Morbidelli: Happy to see Rossi’s final MotoGP laps, he drove fantastic | MotoGP

Franco Morbidelli, the first member of Valentino Rossi’s VR46 Riders Academy, had the “lucky chance” to be right behind the nine-time world champion when he completed his final MotoGP laps in Valencia.

The Yamaha riders were side by side on the grid, but while Rossi moved up to ninth place, Morbidelli slipped to 13th place on the first lap.

Morbidelli, who started the season as Rossi’s Petronas team-mate, caught The Doctor on lap 9 of 27, while Andrea Dovizioso was just three M1s in a row behind.

It looked like Rossi was going to stop them, but Morbidelli insisted that there had been no room for a safe attack and that the # 46 then increased its pace.

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While Dovizioso was falling behind, Morbidelli – who had not yet reached full strength in his healing knee – stayed in Rossi’s wheelbacks to enjoy the historic final laps of his career.

The pair crossed the finish line in tenth and eleventh place for what Rossi called his best race of the season, while Morbidelli celebrated his highest result since major knee surgery in June.

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“It was great to be lucky enough to make the race behind Vale,” said Morbidelli. “Actually, I just wanted to stay away from him as far as possible before the race! I said I didn’t want to get involved in anything.

“At some point I found myself right behind him and said OK, let’s try to push and try to maybe overtake him or maybe do something. But he was so fast and so invulnerable that I had to stay the whole race behind him.

“I thought I was very, very happy to be able to enjoy his final laps of MotoGP from a very special position.

“And it was great. He drove fantastic, he drove incredibly well.

“He’s been increasing the pace over the final laps and you could see that he really appreciated and enjoyed those final moments on a MotoGP bike.”

Morbidelli started the year as the reigning runner-up at Petronas and reached the team’s only podium of the season before retiring for knee surgery.

The Italian then switched teams and bike spec to be back in action in September, joining Monster Yamaha to replace Maverick Vinales.

“Crazy season. Lots of ups and downs, more lows than highs,” said Morbidelli. “But one last race like this leaves the season with a sweet taste in our mouths and with great faith in the coming year.

“So now it’s a question of understanding in Jerez [test] what we need for next year understand well whether what we have done is better. Jerez is on the right track and I can work better with it.

“Then take a rest this winter and prepare well for this year.”

Like his fellow VR46 Academy riders, Morbidelli used one of Rossi’s title-winning helmet designs on Sunday.

The Jerez test will take place this Thursday and Friday.