2011 MotoGP Sepang Results
Marco Simoncelli 1987 – 2011
This was going to be easy. This was going to be a column that would pretty much write itself. This was going to be about a Honda lovefest – three Repsols on the podium, Simoncelli and Aoyama in the top six, Toni Elias not finishing last. This was going to be bluster, fluff and jaundiced observations meant to fill the journalistic void left when the 2011 MotoGP title was decided last week. Instead, it is about a routine lowside crash that went terribly wrong and extinguished one of the bright young lights in this sport.
I have been one of the harsh critics of Marco Simoncelli this season, his first on a factory spec RC212V. After Round 1 at Qatar I commented on his “rugged riding style.” At Estoril, he seemed almost out of control, crashing twice in practice, qualifying second, and crashing out of the lead during the race. At the time, he seemed almost shocked at how fast he was able to run. Round 4 brought the unfortunate incident with Dani Pedrosa about which much has previously been said and written. Silverstone brought another crash, Assen yet another, one in which he took Lorenzo out of contention, pushing too hard on cold tires.
At that point of the season, I began picking on the young Italian, comparing his fast qualifying runs with his mediocre race results. I also took issue with his combative comments, directed toward Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, defending his on-track performance. But it was also at this mid-season point that Marco Simoncelli began to grow up. At both Mugello and the Sachsenring, he allowed himself be passed late in the race by Ben Spies without retaliating on track or afterwards. He crashed again at Laguna Seca, as did a number of other riders. Finally, at Brno he achieved his first premier class podium, and the monkey appeared to leave his back.
Tire problems hindered him at Indianapolis, leading to a disappointing 12th place finish. But at Misano, he out-dueled rival Dovizioso and Spies late in the day for a hard-fought, and gratifying, fourth. Another fourth two weeks later at Aragon could have been a podium had he not lost concentration midway through and briefly left the track. At Motegi, he was one of three riders to jump the start, and his fourth place finish there should have been yet another podium. Finally, last week at Phillip Island he put it all together, running a composed, efficient race, finishing a solid second to the incandescent Casey Stoner. This second, and last, podium leapfrogged him from eighth place into a tie for sixth with his iconic compatriot and friend Valentino Rossi.
Motorcycle racing will miss the flamboyant and controversial Italian. The low profile MotoGP endures in the United States is due to several factors. One is that so many of the so-called Aliens must conduct interviews in a second language, making them sound inarticulate and lacking original thought, which is not the case. Another is that the few English speakers are either reticent (Spies), southern fried (Edwards and Hayden) or prone to nattering at length about the deficiencies of their tires, race circuits, opponents, or something else (Stoner). By comparison, Simoncelli was generally happy and grateful to be involved in a sport he loved, upbeat, candid (occasionally to a fault) and interesting. We will remember him as highly spirited and fearless, a young man who stared the danger of his chosen occupation in the eye without blinking, and who may have become a premier class world champion one day. Addio, Marco - ci hai lasciato troppo presto.
Bradl Receives Gift-Wrapped Moto2 Title
Prior to today’s tragically aborted MotoGP race, Stephan Bradl’s second place finish to race winner Thomas Luthi all but clinched the 2011 Moto2 title for the young German phenom. I devoted much of this space last Thursday to singing the praises of Marc Marquez, who was challenging Bradl for this year’s title, and who entered Round 17 on a hot streak, trailing him by a mere three points. In the process, I apparently put a world class jinx on Mr. Marquez.
Marquez’s weekend went to the devil early, as he experience a ragdoll highside during FP1 on Friday morning, leaving him dazed, confused, and hurting in places where he didn’t realize he had places. He sat out FP2 that afternoon and FP3 on Saturday morning trying to recover sufficiently to resume his chase of Bradl.
It wasn’t happening.
Saturday afternoon he managed to complete two abysmal laps in qualifying, just enough to put him 36th on the grid for Sunday. After all, just last week he had started 38th and finished third after being penalized for conduct unbecoming in practice at Phillip Island. Doing a little quick math, if he could move from 38th to third he could then, with a little luck, let’s see, move from 36th to first, at least theoretically.
That wasn’t happening, either. Marquez was unable to post for today’s race. Bradl’s 20 points ran his lead over the young Spaniard to 23 points, meaning he needs only to finish in the top 13 riders next week to secure the 2011 Moto2 title. Which means the 2011 ballgame is now over in Moto2 as well. However, both riders have announced their intentions to remain in Moto2 for 2012, suggesting we may look forward to another pitched battle for the championship in what has become grand prix racing’s most exciting division.
The 2011 season will come to a somber close two weeks from now at Valencia. At this point, there seems to be very little left to race for. Teams will be testing their 2012 equipment at Sepang on Monday, with the exception of the San Carlo Gresini Honda team which, suddenly, lies in shambles.
The practical considerations facing Fausto Gresini at this impossibly difficult time are many. He has a factory RC213V – the fastest machine on the grid – allocated to his team with no one in position to ride it for him. The Aliens are spoken for, Dovizioso has signed with Tech 3 Yamaha, and Aoyama is on his way to World Superbike. Marc Marquez has committed to remaining in Moto2. Gresini may find himself turning to Rizla Suzuki refugee Alvaro Bautista or perhaps Hector Barbera for next season, despite the fact that neither is familiar with the Honda. Randy de Puniet is available but, at his age and with his problematic pedigree, would not be Gresini’s first, second or even third choice. Much of the next two weeks will be taken up with mourning Simoncelli and examining Mr. Gresini’s alternatives.