Valentino Rossi, one of the all-time greats of motorcycle racing history, shocked the racing world when the news broke in 2021 that he was retiring. Everyone knew that it had to happen at some point, of course, but the news was still bittersweet. The median age of top-level racers keeps getting younger, not just because society has it in for everyone over the age of 30, but also because general reflexes, reaction times, and speed demonstrably decline as humans get older.
Still, watching that era come to an end was difficult. While the VR46 team is a presence, and indeed the man himself is still extremely active behind the scenes and racing GT cars, change and adaptation to that change can be tough. After all, we, as humans, don’t usually like to be reminded that we’re getting older, too.
The MotoGP organization just announced in May, 2022 that it’s officially retiring Vale’s number, 46, at the Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley at Mugello, which runs from May 27 through 29, 2022. That number, which is synonymous with the Doctor and everything he’s meant to the sport, will be retired from the MotoGP class as of that date. (To be honest, who on earth would want to use that number, anyway?)
Rossi will attend the event, and the official ceremony to retire his number will be held on the main straight on Saturday, directly ahead of qualifying. In total, Rossi’s career spanned nine MotoGP world championship titles, as well as 115 race wins and 235 podiums across all classes. He’s already been inducted into the MotoGP Legends Hall of Fame—which, like both his retirement and the retirement of his number, was probably only to be expected.
Still, just because you expect something to happen doesn’t necessarily make it any less satisfying, or worthy of your attention. It’s difficult to think of a single rider who’s meant more to the sport than Vale, particularly in the modern era. It seems like a fitting way to end an unparalleled career, one final capstone in the event. Humans do love our special ceremonies, after all—and after the past few years, everyone can use as much joy as we can stand in 2022.