There’s a new Doctor in endurance-racing town, his name being Valentino Rossi. The 49-year-old Italian motorcycle racer won two World Championships in 125- and 250-cc before ringing up seven top-class World Championships in 500-cc and four-stroke MotoGP over a 26-year professional career. Retiring from the saddle at the end of the 2021 season did not mean retiring from racing, though. The man nicknamed The Doctor announced he’ll be campaigning a full season of GT World Challenge Europe with Belgium’s W Racing Team (WRT). His weapon will come with two additional wheels and be one of the best in the field, just as his Yamaha M1 once was — the Audi R8 LMS GT3. WRT won the GT World Challenge, formerly known as the Blancpain GT Series, four times in the past eight years. Rossi will be one of two drivers trying to take the win ratio to five times in nine. WRT hasn’t announced who will partner the man from Urbino yet.
Rossi wrote in a post on social media, “I am delighted to join Team WRT for a full Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS programme. Everybody knows that I have always been a great car racing fan and that I have always been interested in racing on four wheels once my MotoGP career would come to an end. Now I am completely available to devote myself to a car racing programme at a high level and with the right professional approach. Team WRT is the perfect fit I was looking for and I am anxious to start this new adventure in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS with them.”
He’s been more than a mere fan of auto racing. Among other forays, he tested Ferrari’s 2006 Formula 1 car that year for three days in Spain, finishing with a best time a half-second behind Michael Schumacher’s best time. Also in 2006, he finished 11th out of 39 entries in the Rally New Zealand. In 2008, he got another Ferrari test. In 2012, he drove a Ferrari at two rounds of the Blancpain Endurance Series, then tested Kyle Busch’s NASCAR rig at Charlotte Motor Speedway the following year. More spins in single-seaters and hardtops followed. His latest and realest test commenced with a few days of development work last December in the Audi he’ll pilot this year.
The 2022 GT World Challenge season begins with testing on March 8 at Circuit Paul Ricard in France. The first of the ten-race season, five sprints and five endurance events including the 24 Hours of Spa, takes place in Rossi’s home country, at Imola on April 1. That’s when we’ll see what the Vale Yellow #46 can do on the side of a V10 instead of the YZR-M1’s one-liter four-cylinder.