“My sister is solely 20 months older than me,” the Italian tells CNN from the media heart at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas. “When we have been younger, calling me ‘Francesco’ was tough for her, so she was calling me ‘Pecco, Pecco, Pecco!’ each morning, like this, and I appreciated it.”
It is a title that is turning into ever extra acquainted in his house nation, not least as a result of certainly one of Italy’s most lauded and cherished stars is about to take his remaining bow on the MotoGP stage.
On November 14, Valentino Rossi will draw the curtain on a profession that has redefined the game. Rossi could also be as inimitable as he is irreplaceable, however there are indicators that Italy might have found his successor.
Last month on the Aragon MotoGP, Bagnaia blasted his Ducati into an imperious lead from pole place, earlier than Repsol Honda’s indomitable Marc Marquez started to haul him in.
Three laps from the top, the Catalan dived in entrance of the younger Italian, however Bagnaia instantly took again the lead. A heart-in-mouth dogfight ensued earlier than the Ducati rider seared throughout the road, simply 0.673 seconds forward of Marquez, to attain his first ever premier class win.
Marquez assessed Bagnaia’s efficiency after the race. “I attempted to analyse the place he was quick, the place his weak factors [were]”, he advised reporters. “But there weren’t any weak factors. In all of the race monitor he was quick.”
Per week later in entrance of a packed Marco Simoncelli Circuit at Misano, Italy, Bagnaia led for all the 27-lap race, crossing the road to win in entrance of a rapturously partisan house crowd and consolidate second within the championship.
‘People screaming for me’
For an Italian rider, profitable a race in Italy on a Ducati is a second to be cherished.
“A win is at all times a win, and it is particular. The first win, in Aragon, was a large second for me, very emotional, however doing it in entrance of our followers was a dream for me,” say a smiling Bagnaia.
“When I regarded on the Ducati crowd within the grandstand, I used to be very emotional. Because I used to be seeing that additionally my mother, my brother, my pals have been there, and wanting, all these individuals screaming for me, was superb.”
Praise for Bagnaia’s double success got here from Rossi himself, who known as the Aragon win an “A-plus race” and remarked that the way forward for MotoGP in Italy was “in good fingers” with Bagnaia and compatriot Franco Morbidelli.
The 24-year-old Bagnaia is a graduate of Rossi’s VR46 Academy and the Ducati rider has received to know his idol over a few years.
“I bear in mind very properly the primary time I met him,” Bagnaia remembers. “We have been having dinner … and Vale with our coach got here within the restaurant. I used to be very nervous to fulfill my idol. It was unusual to have my idol in entrance of me and shaking fingers.”
In latest months that relationship has turn into nearer.
“I believe now we’re good pals, and we’re talking a lot about my championship,” Bagnaia tells CNN. “In the final month he has at all times been talking to me about being at all times one of the best, and to be higher each time.”
This summer season Bagnaia featured in a pop video for the tune “Allegria,” with legendary Italian crooner Gianni Morandi alongside singer-songwriter and rapper, Jovanotti.
Filmed at Rossi’s famous VR46 ranch, Bagnaia is seen within the video on a motocross bike, tearing round a group of dancers in Nineteen Sixties costumes. It was a surreal expertise for the younger rider.
“I’m a nice fan of Gianni Morandi and Jovanotti. Jovannotti is my idol from this world, and once they requested us to make the video, I used to be very emotional as a result of my favourite tune is certainly one of Jovanotti’s, so it was unusual that he was asking us to make a video like this.”
Bagnaia beams as he remembers the day.
“We began using the bike, we have been dancing, it was a actually nice day, I loved a lot. Gianni Morandi and Jovanotti are two unbelievable guys, so it was very, very, very good to do it.”
Bagnaia was even impressed to create a particular helmet to commemorate the tune, which he wore for the Misano race.
“I used to be pondering, what does Misano give to you? And I say that it is like house, and house is enjoyable, and is ‘allegria’ (cheerfulness),” he explains. “Racing at house is at all times a good feeling, and all the times you will have a smile in your face as a result of you realize that every one the individuals who will arrive will scream for you, and it is one thing that you just really feel, so I say that ‘allegria’ is one of the best factor to dedicate it.”
