The second half of the 2012 MotoGP season generated a tale of sound and fury: Casey Stoner’s retirement, Valentino Rossi’s pending return to Yamaha, Dani Pedrosa’s late season charge to threaten for the premier-class title, and the coming of Marc Marquez to Repsol Honda, all seemed to add up to a 2013 that would make for one of the most interesting MotoGP seasons of the modern era.
But as the storm raged around him, Jorge Lorenzo got quietly down the the business of being a fast, and perhaps more importantly, consistent, points claiming machine, that fended off a revitalized Pedrosa and claimed the 2012 crown.
When I photograph a race, I get only portions of the story: the beginning, snippets of the middle, and the end. It’s something like reading a novel by skimming every third or fourth chapter until arriving at the last page and having someone summarize it. (I get the end if, that is, I can see the results on the tower as in Qatar. At some tracks I don’t know for sure who won until I get back to the media center.)
Each January we say “This season is going to be great!” and for 2013 there seems to be more reason to believe that than ever, which is how the weekend’s story began. When we arrived at Losail, there was more anticipation in the paddock for a great season of racing ahead than I can remember.
Even with Casey Stoner gone, pre-season testing had raised expectations for Marc Marquez even higher than they had been at the end of 2012. We knew Pedrosa would be fast and win races. And we knew Lorenzo would be the man to beat.
What we didn’t know was how competitve Valentino Rossi would be after his two years at Ducati. There seemed to be a visceral need in the paddock for him to return to form, to be Valentino again. After ups and downs in the practice and qualifying sessions, he would start from seventh place on the grid, with Lorenzo on pole and likely to run away into the night.
Would we see a return of the Rossi flair that has inspired millions of fans around the world? Or would the fairy tale turn out to be a tragedy?
One thing was for sure as we stood on the grid after a very long winter break, waiting to find out the answer to this question: The crowd, even though largely Spanish and there to support top riders in all three classes, was even more ready to see Rossi go fast again than those in the paddock.
The track announcer introduced the various riders, and when he came to Rossi, the sudden rise in enthusiasm hit like a wall of sound. Official attendance for Sunday was a paltry 9,704 fans, but it sounded like all of them were on their feet cheering as Rossi turned and waved.
Valentino Rossi’s amazing run of nine world titles was aided, in some part, by the level of those whom he had to fight for wins. With all credit given to Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau, his two main rivals until the modern class of “aliens” arrived in MotoGP, neither of these two riders was on the same level as Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, and Jorge Lorenzo.
My colleague David Emmett has commented several times that these three riders came up through their development years knowing that to win they would have to beat Rossi. They alone managed to elevate their skills to a level that could challenge him over the course of a season, where as Biaggi and Gibernau, as good as they were, could not manage the same growth as mature riders.
I’ve often considered how, to win as many titles as Rossi and Agostini have done, you need some help in the opponent department. Agostini benefitted from Mike Hailwood’s career choices and own bad luck when it came to finding a good fit on a competitive bike.
Rossi benefitted from arriving in MotoGP long before riders as good as Stoner, Lorenzo, and Pedrosa were around to fight him. If those three had been present in 2001 and riding at their full potential, it’s a safe bet Rossi would not have seven premier class titles in his pocket.