The sense of expectation in the air at Valencia is wound so tight it hums. Tomorrow morning, some time after 10am, some of that expectation will start to dissipate as we get the first glimpses of answers that have preoccupied MotoGP fans for the past few months.
Two things we hope to see: a glimpse of the past and a glimpse of the future. After two long, hard years, the army of Valentino Rossi fans will be hoping to see something they haven’t since 2010, or maybe even 2009: a flowing, comfortable, aggressive Valentino Rossi at one with the machine underneath.
That was something he never showed while riding the Ducati, the figure in the Rossi replica helmet sitting on the Ducati always looking more like a club racer had sneaked into the back of the Ducati garage to take the bike out for a spin, terrifying himself in the process. Rossi looked stiff, awkward, uncomfortable, his back arched like a cat negotiating a dog-infested yard.
So the 2012 MotoGP season is over, and someone with a great deal of courage and a little bit of money to wager could have ended the year rich beyond their wildest dreams at Valencia. If you could have found someone to take your bet seriously, you would have got a very, very good return on one race being won from the back of the grid, and the other from a rider starting from pit lane. Just one of those events is highly unusual, having both of the happen on the same day is unheard of.
The odds on Marc Marquez winning from the back of the grid were probably disappointingly short. By now, every bookmaker in the world will have seen the onboard clip of Marc Marquez stalling his bike on the grid at Motegi, and the way he disposed of twenty Moto2 competitors in the space of half a lap.
The first lap at Valencia is likely to create as much of a sensation – or at least it would, if Dorna would either resist the temptation to take down YouTube videos before they go viral to keep their TV rights holders happy, or make the videos available free of charge on the MotoGP.com website so that they can go viral while retaining control – as Marquez passed another twenty riders in the space of five corners.
Tomorrow is like Christmas for motorcycle lovers, as Tuesday is the first official day of the EICMA show in Milan, and it is also the first day of the post-season MotoGP testing at Valencia. With more than a few riders swapping seats for next year, one of the most anticipated transitions is Andrea Dovizioso to the Ducati Corse factory team.
The third wheel at the Repsol Honda team in 2011, Dovi made the jump to the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 garage for 2012, with the hopes of auditioning for a seat on the factory Yamaha YZR-M1 next season. A certainly Valentino Rossi ruined that plan, so Dovi did the next best thing…he took Rossi’s seat at Ducati.
With the Ducati Desmosedici labelled as a career-ending machine, the GP11/GP12 nearly did The Doctor in, making the move by Dovizioso a brave one. Apparently trusting the words of Ducati’s new owner Audi, we will get our first glimpse of Dovi on the Ducati tomorrow, but for now we get our first photos of the pair’s preliminary introduction.
Another GP race weekend, and another weekend where the weather looms over the MotoGP paddock. Wasting Friday, and getting a reprieve on Saturday, the rain of Valencia was back for Sunday’s race, leaving a drying, but wet, course for the MotoGP riders to contend with on 200+ hp machines.
Casey Stoner’s last race, Dani Pedrosa’s last chance to have the most race wins, and Jorge Lorenzo’s final chapter to a flawless season, the script for the front-row starters was intriguing to say the least.
It all went out the window though, as we can confidently say that the following information contains no spoilers for those who have yet to see the race, since no human could possibly guess the outcome of the Valencian GP: a CRT bike lead the race for multiple laps, a Yamaha is on the podium, a world champion was lapped, and a satellite team finished both its bikes in the Top 5. Words can barely describe the race, but we will try after the jump.
The last of the 990cc pole records finally went at Valencia, along with the last record held by Valentino Rossi at any of the tracks currently on the calendar. Dani Pedrosa’s astonishing last lap was inch perfect, and put him 0.158 seconds faster than Rossi’s time, set in 2006 at the infamous season finale in which Rossi got a dismal start, then fell off trying to catch Nicky Hayden, handing the American the world championship in the process.
Pedrosa’s lap really was something special, though the Spaniard was not as impressed as the onlookers. He had had a few good laps in his career, he told the press conference, and this was definitely one of them. Pedrosa has looked ominous all weekend – actually, since Indianapolis – and if it were going to stay dry, then you would be hard put to think of anyone who could beat the Repsol Honda man.
Jorge Lorenzo is keen to try, and is fast all the way round the circuit to the final sector, but is losing a couple of tenths just in the acceleration out of the final corner and towards the line. The Hondas dominate there, good round the long left before the final corner – both Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa were hanging the rear out all round that turn, showing a hint of the old tire-smokin’ 990 days – but absolute missiles on acceleration.
That has been Lorenzo’s complaint all year, not sufficient acceleration and not the wheelie control which the Hondas appear to have. If Lorenzo arrives at the final corner with a Honda behind him, he will fear for his position.
With some cooperation from the weather at the track in Valencia, MotoGP enjoyed its last dry qualifying session of the season. Saturday’s afternoon session was a stark contrast to Friday’s Free Practice sessions, which had mostly been a wasted day for the GP riders. With nothing on the line for the Valencian GP, riders in MotoGP are mostly racing this weekend for pride and bragging rights.
Casey Stoner’s last race in MotoGP, the Australian is surely looking for a good result, though there are question marks regarding his ankle. His teammate Dani Pedrosa is also looking for a strong result in his home country, with the Spaniard now out of the Championship hunt, but looking to end what has been a stellar second-half of a season in the Repsol Honda squad.
The man to stop though is his once bitter rival Jorge Lorenzo, who will carry the #1 plate next year. For Lorenzo, Valencia is about winning the most races in the 2012 season, with him and Pedrosa tied at six a piece.
For many of the other riders, Sunday’s race marks the last time they will be in the premier class, with their current teams, or even on the same kind of race bike. Perhaps the biggest piece of anticipation for the race, is the post-season testing the follows it. But, first things first.