Such trappings of fame are nonetheless new to the unassuming Bagnaia. MotoGP is a faith in a lot of Italy, however rising up within the small city of Chivasso, near Turin, he was not in one of many sport’s heartlands.
“In Turin, the one sports activities which you can have an ambition in are both snowboarding or soccer,” he explains. “It was not simple at college to have help as a result of I used to be at all times going away for a race, and they might at all times name my mother and say, ‘ah your son is not at college, what is he doing?'”
Now, nevertheless, issues are altering. “If I believe, three years in the past, two years in the past, I used to be strolling simply in my city, however now it is turning into harder,” he smiles. “Now everybody is aware of about MotoGP, and it’s extremely good to see.”
Bagnaia was just lately handed a particular award in Chivasso, given to its most vital residents. He now has an official fan membership, too, which has simply hoisted a big banner in his title over the city’s essential sq..
‘I used to be at all times crashing’
His first two seasons in MotoGP have been painfully punctuated with crashes and severely disrupted by harm when he broke his leg throughout observe on the 2020 Czech MotoGP.
“I used to be struggling a lot with the sensation on the entrance of the bike. I used to be at all times crashing, however with out understanding why. So, it was tough to correlate the crash with one thing, and when that is the case you simply lose confidence,” he explains.
But this season issues have clicked. “This yr once I began, I simply determined to make this yr to be taught, to enhance myself. From the beginning I simply discovered a lot about tips on how to handle the tires, to be at all times fixed and sooner, and not go over the restrict,” he tells CNN.
Softly spoken and considerate, Bagnaia has additionally been pondering the tragedies which have hit bike racing this yr, with three teenage racers dropping their lives, most just lately Dean Berta Viñales, cousin of MotoGP star Maverick Viñales, in related accidents.
“We already misplaced three younger riders this yr. The final one was the identical age as my brother, so if I’m fascinated about it, it is one thing very unbelievable,” Bagnaia tells CNN.
“When you determine to race with a motorcycle you additionally settle for the truth that you’re taking a threat. Now the run-off areas are very large and there aren’t any partitions on the monitor, so for us it is safer. But the issue stays if you crash, and you [remain] on monitor. It’s one thing which you can’t handle.”
Bagnaia believes the game’s directors should act.
“In this class, the place Viñales misplaced his life, there are 40 riders, with bikes that aren’t so quick. When you might be like this, any such accident can occur extra … in these different classes when you’re rising, earlier than using on the planet championship, (having fewer riders on monitor) is a possibility and a chance.”
MotoGP and World Superbike administrator, Dorna, wouldn’t touch upon the latest incidents, however CNN has learnt that new security measures, already being deliberate earlier than these newest tragedies, will quickly be introduced by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme and Dorna
The Italian adopted up his wins in Aragon and Misano with a third consecutive pole place in Austin, however may solely handle third place within the race, behind championship chief Fabio Quartararo in second and a resurgent Marc Marquez.
With solely three races remaining, Bagnaia is aware of his probabilities of overhauling Quartararo are hanging by a thread.
With winter closing in, MotoGP now returns to Misano earlier than races in Portimao, Portugal, and Valencia, Spain.
“For positive it is not going to be simple to repeat the victory (in Misano), as a result of the circumstances might be so totally different,” he tells CNN.
“October 24 in Italy is very chilly, so let’s have a look at what is going to occur. I believe with the step ahead we did this yr, with my feeling with the entrance, the chilly is not going to be a drawback.”
“Portimao is one other monitor that I like, I’ve had a podium there and I used to be very aggressive; however in Valencia I used to be by no means aggressive, I at all times struggled a lot, it is a monitor the place I’m not feeling nice, so this yr is the yr the place all the pieces has to vary, as a result of I actually need to keep in entrance.”
One factor Bagnaia is resigned to dropping is his retiring idol, Rossi.
“It is not going to be simple to simply accept the truth that he is not going to race subsequent yr,” he says, wistfully. “From the primary yr I arrived in Moto3, he was there, and from 2014 we began sharing our day additionally at house. I can not consider subsequent yr as a result of it’s extremely tough to simply accept. It might be very unusual.”
As Italian MotoGP followers flip the web page on the Valentino Rossi chapter, there is a rising sense that the Pecco Bagnaia story has solely simply begun.