Francesco Bagnaia credited mentor Valentino Rossi’s VR46 academy for preparing him to finally win his first MotoGP race by beating Marc Marquez in the Aragon Grand Prix.
Factory Ducati racer Bagnaia developed his skills as part of seven-time premier class champion Rossi’s rider academy, the Italian competing for the VR46 squad in its first season as a race team in Moto3 back in 2014 before moving to Aspar the following year in the lightweight category.
He then returned to the VR46 fold three years later as he graduated to Moto2, Bagnaia ultimately winning the intermediate class world title with the operation in 2018 before becoming a Ducati junior rider on moving into the premier class for 2019, his efforts leading him to a factory seat with the marque for this season before swiftly establishing himself as a title contender despite still not having broken his victory duck.
Bagnaia says the support given to him by Rossi and the academy in helping him to improve as a motorcycle racer was crucial in allowing him to defeat Marquez to score his long-awaited debut MotoGP success, adding that Rossi had even suggested his race winning tyre strategy on Saturday evening after qualifying.
“This victory is for the (VR46) academy for sure, because you work every day trying to be better and they always have tried to help with asking where can we improve, and Vale (Rossi) was telling me yesterday that this was my day,” said Bagnaia.
“He could see my pace was strong but that Marc was the fastest one, and when I was going away from his motorhome yesterday he was saying ‘go hard soft’ (tyre strategy) because the last two races my tyre choice was different.
“I just tried to set as strong a pace as possible, I didn’t expect this level because it is very hot but the fight was very nice and to win makes it even sweeter.”
Bagnaia reckoned leading the Aragon contest by such a small margin made it feel like a “Moto2 race” , admitting that he knew Marquez would be strong throughout the weekend at the Motorland Aragon and focussed on making sure he could snap straight back at the six-time MotoGP world champion when he inevitably attacked in the latter stages of the encounter.
“It feels like I weigh 10kg less, it’s a great day for me and Ducati because everytime I was close to winning my first race there was always something that was missing, and to win like this is incredible because Marc (Marquez) is always strong,” continued Bagnaia.
“This is a track he likes a lot and his bike is very well suited to it, and today the probability to win was higher than other times but the battle was very strong and he tried seven times to overtake, and everytime I just focussed on making sure I could get back in front straight away.
“When I saw that at Turn 12 he was wide and knew the last four corners I had to maximum, and when I crossed the line I was incredibly emotional.
“It felt like a Moto2 race, I was always in front with small margins, this was more difficult though because I had Marc behind, and I know that he will always try and do a crazy overtake that you are not expecting, so it was not easy.
“I braked so hard (at Turn 12) and when I heard him try to overtake I knew it was impossible for him to stay on the line and it was, but I thought he’d try again at Turn 15 so I just pushed as hard as possible because I knew it would be impossible for him to pass at the last corner because I was so on the limit of braking there.”