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WRT’s Vosse On Signing Rossi: “I’ve Thought About It for Years”

WRT boss gives the background to Valentino Rossi joining the team…

Photo: Team WRT

WRT team principal Vincent Vosse said that had thought about signing motorcycle racing icon Valentino Rossi to his GT cars “for years” before eventually getting a deal together for 2022.

In the year after retiring from an illustrious two-wheel racing career, nine-time world champion Rossi will tackle the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance and Sprint Cups in a WRT-run Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II.

Giving the background to how the deal came together, Vosse told Sportscar365 that he had tried several times unsuccessfully to get four-wheel enthusiast Rossi on board for a major sports car race.

“When Vale went from Yamaha to Ducati [in 2011] and Ducati was bought by Audi [in 2012], I went to Audi and I said, would it be something that we could do? To run Vale and do a Ducati car,” Vosse recalled.

“I have thought about it for years. Obviously at that time it was for a one-shot [race].

“I am a big fan of Moto GP and you cannot be a fan of Moto GP without being a fan of, and respectful of, what Vale has done in the last 20-plus years.

“He came to the Blancpain series two or three times. Clearly the guy wants to do something on four wheels and he was always clear about that the last three or four years.

“When he had interviews he always said that after his career on two wheels, he would do something on four. He always did rally and that race in Abu Dhabi with his friends.

“I tried to contact him in different ways the last five years, to try to do Spa or Bathurst or whatever. Just putting ideas on the table. But I was never able to and I was never in contact with him.”

Not wanting to give up, Vosse renewed his pursuit of Rossi last year and obtained a contact within his inner circle from an extended member of WRT’s 2021 squad.

“I sent that person an email and waited a few weeks, no answer, but then I think around July I got an answer, first contact,” said Vosse.

“Things went on from there and I was very honored to know how much he knows of the team and what we did. We had a first meeting at the end of August on a video call.

“I explained to him how I would see his future at that time. He had not announced his retirement yet. When the retirement was clear we were able to come with something else and go a little bit further.

“Everything went from there and I have to say, he is a very enthusiastic person with plenty of passion, who knows what he wants and doesn’t want, and how he wants to do things.”

Rossi tested an Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II for the first time at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in December.

When asked if his performance at the Valencia test spurred the final decision to agree on a race program, Vosse said: “I think we were close to an agreement, and then the possibility of the test was there.

“Then the test went well. His approach and technical feedback… I did not expect anything else. The way he adapted was impressive. He is not a nine-time world champion by luck.

“The way he wants to be competitive, the way he wants to understand everything: it’s clear that he is not there just to have fun.

“Probably it’s very important that he enjoys it. But you can enjoy and be competitive.”

Vosse added that it was a “common decision” for Rossi to be placed in the top Pro category for his first full season in four-wheel motorsport.

His previous GT racing appearances have come in Pro-Am lineups but Rossi will be supported by a pair of to-be-announced factory drivers next season.

“I never really had the idea to run him in a Silver or whatever,” Vosse said.

“I always had the idea to run him in a Pro car. I think to learn and go forward, to do big steps, to have two teammates who are highly experienced in Pro and know the car and team well, it helps.”

Rossi’s Choice a “Privilege” for Audi

Audi Sport’s head of customer racing, Chris Reinke, described Rossi’s decision to pursue a GT racing career in one of the manufacturer’s products as a “privilege”.

Rossi has previously driven Ferrari 458 and 488 GT3 models but this will mark his first time racing a GT car from a different brand.

“If you look into iconic sportsmen – at the moment the whole world seems to be in Tom Brady momentum – but if you look at the man before it, when Valentino stopped his motorcycle career, he moved the whole world,” Reinke told Sportscar365.

“He’s more than the GOAT of motorcycling: he’s iconic.

“To have him pick the Audi Sport customer racing product to start the next step in his motorsport career is a great privilege.

“And how much more of a compliment can you get as a customer racing operation when an iconic person like him picks you for his start in automotive racing?”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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