Old rivals Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau smiled and shook hands for the photographers after a news conference where they both claimed to have put the past behind.The pair were fierce rivals in the early half of the decade, with Gibernau finishing runner-up to Rossi for the MotoGP title in 2003 and 2004. But the race that will forever define their rivalry is the MotoGP season-opener at Jerez de la Frontera in 2005. It was there that Rossi famously bumped Gibernau out of the lead in the final corner on his way to victory.Gibernau never won another race for the Gresini Honda team. He moved to Marlboro Ducati for one season before he retired. Officially, it was because of a lingering collarbone injury, but there were contract difficulties as well.Meanwhile, Rossi continued to re-write the record books, winning the MotoGP World Championship in 2008 and breaking Giacomo Agostini’s record for most premier class wins.Gibernau, 36, is back on a Ducati this year riding for the Grupo Francisco Hernando team. He finished the Official MotoGP Test session at Jerez late last month eighth fastest out of 18 riders and 1.58 secs. behind pace-setter Casey Stoner.The pre-race press conference for the season-opening Qatar GP was the first time Rossi and Gibernau have appeared in public since Gibernau announced his return late last year and they were cordial when asked about the old rivalry.”Sincerely, I am very happy that Sete (Gibernau) is back, because I look at him here in the press conference it is something familiar,” Rossi said. “I remember a lot of great and hard battles.”Our sport has changed a lot from 2003, 2004 and 2005 when I fight very, very hard with Sete and I think I make my toughest battle of my career – sometimes with Loris (Capirossi) – but especially with Sete, so I’m happy and I say to him good luck. I hope to see him in front. Not in front of me,” he joked, “but in a good position.”Earlier, Gibernau had repeatedly said he was just happy to be back in racing and he continued the thread while addressing the rivalry.”Like I said, the best years in my life have been in MotoGP, inside racing and outside of racing,” he said. “I am very proud of what I did in the past and I think I had very great races and I enjoyed the races that I won and also the races that Valentino beat me, because he is still winning. Maybe all of us say he is the best rider ever and I have been able to fight with him and that is a big honor for me.”I comeback to enjoy again. I don’t know if I will be able to fight again with Valentino or the other guys, having stopped for two years. But I comeback to enjoy again and if I can enjoy it on the track or outside the track-like with Valentino in the past after things happened then and we didn’t enjoy so much-then this is good. But at the end of the day the reason why I come back is because I want to keep feeling happy. I’m happy to be here, I’m proud to be here with all these guys and I just want to try to enjoy.”I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back fight again with Dovi (Andrea Dovizioso) or Casey (Stoner) or Chris (Vermeulen),” the other three riders at the pre-race conference, “I don’t know. Already to be here sitting down with them is great. I thought I would never do this again so I’m happy to be here and if I’m not with them guys I’ll still try to enjoy my best.”Finally, Rossi was asked if it was possible he and Gibernau could become friends.”Yes, I think it is possible,” he said, “And anyway, Sete was already very fast in Jerez so now we try to calm, to be quiet, but he’s here for try to win or for arrive on the podium like all the other guys.”That was the end of the press conference. Along with Vermeulen, Stoner, and Dovizioso, they posed for a group photo, after which Gibernau and Rossi started to talk. As the cameras clicked away, they were asked, in Spanish and English, to shake hands, which they did, happily.
Rossi and Gibernau Bury the Hatchet
Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor
Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.