The waiting is finally over. At around 12:25pm on Tuesday, November 9th, Valentino Rossi finally rolled out of pit lane for his first laps aboard the Ducati Desmosedici GP10. Two hours and twenty five minutes after practice had officially started.
Tension had been building for hours, after rain had started falling in the morning, continuing past the 10am start time for the first official test of the 2011 MotoGP season. Fortunately, the rain clouds soon blew over, and the sun and strong winds dried the track sufficiently for the first riders to venture out. With the promise of action, crowds of journalists started to gather in pit lane, while crowds of fans gathered on the rooftop of the building which houses the pits and lines the Valencia circuit's front straight.
A ripple of excitement went through the crowds, as a Ducati Desmosedici, clothed in plain black carbon fiber with a yellow #46 on the front, was rolled to the front of the Ducati garage and started. Another ripple of excitement as a rider emerged from the depths of the garage, followed by a wave of disappointment as it turned out to be Franco Battaini, Ducati's official test rider. Battaini took the bike round the track for a couple of laps, to ensure everything was working and test the conditions, before returning to the pits again. Five minutes later, the ritual repeated itself, Battaini testing the track and the bike once again.
At last the moment millions of MotoGP fans have been awaiting so eagerly for so many months (and in the case of some diehard Ducati fans, many years): Valentino Rossi emerged from the garage, in matching black and fluorescent yellow helmet and leathers, and climbed aboard the Ducati. He rolled out of the pits and onto the track, for his first meeting with the machine.
His very first lap was cautious, the Italian almost wobbling around like a journalist with a chance to ride the bike, but he soon picked up the pace. The pitch of the engine increased along with the speed, the Desmosedici's bark sounding ever more vicious as Rossi pushed towards the limits of the bike. After a session of some 12 laps or so, Rossi returned to the garage, dismounting with a quick glance at the bike, having set a fastest lap of 1'37.329. A long way off MotoGP pace, but good enough for his first outing on the bike.
The throng dispersed, their curiosity satisfied at last. And the rest of the riders started to think about putting in a few laps, the only man brave enough to be out at the same time as Rossi Italian veteran Loris Capirossi, a man who has seen a lot in his 20 years in Grand Prix racing.
It is far too early to draw any conclusions, but Rossi rode smoothly and picked up the pace quickly. Almost an hour after he first emerged from the pits, Rossi's time has been beaten only by Randy de Puniet, coincidentally also making his debut on a Ducati. For the Frenchman's many fans, the news that De Puniet's fastest lap in the first hour was nearly a second and a half quicker than Rossi's is surely cause for optimism.
Update: There's a free video of Rossi on the Ducati on the MotoGP.com website