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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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125cc – the class that keeps on giving

Moto2 at Silverstone 2010

Where Moto2 leads Moto3 will follow. (pic Silverstone)

125cc Grand Prix racing will be sorely missed when it is replaced by Moto3 next season, unless of course the new format doesn’t shake things up too much. For decades the smallest of the Grand Prix classes has been the very definition of close competition, even today there is intense pack-racing and last lap passes galore. At the Sachsenring we were treated to that rarest of results – a dead heat between Hector Faubel and Johann Zarco. After forty minutes of fantastic racing around the sweeps and dips of the German Grand Prix venue the Aprilia and the Derbi could not be separated by either the timing beam or even the photo-finish camera. They had to settle it on a tie-break that gave the win to Faubel due to him scoring a faster race lap as they dashed to the flag.

The 125cc class has been a part of the show since the start of world championship motorcycle racing in 1949, so the forthcoming Moto3 rulebook has a lot to live up to. On the evidence of Moto2 we shouldn’t worry too much. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such hot competition in the middle class of motorcycle Grand Prix racing before the advent of this multi-chassis spec-engine formula. In 2011 Marquez and Bradl – who finished one-two at the Sachsenring this afternoon – have put on quite a show. Both deserve a spot in Moto GP.

Luckily there should be a place for them both in the top class next year as we are due to be treated to an influx of new teams. This is sorely needed of course with only 17 riders, sometimes less, competing at the pinnacle of motorcycle racing. The new rules will see more bang for your buck as the engineers squeeze another few CCs out of the engines. It’s extra bikes that are needed for the top flight rather than a bit more cubic capacity, nobody worried that 500s weren’t big enough, they just concentrated on making the engines punch way above their weight.

The 2011 grid may be lacking in quantity but there is still plenty of quality, the Moto GP encounter at the Sachsenring was a treat with entertainment all through the modest field. The ever-injured Danny Pedrosa took a surprising and hard-fought win from the two title protagonists Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner who duked it out until the flag fell, the Yamaha rider eventually overcoming the Australian who sits atop the standings. The riders may not be too keen on the track but the tight sweepers of the Sachsenring usually make for entertaining racing. The hundreds of thousands who packed the stands and the banks clearly think a little differently to the guys who are sat on the bikes, the German GP attendance was close to Spanish or Italian levels.

A Moto GP race day always features close finishes, huge grids and superstar riders. It’s just a shame that it’s not usually all in the same race. Let’s hope that Moto3 doesn’t ruin the magic of 125s and that Moto GP’s tweaked rules result in a boost to the grid.

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