ROME (Reuters) - MotoGP championship leader Valentino Rossi said on Tuesday he would race in the final grand prix of the season in Valencia, despite receiving a contested penalty that will force him to start from the back of the grid.
Rossi was penalized for clashing with Marc Marquez at the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, appearing to flick the Spaniard with his leg and send him sliding off the track.
The nine-time world champion has denied accusations of dangerous driving and had suggested he might skip the season decider on Nov. 8, acknowledging that he stood little chance of defending his championship lead from the back of the field.
Rossi is one of Italy’s most famous sportsmen and the controversy has infuriated his legion of fans. Underlining his star status, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi took time out of a visit to Peru on Monday to call him and fans have peppered his Twitter feed and Facebook page with encouragement.
“Thanks to everyone for their fantastic support. Reading (your comments) has helped me overcome the bitterness and anger,” Rossi wrote on Twitter and Facebook. “From today we are working towards Valencia.”
Nearly 370,000 people have signed an online petition calling on MotoGP organisers to drop the Valencia penalty.
“It seems that the sport has an agenda that betrays riders and fans, who expect and deserve a clean championship,” the petition says.
Prior to Sunday’s race, Rossi had claimed former champion Marquez wanted fellow Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo to win the championship instead of him. Out on the track, the pair vied for position and at a certain point, Rossi flicked his knee out, sending his rival crashing to the ground.
Subsequent video shown repeatedly on Italian television suggested that Marquez had brushed his head against Rossi’s leg first. Rossi’s supporters pinned the blame squarely on the Spaniard for the fall.
“All of Italy lines up to defend Valentino,” Il Messaggero said on its front page on Tuesday.
Rossi leads Lorenzo by seven points ahead of Valencia, with 25 points available to the victor in Spain.
Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Rex Gowar