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Ciao Marco, grazie Loris, wow Casey

After a torrid two weeks for the sport Moto GP has found that the remedy is noise, action and some truly memorable racing. The entire Valencia race meeting that closes the season was run in dedication to Marco Simoncelli. All the bikes from the three classes were led by Kevin Schwantz around the track for a parade lap in Super Sic’s honour before an enormous banner was unfurled and the traditional Valencian fireworks combined with the revving engines to make two minutes of ‘casino’ which sure beats a minute of silence. The Simoncelli family suggested this gleefully raucous ceremony, they knew better than anybody that somebody as exciting as Marco wouldn’t really enjoy everybody being miserable, there has been enough of that.

So that was the official tribute, but with every rider carrying a number 58 on their bike, leathers or helmet there was an atmosphere of appreciation for Marco’s talents and personality all through the paddock. The Gresini pit featured a shrine to their fallen star, the number 58 Honda was placed in its garage exactly as it should have been. Marco’s helmet sat proudly atop its steed, the scene looked like a ghostship where everything is present as it should be except for the people. A lovely touch.

However, there is no better way to celebrate Simoncelli’s short but brilliant career than a win for his team, and that’s exactly what Gresini’s Moto2 arm delivered. Michele Pirro took his first ever victory in the class and looked stunned at this magical feat. The Gresini bikes lined up one-two on the grid but Yuki Takahashi took a terrifying tumble out of the lead to deny them a lockout at the front, luckily the Japanese rider suffered a hit big enough to knock the memories of the race clean out of his head but he will be fine. It could have been worse and Gresini will be relieved. He wasn’t the only faller, even Bradl had a vicious crash on a day when spits of rain made the Spanish track even more tricky than it usually is.

On Saturday there was another nice moment that sums up the good feeling that there usually is in a racing paddock. After Stefan Bradl took the championship his father never quite managed to tame, the young German had secured the crown by default when the white-hot Marc Marquez had to give best to his injuries for the second race running and decided not to compete in qualifying. Bradl headed over to the Repsol pit to commiserate with Marc and his team, a really welcome sporting gesture that will have pleased Marquez as much as it was possible to, I’m sure. Marquez will get another shot at the Moto2 crown as he is racing there again in 2012 before stepping up to Moto GP the year after where he will undoubtedly become the next great Spanish hero.

Before the Moto2 encounter there was emotion of a different kind as the 125cc World Championship bid farewell after over 60 years. Although the bikes will live on in national championships and some will form the basis for the new Moto3 bikes, this will be much-missed formula. In 2011 alone we have seen dead-heats, passing, crashing and a championship battle that went down to the wire as Terol took the final crown while his rival Zarco fell early in the running. Maverick Vinales took the win ahead of Terol to go down in the record books as the final 125cc winner, the youngster recording his fourth win and installing himself as a favourite for the new class before the bikes have even turned a wheel.

Moto GP has not had its most glorious year, but the sparse grid that already lacked local hero Jorge Lorenzo put on quite the show for the final race for the 800cc bikes that haven’t proved to be a hit. The field was decimated further as Bautista and no less than three Ducatis including the works bikes of Rossi and Hayden were down at the first corner. With Casey Stoner out front it was up to Dovizioso, Pedrosa and Spies to entertain us in the early laps. They kept riding hard in the damp conditions with passes being made on nearly every lap, this 190mph dance continuing right until the chequered flag.

Ben Spies came on stronger as the rain fell heavier, exploring the limits of his Yamaha’s brakes. All the riders resisted taking to their wet bikes, staying out there with Spies looking like the quickest and bravest as he took Dovizioso with six laps to go before closing rapidly on Stoner’s Honda that had enjoyed a ten second advantage at one point. With three laps to go the Australian champion was under real pressure and ran wide as he encountered the wet stuff which handed Spies what looked set to be his second Moto GP win. However it was not over. With Stoner’s balls-to-the-wall riding style and the big speed of his Honda he powered back past Spies on the run to the flag to claim the win by a scant 15 thousandths of a second. A more thrilling remedy for sadness you could not ask for.

Meanwhile we said goodbye to Loris Capirossi, the most experienced Moto GP rider of them all having rode in 40% of all World Championship Grand Prix race meetings. The old man’s bike sported the number 58 of his fallen countryman Marco Simoncelli, Loris hustling it through to ninth to score decent points, which is a much better retirement gift than a gold clock. As the paddock said “Grazie Loris” and “Ciao Marco” the cold Valencia circuit became a very warm place indeed. Such is the power of good people and great racing.

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Forgotten success

Several motorsport titles were decided on Sunday

Reflecting on 2011 - titles were sadly overshadowed on Sunday. (Paz Chauhan)

The motorsport world was busy handing out trophies last Sunday before a lovely day of racing was cruelly ruined by the terrible events in Las Vegas. While I can’t quite bring myself to deliver a full review of each it is worth noting the titles won and lost over a packed yet bleak weekend for the sport.

Formula One saw another Sebastian Vettel victory at the somewhat sterile environment of Yeongam in South Korea. More importantly but no less inevitably Red Bull wrapped up the Constructors Championship with Mark Webber finishing third after a thrilling duel with Lewis Hamilton who came home second after starting on pole for the first time this year, a great effort from the 2008 champion.

