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MotoGP legend Rossi "one of the guys" at WRT ahead of GT switch

MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi is now “just one of the guys” at his new WRT team as he switches to GT racing, according to co-GT programme manager Kurt Mollekens.

Valentino Rossi, Vincent Vosse, Team WRT

Nine-time world champion Rossi called time on his 26-season grand prix motorcycle racing career at the end of last year, and has joined up with the crack sportscar outfit WRT for a full-season assault on GT World Challenge Europe across the Sprint and Endurance divisions.

The 43-year-old will be partnered with Audi factory driver Frederic Vervisch across both championships, with Nico Muller joining the pair for the Endurance rounds.

According to 1996 Zandvoort Formula 3 Masters winner Mollekens, who ran his single-seater team KTR until 2015 and joined the WRT set-up in 2020, Rossi has already settled well into the Belgian team and is relishing being treated as a “normal” person.

Asked by Autosport whether Rossi was treated like any other customer in the team’s five-car GTWCE roster, Mollekens said: "Absolutely. For me that was easy because I don’t follow MotoGP that much, although obviously I know who he is.

"But for our data guy it was a bit more complicated because he’s a massive fan, so to treat him like any normal driver was much harder.

"But he was professional enough to do just that and that’s what made the collaboration successful. Valentino very quickly asked to have that data engineer on his car for the season because it clicked and it went well.

"The more normal you treat him, the more he likes it and the better he performs.

"By now, we managed to install that atmosphere where he’s just one of the guys and it was important to get to that as soon as possible."

Rossi, who has previously made fleeting appearances in Ferrari GT cars over the past decade, completed his latest two days of testing last week at Paul Ricard.

Mollekens said he had been impressed by Rossi’s adaption to the Audi and believes he can be a podium finisher this year.

#46 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3

#46 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3

Photo by: SRO

Asked what the team’s targets were for him, Mollekens replied: "A lot depends on the form of the car over the season.

"I would expect him to run in the top 10 very quickly, if things go well top-five, and I would be disappointed if there weren’t one or two podiums by the end of the season."

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Mollekens added that Rossi can go “basically anywhere” in the sportscar arena in the years to come.

WRT already has a presence in prototype racing through its LMP2 arm that won its class at the first attempt in the Le Mans 24 Hours and World Endurance Championship last season, as well as taking the European Le Mans Series title.

It has been widely expected to step up into the Hypercar class of the WEC with Audi next year, although the mooted cancellation of its LMDh project could result in the team opening discussions with other manufacturers.

"When you get people like Valentino for example, in the beginning you don’t know really what to expect," Mollekens said.

"Then you get him in the car and you see what the potential is, then you realise it’s better than maybe you expected or as good as expected, and you can see where you want to go with that.

"But it’s basically anywhere, apart from maybe F1 of course. Whether he wants to do GTs, LMP, LMDh or whatever, it’s all possible, it’s all out there for him because he has that talent."

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