2011 MotoGP Phillip Island Results
Stoner survives Pacific war of attrition to claim 2011 title
In seizing the 2011 MotoGP world championship at his home track at Phillip Island, Australian Casey Stoner joined an elite company of riders. He became the fifth premier class rider in history to accumulate 32 career wins. He became the fifth premier class rider in history to win world championships riding for two different manufacturers. And he became the first rider in history to claim his second title three years after his first. Too bad there weren’t a few more competitors on track for such an historic day.
At perhaps the most scenic circuit on the entire MotoGP tour, the run-up to today’s race was anything but pretty. 17 riders made the trip from Japan to Australia. Before qualifying practice, that number was down to 16. After qualifying, it became 15. Finally, at the end of the warm-up practice, it fell, literally, to 14. Starting a grand prix with only 14 riders must give Dorna majordomo Carmelo Ezpeleta a bad case of the heebie jeebies.
With Spanish Ducati rider Hector Barbera resting uncomfortably in a Spanish hospital recovering from the broken collarbone he suffered in Japan, Australian Damian Cudlin was nominated to climb aboard the Mapfre Aspar Ducati. And, for the second round in a row, Cudlin failed to finish the race. His performance this weekend was even less productive than it had been at Motegi, as he crashed violently in Saturday’s free practice. His 15 seconds of fame in Japan fell to about three seconds in Australia, as he was unable to qualify, much less race.
2010 Rookie of the Year Ben Spies had the misfortune of experiencing a lowside crash while traveling at around 170 mph early in Saturday’s QP. Although he was able to complete his qualifying run on his second bike, and post for today’s warm-up, he kept insisting to crew chief Tom Houseworth that he was Batman, leading Houseworth to suspect that Ben might have bumped his noggin. After conferring with management for a few moments, the team declared Batman out of the race due to a concussion.
The race promoters’ worst nightmare made its appearance on the last turn of the last lap of this morning’s warm-up, as defending champion Jorge Lorenzo, the only man with even a mathematical chance of overtaking Stoner, went sailing over the handlebars of his Yamaha M1. In the process, he became disengaged from the tip of his left ring finger, which race marshals, and later members of his crew, went vainly searching for in the crushed stone that comprises the slide-off areas of the former British penal colony. Although they were able to locate his glove, the digit remained missing in action, causing the Spaniard to miss today’s race and be declared out of Round 17 next week. Not that it makes much difference now.
As for the Race Itself
Stoner started the day knowing he needed only to finish in the top six to clinch his second MotoGP title. Typically, he forgot all about that when the starting lights flashed green. From his pole position (his 11th of the season) he was off like a shot, never trailed, and won easily, barely breaking a sweat in the process. While this was immensely enjoyable for his wife, parents and the hometown fans in attendance, it made for a dull contest. Luckily, there was plenty going on behind him to occupy the attention of race fans elsewhere.
The pre-race attrition continued all afternoon. First to go, on Lap 14, was Valentino Rossi. Rossi, who had struggled all weekend, qualified 13th and started 11th after the withdrawal of Spies and Lorenzo. He was fast in the morning warm-up, however, and by mid-race had climbed into fifth position, when he 1) went through on teammate Nicky Hayden, and 2) crashed out of the race, putting an end to 14 straight years on the Phillip Island podium. And just when his factory Ducati team thought things couldn’t get any worse …
The weather on Australia’s southern coast is, as they say, changeable. Although it seems to always be windy, it can go from bright sunshine to rain seemingly in a few minutes. Which is what happened with roughly four laps to go today, when it began to spit rain. One by one, riders started falling off their machines, starting with the luckless Alvaro Bautista, who had his Rizla Suzuki in fifth position at the time. Moments later, both Hiro Aoyama and Cal Crutchlow, who were travelling together, went lowside without touching one another, resembling a pair of dysfunctional synchronized swimmers.
Earlier, both Karel Abraham and Randy de Puniet had gone walkie, as the locals say, but both were able to keep their bikes upright and return to the action. However, if you look up “travesty” in the dictionary, you will find “Toni Elias, Capirex and Abraham sharing 21 championship points while finishing one or two laps behind the winner.” A grand total of ten riders crossed the finish line today, which is rubbish. Worse yet is the competition for the 2011 Rookie of the Year between Abraham and Crutchlow, which this year should be re-named The Taller than Dani Pedrosa Award. The first one to 60 points for the year should be declared the winner.
The Big Picture
The withdrawal of the two factory Yamahas today led, essentially by default, to Honda claiming the top four spots, virtually assuring HRC of the Constructor’s Trophy. Equally anticlimactic will be the eventual awarding of the Triple Crown to the Repsol Honda team at Valencia in November.
Marco Simoncelli’s second career MotoGP podium moved him from eighth position for the year to a tie for sixth with Rossi. Sideshow Bob was able to fight off a determined late challenge from rival Andrea Dovizioso for his best premier class finish to date. Dovi, in turn, kept teammate Dani Pedrosa off the podium with another solid performance on his way off the Repsol team and onto the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team next season. In the process he put another few points between himself and the diminutive Spaniard in their battle for third place for the season.
Looking ahead to 2012, it was announced this week that Hiro Aoyama will be leaving MotoGP, to no one’s surprise, for a seat on the Ten Kate Honda WSBK team. No announcement, however, was forthcoming from team Suzuki concerning their plans for next year. If, as expected, Suzuki withdraws from MotoGP for 2012, look for Alvaro Bautista to join LCR Honda next year and to continue the improvement he has shown this season. But if things don’t work out well for him, he could easily end up on a Desmosedici, and we all know where that leads.
On to Sepang
Practice starts this coming Friday in the Malaysian sauna for Round 17. Today in Sepang, temperatures were in the low 90s with thunderstorms. In a sport full of imponderables, one of my favorites is, “Why does MotoGP, essentially a European league, schedule its season such that the championship is always won, like, 10,000 miles from its home base?” It is doubtful that this question, or any of the many others out there, will be answered at Sepang.
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