After having announced his intention to retire at the end of the season back in July, Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) has taken part in his last ever race this weekend at Losail International Circuit, the final round of the 2019 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship.
The Italian star leaves the motorcycling competitions after a successful career that began more than 20 years ago, and that saw Melandri becoming an icon for the Italian fans alongside other big names such as Valentino Rossi, Max Biaggi and Loris Capirossi.
Melandri’s debut on the world stage happened back in 1997 at the Czech GP of 125-cc World Championship when he was only 15 years and 24 days old. With that start, he became the youngest rider to take part into a 125 cc Grand Prix in history. A few months later he left another indelible mark in his first full season in the championship, as he became the youngest rider to win a Grand Prix at the only age of 15 years, 10 months and 20 days. The record belonged to Meladri for a decade before being surpassed by Scott Redding and Can Öncu in recent years.
1999 saw more success coming the way of Melandri. With five victories and nine podiums, he went extremely close to winning the World Championship title, as he missed it for just one point. With his talent proved by every success he had taken, it became clear that it was time for Melandri to take a step further in his career and in in 2000 he moved forwards into the 250-cc class.
The Italian adapted quickly to the new category and by the end of the year, he had already four podiums in his tally and in 2001 his first win arrived. But it was in 2002 that Melandri was able to make his real breakthrough as with six consecutive wins he was able to clinch the 250-cc World Title becoming the youngest ever champion at the time.
Following his success in the middle class, Melandri moved to MotoGP™. The Italian struggled to adapt to his Yamaha, but in his second season, he took his maiden podium in the class. In 2005 he switched to Honda and finished as runner-up behind Valentino Rossi, with two consecutive wins at the end of the year. Riding for Honda, Kawasaki, Ducati until 2010, the Italian rider remained competitive in the class picking up a few podiums during those years.
Eager to take on a new challenge, Melandri moved over to WorldSBK in 2011. In his first year in the FIM Superbike World Championship aboard a Yamaha, the Italian rider was able to prove his talent and with four wins and 15 podiums is secured the runner-up spot in the championship behind Carlos Checa.
Melandri’s success didn’t stop there, and in 2012, he secured other six wins with his new BMW machine. Hindered by a crash in the penultimate round of the year, the Italian star missed the chance to remain in contention for the title. He finished again as runner-up, but this time behind compatriot Max Biaggi. After another strong year with the German manufacturer, Melandri moved to Aprilia in 2014. With six wins, the Italian finished fourth in the standings.
After a brief stint of in MotoGP, Melandri made his WorldSBK return in 2017, as he joined the Aruba.it Racing – Ducati squad for two seasons. Onboard the Ducati Panigale R, the Italian rider was able to score three more wins and a total of 23 podiums.
2019 opened a new chapter for Melandri, as the Italian decided to join the GRT Yamaha WorldSBK alongside Sandro Cortese. After having taken three more podiums this year, the Italian star made the decision to end his phenomenal career at the end of the year.
“The decision to retire was a tough one for me to make”, Melandri admitted in a press conference held ahead of the Geico U.S. Round last July. “I’d been thinking about it for some time and, before the Imola race, I finally decided to call it a day at the end of the 2019 season. I’m still competitive, and I think it’s better to stop at this point, while I still enjoy racing, rather than waiting until the enjoyment and the results are more difficult to achieve”.
The 2019 season continued to unfold and Marco Melandri’s last race arrived this weekend at the scintillating Losail International Circuit, with the Italian making his last race start at the floodlit circuit.
Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK)
Fastest Laps: 21
Credits : Photos and content courtesy of worldSBK.com