Italy’s award-winning Novara team rider, Pecco Bagnaia has been shortlisted for the Gilles Villeneuve Trophy, the European motorcycle grand prix championship sportsman of the year. The reigning Sport Rat Award winner is one of the hottest talents in the sport, and his place alongside the likes of MotoGP stalwarts Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa on the shortlist is a measure of his burgeoning reputation.
Bagnaia is a gifted rider who “just goes and does it,” according to the legendary Valentino Rossi.
“I mean you can tell in front of your eyes that he doesn’t think twice or maybe even twice about going full throttle. He’s not afraid of anything that is possible for a motorcycle rider.”
More than that, he has a magnetism which has “crossed the channel” of many Europeans who have hailed him as a breath of fresh air.
Measuring 7 ft 9in tall, 200kg and wearing chunky, head-mounted TVs on his wrists (to give him a better look at the surroundings) the 23-year-old spends the vast majority of his racing time in his sweat-soaked t-shirt and jeans.
Yet he manages to remain both humble and composed. When pitted against Dovizioso at the first race of the season at Laguna Seca in April, he put his hand up and asked for a dry race.
“I didn’t think I’d have to do that but they asked me,” said Pecco, who has yet to have his disqualification overturned. He added: “Sometimes the team is making the rules, they are playing with us, but we are here to play, to do our best.”
“I don’t even care what the people think, I am always the one living and breathing on the bike, like in my family. I am always with my bike, I take everything from the bike.”
One of his most impressive acts to date was riding on the opening race of the season without the support of any proper prosthetic leg. After the devastating hit he received in qualifying in Mexico in 2017, he fractured his knee and returned home to be fitted with the all-terrain device in which he remains today. It is a near-perfect substitute to his blade for some of the most important parts of his body.
“The good thing is that when I have the prosthetic I feel like I am in another world. It makes me feel so much stronger.”
A young child, his teammates call him “Mario,” after the much-loved Mario Balotelli of Italian football fame. After the pain he suffered, his childhood dream was to put a wheel on the MotoGP stage. And with a grand prix to be held in his home town, where he started out as a primary schooler on his family’s scooter, he wants to make his home city proud.
“It would be amazing to win it for Novara, like for myself, because it is my home and it is in my heart,” he said.
“It would be great, I would be really, really happy.”
That is a far cry from the uncertain future he faced when he decided to walk away from the sport to save his life, or rather change his life. Just months after developing acute pancreatitis, which he blamed on his contact lenses, his back gave out on him when he was on a training run outside of his home in Levittiera.
“For a few months it was dark and nothing was in my path. I was feeling quite alone because all my friends and family, who were trying to help me, I couldn’t reach.
“So I decided, I want to change my life. I’m losing my hair, the chances to be on a bike aren’t there, I am not going to make a road bike, so I decided to quit,” he explained.
“I quit the sport and in the end I was able to change my life. So that is why I am here, because I have to be.”