True to speculation, Max Biaggi’s media presentation today announced the retirement of the reigning World Superbike Champion, at the ripe age of 41. A six-time World Champion, Biaggi’s latest stars to his leathers have come from his involvement in the factory Aprilia Racing team in WSBK, with the other four stars coming from his consecutive 250GP World Championships.
Winning his crown by half a point, in what will surely be the narrowest margin ever in World Superbike history, Biaggi’s last season went right down to the wire until the end of the season at Portimao, as the Roman Emperor had to fend off strong contentions from both Tom Sykes and Macro Melandri throughout the 2012 Championship.
“It ‘s been the longest night, but I’m happy to leave now. I do not want to be like politicians attached to the chair. I thought about it a lot, I said to myself continuous 1 or 2 years or I stop? And I decided to leave now,” said Biaggi during his announcement at Vallelunga, the circuit where he started his racing career.
Even before I met Max Biaggi in 2011, I had the sense that here was someone who takes himself and his racing pretty seriously. From the immaculately trimmed facial hair, to his manner in the pit box, to his long career as a motorcycle racer, if there is anything he takes lightly, it is certainly not racing.
Some riders are approachable, quick to smile, who naturally put others at ease even on race weekends. Biaggi is not among this group. But I didn’t appreciate just how intense he is when he’s at work until, as one of my contributions to benefit Riders for Health, I decided to ask him to sign a print I was donating at last year’s Miller WSBK round.
I had brought a matted print of Biaggi from 2010 with me, and as I approached the track on Saturday morning I considered that it would likely fetch a higher price, and thus a greater donation to Riders for Health, if it bore Max’s signature. So I set about getting that done with no idea how easy or difficult it might be.
First I approached the Aprilia media officer, a pleasant fellow who worked with me, half in Italian and half in English, to come up with a plan to approach his star rider. He suggested we talk to someone in the pit box, someone who knew Max better than he did in his recently acquired role with the team.
We descended into the Aprilia garage and found someone whose exact role I never understood, but who also liked the idea of doing something for Riders for Health. He did not, however, care to be the one to bring it directly to Max. The three of us considered the situation and appealed to one of the senior mechanics, who gave us a sympathetic look and said in gestures instead of words that he wanted no part of the business.
We stood to the side of the box, waiting for inspiration, and I wondered if the plan were doomed. Max spoke to mechanics as if discussing matters of life and death. Team members approached him respectfully, presented their concerns for his comment, and left him alone. In some garages the guys joke and there is music in the business of racing motorbikes. In Max’s garage, it’s more like a war room, its business deadly serious.
It seems to have been inevitable now, and what other words could there be to say? Casey Stoner has been head & shoulders above the rest of the MotoGP class, a trait that is not too dissimilar from how Jorge Lorenzo, his rival all season long, won the Championship in 2010. The bike to beat this season, being on the Repsol Honda certainly didn’t hurt Stoner’s chances, but he did more on his factory Honda RC212V than the three other very talented riders who had similar equipment. Congratulations to Casey and his HRC team for a well-deserved 2011 World Championship title.
Despite multiple showers, MotoGP managed to dodge having wet any sessions for the Australian GP. With the weather always unpredictable at Phillip Island, concern on what was above quickly turned to concern on the track, as Jorge Lorenzo suffered a weekend-ending finger injury after a violent tankslapper sent the Spaniard to the tarmac in Turn 12. Out of the Australian GP, the incident all but assures Casey Stoner of clinching the 2011 MotoGP Championship at his home GP, and on his birthday no less.
The bad news continued for Yamaha, as Ben Spies announced that he would not race at Phillip Island as well, too battered and concussed from yesterday’s 167 mph get-off. Also a scratch was Australia’s own Damian Cudlin, who was filling-in for the injured Hector Barbera in the Mapfire Aspar Ducati squad. Cudlin’s second chance at riding a Ducati in a MotoGP race, the Australian also had to sit this race out because of injuries sustained during a T4 high-side on Saturday morning.
With the grid down to just 14 riders, the new front row consisted of Casey Stoner, Marco Simoncelli, and Alvaro Baustista. Lorenzo’s misfortune is an obvious boon to the Rizla Suzuki squad, who have found a new intensity these past few races. With Spie’s, and subsequently Yamaha’s, withdrawal from the Australian GP, Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa also got a boost, moving from the middle of the third row, to the outside of the second row. Teammate, and rival for third in the Championship, Andrea Dovizioso certainly can’t be pleased with that circumstance of that situation.
With all eyes on the picturesque island track, MotoGP fans eagerly awaited to see if a new World Champion would be crowned today. Continue reading to find out more.