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.
New MotoGP Rules for 2014: Spec-ECU, Spec-Software, Fewer Motors, Less Fuel, & Combined Weight for Moto2
After an almost interminable period of discussions and debate, agreement has at last been reached over the technical regulations to be applied in MotoGP for the 2014 onwards. The agreement has been a compromise, with both sides of the table being given something to satisfy them.
The new rules see the introduction of a compulsory spec ECU and datalogger, and the ECU now acts as a divide between the two classes of teams in the paddock. MSMA members will be allowed to use their own software for the spec ECU, but the punishment for doing so will be a reduction in the fuel limit from 21 to 20 liters for a race.
Teams electing to use the spec software supplied by Dorna will be allowed 24 liters. The MSMA members will also be limited to 5 engines a season, while the rest will be allowed 12 engines. The reduction in fuel and engines was made at the request of the factories, to give themselves an engineering challenge to conquer.
If there is one rider in the entire MotoGP paddock who recalls the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it is Marc Marquez. Around the paddock, speaking to the press, at public appearances, the Spaniard is soft-spoken, polite, friendly. When he speaks, he speaks only in commonplaces, his media training having expunged any trace of opinion or controversy from his speech (in either English or Spanish). Put him on a bike, however, and the beast is unleashed. He is merciless, in his speed, in his ownership of the track, and in his disregard of anyone else on the track.
So it was unsurprising that the Spaniard should find himself in trouble once again. During the afternoon practice, Marquez slotted his bike underneath an unsuspecting Simone Corsi going into turn 10, sending the Italian tumbling through the gravel in the process.
The move was reminiscent of the incident at Motegi, where Marquez barged past Mika Kallio with similar disregard for the consequences, but unlike Motegi, this time Marquez received a penalty from Race Direction, for contravening section 1.21.2, a section Marquez by now must now almost by heart. That part of the Sporting Regulations which governs ‘riding in a responsible manner which does not cause danger to other competitors’. For his sins, Marquez is to start from the back of the grid on Sunday, regardless of where he qualifies.
The punishment has been coming for a while. Race Direction has been working this year on taking previous behavior into account, and that, above all, was the reason for Marquez to have his wrist slapped.
The list of incidents involving Marquez is long: starting with the collision with Thomas Luthi in the very first race at Qatar; the clash with Pol Espargaro at Barcelona, causing Espargaro to crash out; the collision with Kallio at Motegi; and now this incident with Corsi at Valencia. There were numerous other minor incidents in which Marquez featured, the Barcelona incident, for example, coming at the end of a race which had seen a fair smattering of other questionable moves.
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.