Unfortunately Moto GP was a little disappointing for all but the Aussies as Casey Stoner romped to a home win at Phillip Island and clinched the final 800cc title in the process. Good on Casey and Honda who have been the class of the field in 2011, but the edge was taken off the race by the non-starts for Yamaha’s Ben Spies and Jorge Lorenzo, the latter’s hopes of defending his title were left in tatters after a very nasty finger injury on race morning.

Back home at Silverstone the BTCC boys had a refreshingly respectful end to the season despite heading into the final triple-header of the year with five still in title contention. Matt Neal’s win in race one set up an all-Honda duel between himself and Gordon Shedden as Plato and Jackson suffered punctures while Nash just didn’t quite have the ultimate pace although that didn’t stop him taking the indie trophy in his dated Vauxhall Vectra. Shedden seized the initiative with a win in the second race but it was Matt Neal who kept it cool to take his third title in the final race of the day as Tom Chilton won the reverse grid race.

Honda have fought against a competitive field, a certain moaning rival and even against themselves to take the crown with a rich variety of different machinery chasing them. I just wish the final rounds were held at Brands, Silverstone is too smooth and fast to lend itself to truly thrilling touring car racing in the modern era.

Then there is the crown that is destined to be forgotten; Dario Franchitti’s Indycar title. It is a trophy he will barely be able to look at, champagne will be toasted to the memory of a fallen comrade rather than sprayed in celebration. He is the Indy driver du jour, but this isn’t the moment to dwell on that. It was already a rough year for Indycar even before the horror of Sunday, let’s hope for a brighter 2012 for the fastest and friendliest racing series of them all.

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Jorge goes for his annual dip

Jerez is Lorenzo's land. (pic Fiat Yamaha)


Bernie may want rain to spice up F1 races but in Moto GP a little precipitation often does the opposite and ruins the fun. This Sunday was a little different though, the rain in Spain allowed for heroics from some and made headaches for others, it all added up to a spectacular race for the hundreds of thousands of moto-mad fans that make Jerez one of the best Grand Prix of the year. It was race of the week from where I was sitting, so it must have been something else trackside.

The substantial crowd may have been cheering Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Rossi but Casey Stoner was hoping to spoil the party after claiming pole position. The Honda rider was the man to beat at Losail and could have done the same on Spanish soil were it not for the rain and an out-of-control Valentino Rossi. During the thrilling early laps The Doctor blasted through from his poor grid spot to trouble Stoner, Lorenzo and Simoncelli at the front until the Ducati rider fell into the path of the Aussie star sending both into the kitty-litter like skittles. While the marshals rushed to Rossi’s aid they left Stoner frustrated and unable to push-start his still race-worthy Honda. Casey lost his championship lead and had a few choice words for Valentino afterwards including the oldie-but-goodie “you ran out of talent” along with some criticism for the race officials themselves.

The two champions weren’t the only ones to visit the gravel; three of the top nine finishes had all spent time on their bums during the Grand Prix before recovering. Simoncelli was perhaps the most unfortunate, after taking Lorenzo and Stoner on successive laps he wobbled his way out of an impressive lead and onto the floor leaving Jorge Lorenzo to take another win at Jerez. And yes, he dived in the pond again although this time he was already soaked by the relentless drizzle. Pedrosa made it a Spanish one-two while Nicky Hayden got the third spot on the podium, a position that nobody else seemed to want including Ben Spies who even got as high up the order as second before falling off.

There were plenty of great rides throughout the Moto GP weekend but it was the paperclip track at Martinsville that provided my racer of the week. Kevin Harvick picked up his second win on the bounce in Sprint Cup competition after shuffling past Dale Earnhardt Jnr in the last couple of minutes, consecutive wins are a rare thing in Sprint Cup especially on such wildly different tracks.

Although Harvick has to be racer of the week, Johnny Sauter deserves a shout for taking a win in the Camping World Trucks on the micro-oval. The presence of Harvick and Busch in Trucks makes a victory in this series so much more valuable to the few who can break their stranglehold. Expect the Kevin and Kyle show to resume next time out though, it’s not often those two get beaten in a Truck and both of them are driving better than ever in 2011. Watch and learn Mr Raikkonen.

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Dude, where’s my sponsor?

Looks fast to us - Lorenzo & Spies check out their new ride.

50 years in the business, the two hottest youngsters on the grid and a number one on the fairing – sounds like a recipe for a big sponsor. Except for Yamaha’s works Moto GP squad it isn’t. Jorge Lorenzo is going to defend his title without the backing of a title sponsor, an indicator of just how tough the economy is at the moment.

Valentino Rossi is off to fulfill his destiny by riding for Ducati in 2011 and former sponsor Fiat has left too. Yamaha are putting a brave face on it, in fact they seem rather keen on being able to use their corporate colours and are planning on doing some ‘special’ paint jobs over the course of the season. Good for them, but pity the smaller teams who haven’t got half a century of success behind them and two champion riders under contract. No wonder the Moto GP grid has shrunk over the last few years.

For now we’ll leave Lorenzo and Spies looking at their lovely YZR-M1s and wish them luck for the year ahead. At least the bikes will be a bit lighter without all those pesky decals!

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