This story was originally posted on the original Sideburn blog on 17 December 2013, but with news that Valentino Rossi is finally retiring from MotoGP at the end of this season (to spend more time with his dirt tracker?) I thought it was worth a repost. These are my phone snaps from the day, too.
Ever since I heard about Rossi building a riding ranch in his home town of Tavullia I wanted to ride it. And going to prove it's not what you know, but who you know, in early September this year I managed, being the first journalist in the world to do a lap of Rossi's private test track.
It was all down to my connections with Rolling Stone Italy, for whom I write a monthly column on motorcycle culture.
It was ten years since Rossi was on their cover, dressed as Elvis and the editor, Michele Lupi, wanted to catch up and chose me to write the exclusive interview. The feature was even mentioned on the national 8pm news.
It's out in Rolling Stone Italy, December 2013 issue. GI
I was invited to do the interview, but I asked if I could ride the track while I was there. It was no problem, Rossi's right-hand man, Albi said, and rustled up a bunch of gear for me to borrow. Our old friend Marco Belli loaned me his 450 that was on wrecked, bald tyres. I rode like a wet lettuce, uncomfortable on the tyres and the surface is very, very loose, but I'm glad I did it. I'd have been happier on my own bike, though.
The original steel-frame Zaeta belonging to Graziano Rossi. The old man did more laps than anyone in the blazing heat and dust. We first featured Zaeta back in Sideburn 5. The article of co-founder Paolo Chiaia is still one of my favourites, and is still available in Sideburn 11.
Leathers hung up in the Rossi Pizzeria in Tavullia. It's a stylish place with just enough memorabilia to feel special, but not cluttered. In the courtyard is a well-stocked gift shop full of 46 paraphernalia.
The Rossi Fan Club HQ.
Vale looks over the shoulder of photographer Carlo Furgeri Gilbert, while famous Italian editor, and the man who sent me on a lot of great assignments, Michele Lupi licks his fingers.
Valentino, me (Gary), Marco.
It wasn't the first time I'd interviewed Rossi. Click here for the story of, an earlier time, which, in turn was the third time I'd interviewed him. GI