in the World Championship. But in the following year Rossi took a big step. He won the title with the factory Aprilia by winning 11 of 15 races. Rossi only missed the podium in two races.
In the 1998 season Rossi rose as 125cc world champion in the 250cc World Championship and drove a factory Aprilia. With victories in the final part of the season, he came within 23 points of world champion Loris Capirossi. The following year Rossi dominated the 250cc World Championship and won 9 of the 16 races.
After two titles in the small classes, Rossi’s path led to the premier class in the 2000 season. Rossi won a race in his first 500cc season and was runner-up behind Suzuki driver Kenny Roberts junior.
The following year, Rossi won the final title in the 500cc World Championship with 11 victories in 16 races, before continuing his successful streak in the MotoGP four-stroke era and claiming six more titles.
With images from Motorsport Images.