2011 MotoGP Valencia Preview
The curtain closes on 2011 as it opens for 2012
MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Valencia round of the 2011 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Valencian Community Grand Prix.
The 2011 MotoGP season that started with a bang in Qatar now ends with a whimper in Valencia. What might have been a jubilee year of celebration for Honda Racing Corporation came to a brutal, heartbreaking close on the tarmac of Sepang last month. The usually raucous, testosterone-fueled grid that is the premier class of grand prix motorcycle racing returns to Spain to mourn one of its own. Unfortunately, amid the grief and shock, there remains business to be taken care of.
Thinking about this race, the first without the magnetic presence of Marco Simoncelli, I found myself lost in the lyrics of an old Eagles song from the 70’s –
– “New Kid in Town”, 1975
There’s talk on the street, it sounds so familiar
Great expectations, everybody’s watching you
People you meet they all seem to know you
Even your old friends treat you like you’re something new …
– “New Kid in Town”, 1975
Simoncelli was, in truth, something new. He was a tall, brash, long-haired hippie who would have been at home in the 60’s classic film “Easy Rider”, an Italian Capitan Amerigo in leathers astride a million dollar Honda, taking over for Peter Fonda on his chopped Harley. He enjoyed the spotlight, ran every race as if it were his last, and died doing what he loved to do. He was, without question, the class of the 250cc Class of 2010, overwhelming and out-performing Aoyama, Bautista and Barbera, who graduated from the 250’s with him but were unable to keep up, in any sense. So much potential, so much personality, so much life energy gone in the blink of an eye makes it hard to find much meaning in this week’s event.
But MotoGP is big money, and the wheels keep on turning. Men’s careers are on the line, sponsors have millions of dollars at stake, and the next season begins, in truth, on Monday. As nice as it would be to put the racing aside for a few days and enjoy a love fest of tributes and remembrance, they’re gonna run this thing on Sunday. When the lights turn green, it’s going to be on.
Lost in the Sauce
The poignant circumstances surrounding the 2011 Gran Premio Generali de la Comunitat Valenciana are likely to overshadow some significant events taking place this weekend. First and foremost is the last race in the brilliant career of Loris Capirossi, who will retire Sunday. His MotoGP journey began in 1990, spanned 22 years, pretty much every class of machine out there, three world championships and five different manufacturers. As recently as 2006 he finished third in the entire Sioux nation. That he may have stuck around a couple of years past his prime is obvious. That he will be counted among the top 50 all-time greats in the sport is unquestionable.
Far less notable than Capirex’s departure from the MotoGP grid will be the honorable exit of Hiro Aoyama and the immediate evacuation of Toni Elias. Aoyama has secured a Honda World SuperBike ride next season with Ten Kate Racing and figures to do very well. Elias’s future is not nearly as clear, other than he will be looking to ply his trade on something other than Bridgestone tires, which he was completely incapable of managing this season.
Nothing Silly about the Silly Season
Simoncelli’s death casts a pall over the Gresini Can Carlo team that will last into next season and beyond. Gresini had signed Yuki Takahashi for a new CRT entry, and is suddenly desperate to identify a suitable Italian rider for his allocated factory Honda. Other than Andrea Iannone, there appear to be few viable candidates capable of making the cash registers ring for Italian snackmeister San Carlo. Iannone is currently battling Alex de Angelis for third place at Moto2. Were Gresini to recruit Iannone (or de Angelis, for that matter) for his prototype entry in 2012, it is doubtful he would receive the full factory support that had been promised for Simoncelli. De Angelis’ contract status at JIR Moto2, and his own unfamiliarity with Bridgestone tires, makes him a longshot to re-join the Gresini family.
Meanwhile, over at LCR Honda, efforts are reportedly underway to secure a factory 213V for Alvaro Bautista, who has made great strides this year on the Rizla Suzuki. Suzuki has not yet (!) announced whether it will field a MotoGP team next season, nor, if it does, whether it will run 1000cc or stick with the not-really-competitive 800cc GSV-R. The contingency planning at LCR, in the increasingly unlikely event they do not sign Bautista, apparently includes John Hopkins and Randy de Puniet, who left the team under imperfect circumstances at the end of 2010. The odd man out in all of this is Hector Barbera, who has reportedly declined an opportunity to saddle up a CRT bike for Aspar and is likely talking with Pramac Racing about a satellite Ducati Desmosedici GP12.
Second Stringers for the Yamaha Finale
The two Yamaha teams enter the final weekend of the season in temporary disarray. 2010 champion Jorge Lorenzo still has not fully recovered from surgery on the nasty injury he suffered to his left ring finger at Phillip Island, and has been scratched from Sunday’s race. In his place will return Yamaha test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga, who had been onboard Lorenzo’s M1 at the aborted Sepang GP. Nakasuga had previously run at Sepang, but is a newcomer to Valencia; whatever small hopes Yamaha had for him in Malaysia are seriously diminished this weekend.
Colin Edwards, injured in the Simoncelli accident, is also out this week for Monster Tech 3. In his place comes one Josh Hayes, two-time AMA Superbike champion. Sunday would have been Edwards’ last race with Tech 3, as he has signed with Forward Racing next year. For him to keep his top ten standing for the season, Hiro Aoyama needs to finish off the podium on Sunday, meaning Edwards’ spot is a gold-plated guaranteed mortal lock. Riding with such heavy hearts, and with so little at stake, I can’t foresee too many riders pushing hard on Sunday.
The Earth is Moving in Bologna
With next to no fanfare, Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden will be testing the Ducati GP12 for two days at Valencia, on a full aluminum twin-spar frame. Rossi has WAY more at stake in the testing than he does in the race itself. Recall last year, when he climbed aboard the GP11 and struggled to 15th on the timesheets. If the completely re-conceived GP12 doesn’t give him dramatically better results, it is going to get ugly at the Bologna factory.