2011 MotoGP Valencia Results

What a finish!

The 2011 MotoGP finale at Ricardo Tormo Circuit took place under cold, wet, windy skies – fitting conditions for saluting the memory of Marco Simoncelli. What started out as another cakewalk for 2011 champion Stoner concluded as a mad dash for the finish line. Stoner’s 10th win of the season, by a margin of .015 of a second, came at the expense of a stunned Ben Spies. Can 2012 possibly get here soon enough?

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At the start, today’s race reminded me of my bowling days, when I would miss the headpin to the left, leaving the 1, 3, 6 and 10 pins standing in a row. Heading into turn one of lap one, it appeared that Andrea Dovizioso’s rear tire came into brief contact with Alvaro Bautista’s front. In a flash, Bautista slid into Valentino Rossi, who slid into Randy de Puniet, who slid into Nicky Hayden. All four riders left the track amid a shower of sparks, asses over teakettles, with pieces of motorcycles flying all over the place. Dovizioso inadvertently picking up the spare meant the day was, incredibly, over for the factory Ducatis, Team Suzuki and half of Pramac Racing. 12 riders remained to finish the race, an inauspicious start after the tragedy at Sepang.

Alvaro Bautista's first-corner crash took out a trio of Ducatis in Nicky Hayden, Valentino Rossi and Randy de Puniet.

Once the dust settled, the bulk of the day was consumed by a terrific battle for third place for the season between Honda teammates Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso. At the start of the race, Dovizioso enjoyed a four point lead over his little Spanish buddy, Pedrosa holding the tiebreaker. With Stoner sailing out front in clean air, the two Repsol riders and Yamaha stud Spies settled into a tight group fighting for championship standing, two podium spots, and Honda vs. Yamaha bragging rights. While Pedrosa and Dovizioso took turns going through on one another, Spies sat in fourth place, seemingly biding his time, saving his tires.

With six laps left, it started to rain in earnest, and Spies made his move. He went through easily on Pedrosa who, needing to finish second to capture third place for the year, appeared to give up. Two laps later, Spies went through on Dovizioso. In between these two passes, Stoner, who had been laying down laps between 1:34 and 1:38 all day, spent 1:43.5 completing lap 25, and came into Spies’ view. By lap 28 the Australian’s former nine second lead had shrunk to 1.3 seconds, and Spies went through into the lead at turn six when Stoner ran way wide. Heading into turn 14 of the final lap, Stoner still trailed Spies by roughly 15 meters. Spies had the race in the bag, and could taste his second career win.

In perhaps the most dramatic finish this season, Casey Stoner edged out Ben Spies by just 0.015 seconds.

As we’ve observed all year long, the factory Honda RC212V enjoys a huge advantage over every other bike on the grid in what we like to refer to as “corner exit.” In the space of perhaps 150 yards between the end of turn 14 and the finish line, on a wet track, with nothing at stake other than personal pride and sheer willfulness, Stoner rocketed past Spies at the line to steal the win. His 16th podium of the season is a new all-time record. His 12th pole of the season tied another all-time record. Though his win today might be characterized as lucky, there was nothing lucky about his 2011 championship. He was head and shoulders the best rider on the best bike on the grid. Our congratulations go out to him and his team.

As for Dovizioso and Pedrosa, Dovi managed to stick one in the eye of HRC by beating Pedrosa for the season. Clearly, had the Spaniard not taken his involuntary four round vacation earlier in the year, he would have finished ahead of his teammate, and might have challenged Lorenzo for second place. But in the hazardous environs of grand prix racing, it is what it is.

2011 MotoGP Champion Casey Stoner is flanked by Moto2 Champion Stefan Bradl (left) and 125cc Champion Nicolas Terol.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Missing from the starting grid, in addition to Super Sic, were Jorge Lorenzo and Colin Edwards. Lorenzo’s spot was filled by Yamaha sparring partner Katsuyiki Nagasuga, while AMA Superbike veteran Josh Hayes warmed Edwards’ seat. Neither rider had ever seen the Valencia circuit before this weekend, and it was Hayes’ first time aboard the Yamaha M1. In two of the biggest surprises of the season, Nagasuga finished seventh today, and Hayes eighth, a clear example of the power of purpose. Theirs was to perform to their absolute best and give maximum effort.

Injury fill-ins Katsuyiki Nagasuga and Josh Hayes finished seventh and eighth place, respectively.

Ignoring Karel Abraham, whom we will discuss below, they surpassed Loris Capirossi (playing it very safe in his last career grand prix), Toni Elias (being summarily evicted by LCR Honda to destinations unknown), Hector Barbera (anxious to exit the Aspar MotoGP team) and, finally, Hiro Aoyama, the last man standing at Gresini San Carlo, whose orders, apparently, were to simply finish the race. [Note: No such orders were given to Moto2 Gresini rider Michele Pirro, who won his first Moto2 contest with Simoncelli’s #58 affixed to his helmet, in a touching feel good moment for Fausto Gresini’s #2 team.]

Valentino Rossi’s disastrous inaugural season aboard the Ducati Desmosedici came to a fitting conclusion today, marking a career-low of a single podium finish, as well as his first crashing out of three consecutive races. The day-long battle for Rookie of the Year between Tech 3 Yamaha’s Cal Crutchlow and Junior Abraham on the Cardion AB Ducati ended on lap 30 as Abraham went walkabout, handing the ROY title to Crutchlow, who surprised everyone, including himself, with his own fourth place finish. Crutchlow must be looking forward to sharing his garage with Andrea Dovizioso next season, hoping for some extra support from Yamaha corporate for two very talented young riders.

Endings and beginnings: Loris Capirossi (with number 58 in honor of Marco Simoncelli) competed in his final MotoGP race while Josh Hayes raced his first.

For Alvaro Bautista, who started the day from the five hole, getting knocked out of a race in which he had a puncher’s chance to podium had to be another big disappointment in a season full of them. There is a rumor going around that Suzuki will, in fact, field a MotoGP team in 2012, and that it may include more than one rider. No word, however, on whether they will make any effort to provide 1000cc machines, which, if not, would diminish any excitement for Bautista, John Hopkins, or whomever.

Finally, in my last official thought for 2011, I suspect that Andrea Dovizioso is kicking himself for having signed with Tech 3 Yamaha as soon as he did. Had he waited, and knowing what we now know, he would have been the obvious choice to join Gresini San Carlo Honda on the factory RC213V alongside Yuki Takahashi. He’s a proven race winner, has spent a decade working for Honda, and, most importantly, is Italian. But tomorrow is, literally, a new day. Let the testing begin.

Before the race, the entire paddock from all three classes lined up at the finish line to rev their engines in Marco Simoncelli's memory. Afterwards, 1993 World Champin Kevin Schwantz led all the riders in a memorial lap.

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