MotoGP: Veterans, Rookies, & Replacements Send-off the 800cc Era at the Valencian GP

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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.

While fans have criticized MotoGP’s departure from the 990cc format, the last GP on the 800’s had plenty to get fans excited in Valencia, as the action started from the very first corner. As all 16 MotoGP riders headed into T1, Andrea Dovizioso unknowingly moved in front of Alvaro Bautista enough that he touch the Spanish rider who then lost the front of his Rizla Suzuki. Going down into the turn’s entry, Bautista and his bike made a domino affect that took Nicky Hayden, Valentino Rossi, and Randy de Puniet down as well.

With all four riders looking strong in Valencia, the incident is not only a blow to Ducati and Suzuki, but also to MotoGP fans who surely would have seen some good battles sans the racing incident. Going into Turn 2, the race was lead by Casey Stoner, followed already at some distance by Dani Pedrosa, Ben Spies, Andrea Dovizioso, and Cal Crutchlow. With Stoner checking out, the Valencian GP broke down into three spirited battles: one for 3rd in the Championship, one for Rookie of the Year, and one for the fastest Yamaha replacement rider.

With only four points between Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa in the MotoGP Championship, the two Repsol Honda riders only had the Spanish track to settle who would be the fastest other HRC rider. Naturally finding themselves packed together, the battle for second in the race had clear implications on personal pride. Swapping second place several times, the battle between Dovi and Pedrosa would have gone down to the wire had Ben Spies not interfered on the 19th lap. Trailing in fourth the entire time as the Honda riders traded corners, Spies made his way around Dani Pedrosa in elegant style, giving Andrea Dovizioso some much needed breathing room.

Dovizioso’s gratitude would be short-lived though, as Spies continued his charge, and finally passed the Italian two laps later. While this was occurring, the rain made its presence felt in Valencia. At one point 10 seconds ahead of the battle for second, Casey Stoner’s pace notably dropped off, making the Australian only a few seconds ahead of Spies by the time the American had made his way into second position. Giving him a carrot to chase, Stoner’s mistakes were compounded as he ran wide on Lap 28. With Spies blowing past, a proper race for first ensued. With Spies getting a horrible drive out of the final turn, and Stoner nailing the exit, the two factory riders roared to the finish line. Coming from behind, and pipping him at the line, Casey Stoner won the final 800cc MotoGP by .015 seconds.

Just one group behind the battle for second, a war was being waged by Karel Abraham and Cal Crutchlow for the Rookie of the Year title. Trading corners with each other as well, the pair finally caught up to the ailing Pedrosa, passing the Spaniard on the final lap. With Crutchlow leading the charge, Abraham was in hot pursuit as the two rookie riders raced to the finish. The battle would be cut short though, as front wheel of Abraham’s Ducati connected with Crutchlow’s rear. Cutting to the apex, Crutchlow found Abraham trying to pass through the inside of the turn. The bold move cost Abraham though, as his bike went off the track and crashed, while Crutchlow’s Yamaha wobbled but stayed on course. As a result, Cal Crutchlow can now lay claim to being the 2011 MotoGP Rookie of the Year.

The battle between the Yamaha replacement riders was equally exciting, as Josh Hayes and Katsuyuki Nakasuga slugged out the first three-quarters of the Valencian GP. Making their way past a number of riders, Hayes and Nakasuga finished respectively ahead of Karel Abraham, Loris Capirossi, Toni Elias, and Hector Barbera. Only losing ground to his factory team counterpart, Hayes rode an impressive race for his first MotoGP race. Telling Asphalt & Rubber his goal this weekend was to make Hervé Poncharal’s short-list for future replacement riders, we think the American’s name is inked in at the top of that sheet.

MotoGP will take a break for a day in Valencia, before beginning testing on the 1,000cc spec machines for 2012 on Tuesday.

Race Results from the Valencian GP at Valencia, Spain:

Pos. No. Rider Nation Team Bike Diff.
1 27 Casey STONER AUS Repsol Honda Team Honda 48’18.645
2 11 Ben SPIES USA Yamaha Factory Racing Yamaha +0.015
3 4 Andrea DOVIZIOSO ITA Repsol Honda Team Honda +5.936
4 35 Cal CRUTCHLOW GBR Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha +8.718
5 26 Dani PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda Team Honda +9.321
6 89 Katsuyuki NAKASUGA JPN Yamaha Factory Racing Yamaha +23.818
7 41 Josh HAYES USA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha +33.118
8 17 Karel ABRAHAM CZE Cardion AB Motoracing Ducati +37.952
9 65 Loris CAPIROSSI ITA Pramac Racing Team Ducati +48.953
10 24 Toni ELIAS SPA LCR Honda MotoGP Honda +52.501
11 8 Hector BARBERA SPA Mapfre Aspar Team MotoGP Ducati +1’06.519
12 7 Hiroshi AOYAMA JPN San Carlo Honda Gresini Honda +1’08.760
Not Classified
14 Randy DE PUNIET FRA Pramac Racing Team Ducati 0 Lap
19 Alvaro BAUTISTA SPA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP Suzuki 0 Lap
46 Valentino ROSSI ITA Ducati Team Ducati 0 Lap
69 Nicky HAYDEN USA Ducati Team Ducati 0 Lap

Source: MotoGP; Photo: Honda