THE MotoGP season kicks off this weekend in Qatar as the sport adjusts to life without Valentino Rossi.
But one rider trying to fill the void left by the charismatic seven-time world champion is his half-brother Luca Marini.
Marini, 24, drives for Rossi’s VR46 racing team, which is making its championship debut.
And Marini, entering his second season himself, is now poised to step out of his big brother’s considerable shadow – although he warns he’s not ready to challenge for the title just yet.
He said: “I’m really looking forward to the start of this new season because I’m feeling great.
“Last year was tough. It was difficult because we didn’t have a lot of testing days at the beginning of the season, so I was always in a hurry during the season to be competitive.
“This year I’ve prepared a lot better and the two tests this season have gone great, so I’m really excited about my personal growth and I feel like I’ll be able to enjoy it a lot more this year.
“It’s a bit early to say I can fight for the title but the level of MotoGP now means every rider is that close because we all have a factory bike or something.
“In my opinion we can be the underdogs.
“The fight for the championship will be between Francesco Bagnaia, Fabio Quartarar and Marc Marquez, but we have nothing to lose and maybe we can risk a little bit more, unlike these guys who have to win the world championship.
“We can even the fight between these guys but I don’t think I’m ready to fight for the title now because the team is new too and we have to grow.”
The family connection means there is inevitable pressure on Marini, but he says he’s now used to coping with that heightened level of expectation.
And he says he’s not afraid to draw on Rossi’s vast experience, having raced in MotoGP from 2000 to 2021.
He added: “The pressure isn’t something I’ve never suffered too much from. Maybe because of my mentality.
“When I was a kid, that connection between me and Valentino was much weaker. As I got closer to the World Cup, it got bigger and it wasn’t easy at first.
“But I’ve learned to deal with that pressure because I have very big goals for myself, so I no longer have pressure from outside of my ambitions and what I want to achieve.
“At the beginning of my career I spoke to Vale a lot because I didn’t have any experience and asked about tracks and tyres.
“Now it’s a bit different and difficult to believe from him because Vale is the best driver in the history of the sport, but he lived in a different era.
“But now I think he can help me a little bit more this year. We talk at every GP and he can help me to be more consistent.
“I want to be competitive on all tracks and in all conditions. I want to improve my weaknesses and be the best possible driver from the start of the season.
“If you take those steps and show your talent and your speed, then I’m confident the results will come.”
MotoGP 2022 GRID
#12 Loner Vinales
#41 Aleix Espargaro
Ducati Lenovo team
#43 Jack Miller
#63 Francesco Bagnaja
Gresini Racing MotoGP Ducati
#23 Enea Bastianini
#49 Fabio di Giannantonio
Mooney VR46 racing team Ducati
#10 Luca Marini
#72 Marco Bezzecchi
Pramac Racing Ducati
#5 Johann Zarco
#89 Joerg Martin
#30 Takaaki Nakagami
#73 Alex Marquez
Repsol Honda team
#44 Pol Espargaro
#93 Marc Marquez
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing
#33 Brad Binder
#88 Miguel Oliveira
Tech3 KTM Factory Race
#25 Raul Fernandez
#87 Remy Gardner
Team Suzuki Ecstar
#36 Joan Mir
#42 Alex Rins
Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP
#20 Fabio Quartararo
#21 Franco Morbidelli
WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP Team
#04 Andrea Dovizioso
#40 Darryn Binder
The 2022 season will feature a record-breaking calendar of 21 races in 17 countries.
6th March – Qatar, Losail
March, 20th – Indonesia, Mandala
3rd of April – Argentina, Termas de Rio Hondo
10th of April – USA, Circuit of the Americas
April 24th – Portugal – Portimao
1st of May – Spain, Jerez
May 15th – France, Le Mans
May 29th – Italy, Mugello
June 5th – Catalonia, Barcelona
June 19 – Germany, Sachsenring
June 26th – Netherlands, Assen
10th of July – Finland, KymiRing
August 7th – Great Britain, Silverstone
August 21st – Austria, Red Bull Ring
September 4th -San Marino, Misano
September 18th – Aragon
25th of September – Japan, Motegi
October 2nd – Thailand, Buriram
October, 16th – Australia, Phillip Island
23rd October -Malaysia, Sepang
November 6th – Valencia, Ricardo Tormo
https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/motorsport/17836054/valentino-rossi-motogp-new-season-luca-marini/ Valentino Rossi’s half-brother Luca Marini is ready to fill the void left by the MotoGP legend ahead of the new season