Pecco Bagnaia: Crazy victories, pop videos and a famous mentor: why the Italian is the rising star of MotoGP
By Jonathan Hawkins, CNN
If the first step in becoming a sports icon is a distinctive nickname, rising MotoGP star Francesco ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia received a helping hand from birth.
“My sister is only 20 months older than me,” the Italian told CNN from the Americas Circuit media center in Austin. “When we were young, calling me ‘Francesco’ was difficult for her, so she called me ‘Pecco, Pecco, Pecco!’ every morning, like that, and I loved it.
It’s a name that is becoming more and more familiar in its home country, not least as one of Italy’s most beloved and beloved stars is about to bow out on the MotoGP scene.
On November 14, Valentino Rossi will draw back the curtain on a career that has redefined the sport. Rossi may be as inimitable as he is irreplaceable, but there are signs that Italy may have stumbled upon his successor.
Last month at MotoGP Aragon, Bagnaia propelled his Ducati to the lead from pole position, before the indomitable Marc Marquez of Repsol Honda started to bring him back.
Three laps from the end, the Catalan plunges in front of the young Italian, but Bagnaia immediately regains the lead. A fierce battle ensued before the Ducati rider crossed the finish line, just 0.673 seconds ahead of Marquez, to claim his first ever premier class victory.
Marquez evaluated Bagnaia’s performance after the race. “I tried to analyze where he was fast, where his weak points [were]”He told reporters. “But there were no weak points. Throughout the track he was fast.
A week later, ahead of a crowded Marco Simoncelli circuit in Misano, Italy, Bagnaia led the entire 27-lap race, crossing the finish line to win in front of an enthusiastic home crowd and consolidate second place in the championship.
‘People are screaming for me’
For an Italian rider, winning a race in Italy in a Ducati is a moment to be cherished.
“A win is always a win, and that’s special. The first victory, in Aragon, was a great moment for me, very moving, but doing it in front of our fans was a dream for me ”, confides a smiling Bagnaia.
“When I looked at the Ducati crowd in the grandstand, I was very moved. Because I saw that my mom, my brother, my friends were there too, and watching, all these people screaming for me, it was unbelievable.
The praise for Bagnaia’s double success came from Rossi himself, who called Aragon’s victory an “A-plus race” and noted that the future of MotoGP in Italy was “in good hands” with Bagnaia and his compatriot Franco Morbidelli.
24-year-old Bagnaia graduated from Rossi’s VR46 Academy and the Ducati rider got to know his idol for many years.
“I remember the first time I met him very well,” Bagnaia recalls. “We were having dinner… and Vale with our trainer came to the restaurant. I was very nervous to meet my idol. It was strange having my idol in front of me and shaking my hand.
In recent months, this relationship has grown closer.
“I think now we’re good friends and we talk a lot about my championship,” Bagnaia told CNN. “Over the past month, he’s always told me about always being the best and being the best every time.”
This summer, Bagnaia featured in a pop video for the song “Allegria”, with legendary Italian crooner Gianni Morandi alongside singer-songwriter and rapper Jovanotti.
Filmed at Rossi’s famous VR46 ranch, Bagnaia is seen in the video on a motocross bike, tearing up a group of dancers in 1960s costumes. It was a surreal experience for the young rider.
“I am a big fan of Gianni Morandi and Jovanotti. Jovannotti is my idol of this world, and when they asked us to do the video, I was very moved because my favorite song is one by Jovanotti, so it was strange that he asked us to make a video like this -this.
Bagnaia shines as she remembers the day.
“We started cycling, we were dancing, it was a very nice day, I enjoyed it a lot. Gianni Morandi and Jovanotti are two amazing guys, so it was very, very, very nice to do it.
Bagnaia was even inspired to create a special helmet to commemorate the song he wore for the Misano race.
