The atmosphere in the paddock at Valencia is an odd mixture of fatigue, excitement and anticipation. Fatigue, because it is the end of a long season, and the teams and riders are barely recovered from the three back-to-back flyaway rounds; excitement, because this is the last race of the year, and the last chance to shine, and for some, the last chance to impress a team sufficiently to secure a ride next year; and anticipation, because with so many riders switching brands and classes, they are already thinking about the test to come on Tuesday.
Or in Casey Stoner’s case, thinking about a future outside of MotoGP. As his departure from the championship grows near, it is clear that he has had more than enough of the series. Asked if he was worried about the politics in V8 Supercars, where he is headed in the near future, he said he wasn’t, because he understood that V8 Supercars is a different kind of championship.
MotoGP, though, was supposed to be a professional championship, and in his opinion, it was ‘a joke’. Four races in Spain, another just over the border in Portugal, this was not a truly world championship, Stoner said. Instead, MotoGP is too much of a European championship, and it needed to rediscover its roots.
In an ideal world, championships are settled in a straight fight between the main contenders in the final race of the season. Unfortunately, the world we live in is far from ideal – as the ever-dwindling stock of prototype machines on the grid testifies – and so the last race of the year can be a bit of a formality. In 2012, with the champions in all three classes securing their titles during the flyaways, there is not much more at stake at Valencia. Except pride.
Given that pride is what motivates a motorcycle racer above all else, that means that there is every reason to hope for a real treat at Valencia on Sunday. This is the last race of the season, the last chance to prove your worth, to silence your doubters, to settle those scores before the long winter begins.
No need to be conservative here, no need to calculate the odds. You can take that chance, take a risk and crash out trying. At the last race of the season, you go all in, as Nicky Hayden’s leathers proclaimed at Valencia in 2006, when it looked like he might miss out on his first ever MotoGP title. And there is a lot of pride at stake.
With all three world titles settled as we head to Valencia, some find their attention more focussed on the test that follows the season’s final round, rather than on who will win any of the weekend’s three races.
Certainly Rossi’s future reunited with Yamaha and Jorge Lorenzo as teammate is a subject of great interest, as is Marc Marquez on a factory Honda. But also there’s the future of Ducati to ponder, as a returning Nicky Hayden is joined by Andrea Dovizioso, while Ben Spies and Andrea Iannone join up to ride for the factory’s junior team.
Here are four gifted riders with several world championships between them. But as good as they are, none of them is Casey Stoner. And none of them has the financial backing of Valentino Rossi, who was able to ask for major changes to the GP11 and GP12 designs, none of which resulted in a package that would allow Rossi to return to the front of the pack.
With the news that the injured Ben Spies would miss not only the Australian GP, but the Valencian GP as well, the American MotoGP rider’s miserable MotoGP season was abruptly ended after his fall at Sepang.
Set to ride on the Ducati Junior Team next season, Spies’ run with Yamaha now seems to have concluded, and the attention has shifted as to whom would ride in his place at Valencia, if anyone.
Crashing hard in the Malaysian GP, it initially seemed that Ben Spies had escaped serious injury, as the Clinica Mobile staff gave the American rider a clean bill of health at the circuit. Getting examined further in Kuala Lumpur however, it became apparent that Spies had suffered quite a number of injuries – an AC shoulder separation, a cracked rib in the upper-chest area, and bruising to his lung, to be precise.
Undergoing surgery today at the National Surgery Center near San Jose, California, Spies reported on Twitter that the operation had gone well, though the extent of his injuries will mean an increase in the duration of his recovery time, with 10 to 12 weeks being the number banded about. This news means that Spies will miss not only the Australian GP, but also the Valencian GP and the post-season MotoGP testing — a serious blow to the soon-to-be Ducati rider.
After a somber tribute to Marco Simoncelli, racing at Valencia commenced Sunday under ominous skies. While the weather has been variable throughout the Valencian GP, Sunday’s forecast was especially treacherous, as the off-and-on drizzle was neither damp enough for a full-wet setup, nor dry enough for race slicks. Nothing better highlighted this fact than a blitzkrieg lap by American Josh Hayes, which saw the AMA Superbike Champion on slicks dust the rest of the rain-shod MotoGP field by three seconds on the closing Warm-up Session lap.
With the wetter weather favoring the struggling Ducatis of Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi, the chance of rain equated to a chance for a Ducati Corse podium. The RC212V of Casey Stoner of course stands in their way as always, as does the Repsol Honda of Dani Pedrosa. Also fast this race weekend has been Alvaro Bautista, the Spaniard surely encouraged by a local crowd, as well as the prospect that his results in Valencia could help sway a very reluctant Japanese management into racing in MotoGP next year.
Randy de Puniet is also worth mentioning, as the Frenchman has been one of the fastest Ducatis all weekend, and missed a front-row start by only .06 seconds. With four manufacturers starting in the top five grid spots, the 2011 MotoGP Championship and the era of 800cc GP bikes, concluded with some of the most diversity it has ever seen on starting line.
With every bike from the three GP classes out on the Circuit de Comunitat Valenciana, the sight was one that had to be seen in person to be truly appreciated. Lead by former-World Champion Kevin Schwantz, who rode Marco Simoncelli’s San Carlos Honda Gresini RC212V race bike, MotoGP, Moto2, & 125GP riders made their way around the 14 turns of the Spanish track, stopping short of the finish line. Watching two minutes of Valencian fireworks, MotoGP riders stood with the Simoncelli family, honoring the loved Italian one more time.
The entire event was somber, and as the fireworks subsided, the clamorous noise was contrasted with an eerie silence on the track and in pit lane. Riders walked back to the paddock with solemn & grim faces, barely saying a word to each other, if saying any words at all. Similarly, team members carried rear stands and walked race bikes back to pit lane in complete silence, perhaps reflecting on Marco one more time. Thirty minutes later, noise returned to Valencia, as the final 125GP race ever commenced.
Perhaps none of the MotoGP riders have been affected by the loss of Marco Simoncelli more so than Valentino Rossi. Not only was Rossi “like a brother to Marco,” but the Italian was deeply shaken over his involvement with Marco’s accident at Sepang. With both Edwards and Rossi putting on a strong face publicly, the rest of us can only imagine the thoughts and grief that most be occurring internally. Everyone processes their grief differently, and one of Rossi’s more cathartic endeavors this weekend is to honor Marco with a special helmet for the Valencian GP. More photos after the jump.
Sunday morning here in Valencia marks the final race of the 2011 MotoGP Championship, and the already bittersweet Grand Prix will become increasingly somber as the GP paddock will also be paying its final respects to Marco Simoncelli. Starting at 10:10am, 125GP, Moto2, and MotoGP riders will partake in a parade lap around the Circuito de la Comunitat Valenciana. The procession will be lead by Kevin Schwantz, who will ride Marco Simoncelli’s San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V race bike for the occasion.