Danilo Petrucci finished his final race in MotoGP at Valencia, but the Italian won’t be off a competitive machine for long.
Petrucci is swapping road racing for the desert challenge of the Dakar Rally, and the Italian has less than two months before his new adventure, alongside his current employer KTM, begins.
The instantly affable character will be greatly missed by the entire MotoGP paddock - much like he was in WorldSBK when he made his move from the Superstock class a decade ago - with the outpouring of appreciation clear to see at the start of Sunday’s 27-lap race.
“Was really, really nice,” Petrucci rejected, “because when I parked the bike on the grid, I say to myself 'now please don't cry', but then people start to come to me - everyone who I work with and all the friends in the paddock. Usually I go to the pit box [before the race] and this was a big problem because then coming back all the pit lane start to make an applause and all the KTM team, all the Ducati team and I say hello to everyone to all the grid. I was really, really happy to see all this love to myself.
“Fortunately we were at the beginning of the pit lane, because if not it was difficult to start the race for me and I just start to cry because I have a lot of friends. But in these days, in the last week I received really 1000s of messages on my social, on my phone, and the people here in the paddock. The best thing was seeing all this love to myself. I expected a bit but when you touch with the end it's another thing. Even in Mugello, the first time, the first time on the podium, when I was third I cry, I cry when I was first and unfortunately when I'm happy I cannot make different!
“The race I try,” he continued. “I try at the first moment but sincerely I wanted to finish the race, after the last two races, and the first two laps everyone was so aggressive. So I tried to stay there then my front tyre gets really, really high pressure and was not possible to brake hard so I said 'Okay, just don't think about it. I have KTM MotoGP all for me and track and I want to enjoy this last kilometres on this bike.’ It was really, really a pleasure to see all the people so happy and I am really happy.
“No regrets!” he said simply. “It's easy to look back and say that things could go better. For sure, some times I made some mistakes. In 2016 maybe I was able to win in Sachsenring for example under the rain. Then in Assen the same year I was leading the race and my bike was broken. Then maybe in 2019, I was really, really fast but I suffer a lot. The thing was there was clearly a first and a second rider. So I suffer a lot this because even when I was fast I was not always took in consideration, and I suffer a lot. Instead of thinking about myself, I try to say 'okay, now I show you who I am' and I start to make mistake and I lost third position in the championship. But I can say I always give my best. I always try and I'm really happy of what I have done. Especially, I think MotoGP never seen a rider with my size and there will not be any more. I don't think there will be one metre 80 for 83 kilos, naked. It's over 90 kilos on the bike and when you say this to the engineer, they just start to lose the air. So was really, really a bet on me and we won!”
Reflecting on his career, his move into the world championship from production racing and his will to achieve against the odds, Petrucci admitted he always backed himself, no matter what.
"The first time in late 2011, someone told me you're going to race in MotoGP next year. So my friends asked to me 'do you ever imagine to race in MotoGP?' and I answer ‘Yes!’ because was always a dream of mine. But then, one thing is talking about the sea and another thing is crossing the sea. Sincerely when I started this adventure in 2012, I started and for the first race I was last and I broke also the bike. All that year, until 2014, for many races I have been last in practice, last in qualifying and last in the race. I think I was the only one still believing and I never quit.
“One day the dream has come true and it was really, really nice because maybe I'm one of the last normal people that can make it without being, let's say 'a phenomenon', something ultra natural. When I was young I was just a good rider. Yeah I was fast but there were people faster than me, but I never stopped believing that I was the best. For two times in the race I show to the people that I was the best, at least in that circuit, in that place, in that day, for two times. Was a big relief because if there was just Mugello, maybe I was a one day hero, but then I show to myself in Le Mans that I can still win races.
"My career has been quite unique because I was coming from Superstock and no one has ever tried to pick up a rider and let him race in MotoGP and no one trust me. But day after day I start to learn and it's been quite unique also the way I'm leaving.
“Since last year, I started to feel not so good. Not really enjoying what I was doing because the pressure, maybe I spent so much effort, so much strength to be here in MotoGP that I was not enjoying. So I started to think ‘Okay, what's your instinct, your decision', and I answer to myself 'I just want to ride the bikes'. So I said 'Okay, which is the sport that you ride the bike the most?’ and is the Dakar. Since 15 years old I was racing with motocross so I said ‘Maybe I can do it’.
“Thanks to KTM, in the next month, I will go training a lot and then I will try to race the Dakar and to finish the Dakar because it's a dream of mine. Then I need to understand if I can be happy, Because the happiness for me is to be fast on a bike. Because if not, I can just go with my bike around the mountains and on the track, or going to take a coffee but unfortunately I want always to see a time and I want always to fight with the chrono. So I said 'Okay, maybe it's my way,’ and I need to understand if this is true.”