“I was thinking, what is Misano giving you?” And I say it’s like home, and home is fun, and it’s “allegria” (cheerfulness), ”he explains. “Running around the house is always a nice feeling, and every day you have a smile on your face because you know that all the people that come in will be screaming for you, and that’s something you feel, so I say that ‘ allegria ‘is the best thing to devote to him.
Such attributes of fame are still new to modest Bagnaia. MotoGP is a religion in much of Italy, but having grown up in the small town of Chivasso, near Turin, it was not in one of the hearts of the sport.
“In Turin, the only sports in which you can have an ambition are either skiing or football,” he explains. “It was not easy at school to have support because I was always going for a run, and they would always call my mother and say: ‘ah your son is not in school, what -what he does ?'”
Now, however, things are changing. “If I think about it, three years ago, two years ago, I walked easily in my city, but now it’s getting more difficult,” he smiles. “Now everyone knows MotoGP, and it’s very nice to see.”
Bagnaia recently received a special award in Chivasso, awarded to its most important residents. He now also has an official fan club, which has just hoisted a giant banner in his name in the city’s main square.
‘I was still crashing’
His first two seasons in MotoGP were painfully punctuated by accidents and severely disrupted by injury when he broke his leg during testing for Czech MotoGP 2020.
“I had a lot of trouble with the feel at the front of the bike. I was still crashing, but without knowing why. So it was hard to correlate the crash with something, and when it does, you just lose confidence, ”he explains.
But this season, things clicked. “This year, when I started, I just decided to do this year to learn, to improve myself. Right from the start I learned a lot about how to handle the tires, how to always be consistent and faster, and not go over the limit, ”he told CNN.
In a soft and thoughtful voice, Bagnaia also reflected on the tragedies that befell motorcycle racing this year, with three teenage riders losing their lives, most recently Dean Berta Viñales, cousin of MotoGP star Maverick Viñales, in similar accidents.
“We have already lost three young riders this year. The last one was the same age as my brother, so if I think about it, that’s something very incredible, ”Bagnaia told CNN.
“When you decide to race with a motorcycle, you also accept the fact that you are taking a risk. Now the clearance areas are very big and there are no walls on the track so for us it’s safer. But the problem persists when you crash and [remain] on the right track. It is something that you cannot handle.
Bagnaia believes that sports administrators must act.
“In this category, where Viñales lost his life, there are 40 riders, with slower bikes. When you’re like that, this type of accident can happen more… in these other categories when you grow up, before riding in the world championship, (having fewer drivers on the track) is an opportunity and a possibility.
MotoGP and World Superbike administrator Dorna declined to comment on the recent incidents, but CNN has learned that new safety measures, already planned before these latest tragedies, will soon be announced by the International Motorcycling Federation and Dorna.
The Italian followed up his victories in Aragon and Misano with a third consecutive pole position in Austin, but could only manage third place in the race, behind championship leader Fabio Quartararo in second and a resurrected Marc Marquez.
With only three races to go, Bagnaia knows his chances of overthrowing Quartararo are hanging by a thread.
As winter approaches, MotoGP now returns to Misano ahead of the races in Portimao, Portugal, and Valencia, Spain.
“For sure it won’t be easy to repeat the victory (in Misano), because the conditions will be so different,” he told CNN.
“October 24 in Italy is very cold, so let’s see what will happen. I think with the step forward we have taken this year, with my feeling with the front, the cold will not be a problem.
“Portimao is another track that I like, I made a podium there and I was very competitive; but in Valencia I have never been competitive, I have always struggled a lot, it’s a track where I don’t feel good, so this year is the year when everything has to change, because I really want to stay ahead .
One thing Bagnaia is resigned to losing is his retired idol, Rossi.
“It won’t be easy to come to terms with the fact that he won’t be racing next year,” he said wistfully. “From the first year I arrived in Moto3 he was there, and from 2014 we started to share our day at home too. I cannot think of next year because it is very difficult to accept. It will be very strange.
As Italian MotoGP fans turn the page on the Valentino Rossi chapter, there is a growing sense that Pecco Bagnaia’s story has only just begun.
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