World motorcycling superstar Valentino Rossi said a rival’s stray bike, travelling at around 300 km/h (187mph), almost “killed me” in a horrifying near-miss at the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday.
The 41-year-old Italian, a nine-time world champion, was left badly shaken after Franco Morbidelli’s Yamaha flew across the track just centimetres in front of him.
Morbidelli and the Ducati of Johann Zarco had collided just seconds before the riders slipped through turn four at Spielberg on lap eight of the race. Both men were unseated.
Zarco’s free-wheeling Ducati also came desperately close to hitting Rossi as well as his Yamaha factory teammate Maverick Vinales who was just ahead of him.
“Morbidelli’s bike nearly killed me,” fumed Rossi.
“Even Zarco’s Ducati passed a few metres over me, it was a very dangerous moment.”
Incredibly, Rossi managed to compose himself and after the race was restarted came home in fifth place.
“I was so scared. I am shaken, resuming the race was tough. I took the biggest risk of my career,” Rossi told Sky Italia.
“I saw a shadow, I thought it was the helicopter from above, sometimes it happens during the race that the helicopter passes over and casts a shadow. Instead, two ‘bullets’ arrived.
“The saint of motorcyclists today did a really great job, it was a very dangerous thing.”
Morbidelli, possibly a team-mate of Rossi’s next season at the Yamaha satellite team, did not mince his words.
‘Like a murderer’
“Zarco is almost a murderer,” Morbidelli told Sky Sport Italia.
“Braking like this at 300 km/h means having little love for yourself or for those you are racing against.
“I hope this major incident makes Zarco think. It was really dangerous for me, him, for Rossi and Vinales who were up front and saw a bike coming at them at 280 per hour.”
Rossi insisted that too many MotoGP riders take too many risks and fail to understand that “our bikes, at these speeds, are bullets”.
He added: “We’re competing in a very dangerous sport, you have to have respect for those who run on the track with you,” added Rossi after a race won for the second year in succession by Andrea Dovizioso on a factory Ducati.
“Zarco is not new to these things, what happened is very clear: Zarco overtook Morbidelli on the straight and then didn’t want to be overtaken by Franco, so he specifically went to brake in front of him.
“But at 300 km/h, being a MotoGP, Morbidelli was unable to do anything. Zarco braked in front of him, Franco couldn’t do anything.”
Zarco, the 30-year-old French rider, said he was unsure what caused the crash.
However, he claimed he was innocent of any wrongdoing.
“I feel like Morbidelli’s bike pushed me. I was able to overtake him in the straight line, I was already well ahead and, when braking, I swerved to the right and that’s where we hit,” he said.
“It was not a manoeuvre done on purpose and I explained it to Franco and Valentino. But seeing the two motorcycles completely destroyed was scary.
“We must have been at 270 km/h at the time of the accident.”
Vinales eventually finished 10th and is third in the championship standings, 19 points behind series leader Fabio Quartararo.
“I just heard the scratching sound of crashed bikes and then I felt the impact of Johann’s bike hitting the wall,” said the Spaniard.
“Then, when I looked, I saw one bike coming towards me and I covered my head and the bike jumped up. For sure we were very lucky today, someone saved us, and this is the most important.”
Earlier, in the Moto2 race, Malaysia’s Hafizh Syahrin also had a narrow escape when he crashed into the bike of Italian Enea Bastianini which was lying in the middle of the track after a fall.
Syahrin hit the machine at full speed, sending him through the air, smashing his bike into pieces.
The stricken Syahrin was treated on the track and rushed into an ambulance with his team saying the rider was conscious. He only suffered an injured hip.