How Petrucci’s Comeback Happened in a Year “Even Hitchcock Couldn’t Script”


Withdrawn from MotoGP at the end of 2021, Danilo Petrucci finds himself this weekend with Suzuki for an improbable outing in the Thai Grand Prix.

The gentle giant Petrucci was a mainstay in the MotoGP paddock from 2012, when he made his debut on the underpowered and underfunded Ioda Project CRT machine, steadily climbing the grid.

Literally going from last to first, through Ioda, Pramac Ducati and then the Ducati factory team – with whom he won two races – Petrucci’s story is as moving as his contagious laughter and penchant for the right thread. .

All of this has made him a favorite in the paddock, as demonstrated by the outpouring of support he received on the grid in his final MotoGP race with Tech3 KTM at Valencia last year.

Petrucci confirmed to Motorsport.com in June 2021 that he was considering getting into rally raids, starting with the Dakar. It happened, but his journey from Valencia 2021 to this weekend’s Thailand GP is quite extraordinary.

As the man himself said Thursday in Buriram, who arrived in Thailand from Alabama Wednesday morning and left Monday at 6 a.m.: “I just can’t explain how emotional I am because even a Alfred Hitchcock’s story couldn’t have made me race the Dakar with KTM, then I go to the States with Ducati and come here with Suzuki – I don’t think anyone has ever done that!”

Petrucci made his Dakar debut in January this year with KTM. During his pre-race training in Dubai, he injured his ankle and his Dakar dream already seemed uncertain as doctors advised him not to ride.

But a little perseverance got Petrucci – who had only ridden his KTM Dakar motorcycle six days instead of the three weeks he was supposed to in training – to get to the Saudi desert in time for the ‘event.

Except that, just days before the scheduled start, his hopes were all but dashed again. He tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. But the day before the start of the 2021 Dakar Rally, he returned a negative PCR test and his debut resumed.

#90 Tech 3 KTM Factory Racing: Danilo Petrucci

Picture by: KTM Pictures

But, one day after the Dakar, he had a bicycle problem. Unable to fix the problem himself, as he had lost his phone, wallet and passport in the previous scene, he had to report official support – which stabbed him with a time penalty which effectively meant that was out of the race. He was able to return to the event for at least a few kilometers. Despite an accident with a camel – which caused some trouble for the Saudi Embassy when he went to collect his passport, after telling the media he wanted to kill the offending animal – Petrucci recorded a win moving stage on the Dakar.

He had hoped to continue racing rally-raids with KTM until 2022. But a misunderstanding with KTM over the two parties’ plans meant Petrucci was looking for a new challenge.

Former employer Ducati contacted him, offered to ride one of his Panigales V4s in the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship with the Warhorse team, and the Italian left for the United States. Winning five races during the year – including the double in Austin over the MotoGP weekend, to much fanfare – Petrucci finished second in the campaign in the standings.

It was on the eve of the MotoAmerica title decider when Suzuki called him. Joan Mir broke her ankle in a bad crash on the first lap of the Austrian Grand Prix in August. And although the 2020 world champion had hoped to be back for the Thailand GP, he was forced into more rest. Suzuki had inquired about Petrucci’s services for the San Marino GP, but he wanted to focus on the MotoAmerica title. The turnaround for his return to Thailand, however, was much tighter.

“I got the call before last Sunday’s race in Alabama, when I was still fighting for the title,” Petrucci told Buriram on Thursday. “So I said ‘let me think about it because I’m retired now and racing in Thailand was tough when I was in great shape. Now that I’m an old man it will be even tougher “.

“I sincerely hope that the weather will help me a bit. But after the race [in Alabama], I went back to the tent at six and the manager said “we have to decide because we don’t have time to go to Thailand from the United States”. So I said ‘OK, here we go’. From there, it was like putting myself in a washing machine. I just arrived here, I can’t wait to jump on the bike because at least it’s something where I’m on my own and I can manage, even if the bike is completely different.”

Danilo Petrucci, HSBK Racing Ducati NYC war horse

Photo by: Brian J. Nelson

Petrucci’s last-minute return to MotoGP forced him to sacrifice a few vacations: one for himself and one for his brother who, instead of enjoying some free time in New York with his partner, is now on a plane to Thailand with a Suzuki. leathers having been shipped from Alabama to Italy.

Although Petrucci has extensive experience with MotoGP machinery, he has never ridden a Suzuki before. Having been used to V4-powered bikes, the GSX-RR’s inline-four poses a completely different challenge – not least with his only experience of such a bike coming in 2013, when he rode the production-derived Suter BMW. Ioda chassis raced in the CRT class.

Petrucci also arrives on a bike loaded with ride height devices, which have been ergonomically configured specifically. So adjusting to the GSX-RR will be a tall order, especially since its massive frame requires it to make even more changes to accommodate it.

“I didn’t get a chance to sit on the bike, but they showed me all the things and the devices are in different positions,” he explained. “So we can’t make any changes. So I usually use the thumb brake, and here the thumb brake is the device of the driving device. So it’s even quite dangerous to press this button in the corner when I use the thumb brake, so I have to fix my thumb so I don’t touch it.

What will help Petrucci this weekend in Thailand is if the predicted rain materializes. His size and weight meant he always generated better tire temperature and grip than anyone else in wet conditions, with the Italian notching his first MotoGP podium in 2015 at rain-soaked Silverstone – while his last victory in the premier class was in the wet at Le Hommes.

Although it is unrealistic to expect a fairy tale result, wet conditions will make his weekend less physically demanding.

“Yes, I hope it will rain forever until Sunday 4 p.m. because at least the race is less physical,” he added. “I hope it will rain, because I was already so scared when I came here for MotoGP because racing in dry conditions when it’s so hot is one of the worst things a human being can try. So hopefully it will stay [wet] because everything is softer, easier. I just want to enjoy, finish the race. I think it’s difficult not to finish in a position that is not the last. But maybe the bike is so, so good that I’ll find the way and stay close to the other guys. I just want to give my best but I don’t care about the result, even if I want to go fast. I said the same thing when I went to the Dakar.”

Danilo Petrucci, Suzuki MotoGP Team

Photo by: Suzuki Moto GP

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