The usual hot weather of Spain had deserted last race of the season at the circuit in Valencia. Practice was cold, wet and dreary with temperatures around 15C. The 2010 World Champion was at the track, his home GP but was not taking part due to the injury to his hand incurred during practice in Australia. Some comments were made that if the points had been closer for him to achieve back to back Championships, it is likely that he may have raced. Another non-starter was Colin Edwards, who was recovering from a dislocated shoulder that he received in the crash in Sepang when Marco Simoncelli sadly lost his life.
Casey Stoner managed another pole position on a damp track which was the 12th for the season, equalling Mick Doohan’s record. Danny Pedrosa managed 2nd with Ben Spies in 3rd on his Yamaha. There were spots of rain at the start with temperature on the greasy track 15C and air temperature at 17C.
Stoner took the lead with Pedrosa and Spies followed by Dovizioso who had jumped from the middle of the 3rd row. However as Dovizioso was rounding the first bend he eased over and Bautista, on the Rizla Suzuki, ran into his back wheel. He had his back wheel off the ground attempting to brake with cold carbon fibre discs, but ran into Rossi and as they both crashed they also took out Hayden and De Puniet. This was a sad end to their 2011 season, especially Rossi who had had one of his worst seasons in the years of top level racing.
Stoner by lap 3 was far away in the lead and Dovizioso passed Spies followed by Pedrosa on the next bend. Three corners later Spies was able to overtake Pedrosa as well, however he out brakes himself and Pedrosa retakes 4th place. He was keen not to let Dovizioso get away as they were both looking to be third in the Championship. On the 5th lap Pedrosa manages to get past Dovizioso and they kept this fighting for the next ten laps even though the rain was still falling and the track slippery.
The three works Hondas were certainly giving the fans a show in difficult conditions, even with Stoner 10secs ahead. Dovizioso passed Pedrosa again on lap 14 as the rain began to come down harder. Pedrosa eased off a little but began to catch up with 12 laps to go and as Spies made an attempt on Dovizioso on corner 6 he left enough room for Pedrosa to squeeze past. On a dry track this would not have happened. Two corners later with adrenalin pumping, he passed Dovizioso as well. However as the track became more slippery he began to slow and both Dovizioso and Spies passed. The Yamaha rider was really having second wind in the tricky conditions and passed into second place and began catching Stoner.
With 5 laps to go and the rain was getting harder Stoners lead was reduced to 2.5sec as he became more cautious. Ben Spies was able to pass him with 3 laps to go when Stoner made a mistake but then Spies had no one in front of him to judge how slippery the conditions were so became somewhat cautious.
Further down the field caution was not the watch word for Cal Crutchlow and Karol Abrahams as they were fighting to be the Rookie of the Year. They kept up a race long battle with first one, then the other ahead until the last lap, when Crutchlow passes and the next corner Abrahams attempted to re-pass but the gap closed and he ran into the rear of Crutchlow and ran off the track. Crutchlow was lucky to stay upright after a wobble and finished a well-deserved 4th and Rookie of the Year. Abrahams re-mounted and came in 8th.
After running in second place for two laps Stoner was able to work out where he seemed to have more power out of the corners as Spies, being cautious, did not put his power on early in case his rear wheel spun away. With these thoughts on the last lap Casey took more risks on the last few corners and with the sprint to the finishing line from the last corner the power of the Repsol Honda allowed him to win in a photo finish by just 0.015secs. He is a worthy winner, his 10th of the season and having led for most laps throughout is also a worthy World Champion for 2011. This was the last race of the season for the 800cc era and Stoner has also been the most successful rider on these bikes, mostly on Ducati and has scored 33 MotoGP victories and Next season the bikes will have 1000cc and testing will be on Tuesday and Wednesday in Valencia.
Another end of an era is the retirement of Loris Capirossi after 22 years, including three Championships one in 250cc and two in 125cc with 29 GP victories, including 9 in the Moto GP/500cc senior class. His last race was all the more poignant and sad as with the permission of Marco Simoncelli’s family he used Marco’s #58 instead of his usual #65. He managed to finish in 7th, a creditable position considering the circumstances and a lovely tribute to Marco. As a further tribute to Marco there was a parade around the track before the events started with all riders taking part from all classes and Kevin Schwantz, the 1993 World Champion riding Marco Simoncelli’s San Carlo Honda #58. The podium with Stoner, Spies and Dovizioso also showed their respect by accepting the champagne, clinking the bottles together and not spraying it everywhere, as is the habit.
We will always remember the 2011 season as one of the most dominated by a single rider, Casey Stoner, since Rossi was in full flow and Doohan before that. It will also be remembered for the sad loss of one of the new stars and young lions, Marco Simoncelli. We look forward to the next season beginning in April on different bikes with 1000cc engines and additional teams with new young riders taking part.