Motorsport

Wheelie Wednesday: Valencia MotoGP

Gardner wins World Championship… What is this, 1987?

GIFs/Images thanks to Dorna, Results tables from motogp.com


Circuit Ricardo Tormo, Valencia

Graphic by the Honda Racing Corporation

Journey of the Jackass 2021, Chapter 18: VALEncia

Well friends, after a topsy turvy 2021 season, the MotoGP World Championship arrived at Valencia, the semi-traditional location for the season finale, and of course, all the attention would be on the one and only Valentino Rossi, the last link to the 500cc era, making his 432nd and final Grand Start (44% of all race weekends in history), marking the end of a 26-year career like nothing we’ll ever see again – 9 World Championships, 115 wins and 231 podiums:

Narrated by his former teammate Colin Edwards

To celebrate Vale’s farewell, all of the 9 current VR46 Academy riders across the three classes wore a special helmet design that Valentino himself has worn during his career, with half-brother Luca Marini receiving the ‘5 Continents’ design that Rossi wore during his 2008 & 2009 title seasons, and Pecco Bagania sported the Che Spettacolo (What A Show) helmet that Rossi wore after winning the 2004 title in his first year with Yamaha.

While Vale dominated the limelight, this weekend also marked the farewell for quite a few riders, and several teams, to the premier class:

Danilo Petrucci says goodbye after 10 seasons and 2 wins, soon to attempt the Dakar Rally with KTM, his Tech3 teammate Iker Lecuona is off to Honda’s World Superbike program, Aprilia and Team Gresini will split after 7 seasons of providing factory support, with Gresini going to Ducati and Aprilia entering a factory team in MotoGP for the first time since 2004, Esponsorama Racing depart the series after 10 seasons, with Team VR46 taking their slots with Ducati, and Petronas SRT Yamaha ‘depart’ the series after 3 years in MotoGP, and a grand total of 8 seasons in Grand Prix racing, with the team rebranding as WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP Team.

Sadly, while some of Vale’s great rivals in Max Biaggi, Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo were all trackside to see the end of an era, Marc Marquez wasn’t able to race The Doctor one last time, as he underwent surgery on the fourth nerve in his right eye following a recent off-track crash while training for the Algarve GP that left him with concussion and a new episode of diplopia, an issue Marquez first suffered during a crash at Malaysia in 2011 while riding in Moto2, which very nearly ended his career.

This time around, HRC didn’t enter Stefan Bradl in Marc’s place, so it was originally down to just Pol Espargaro as the only factory Honda in the race…. although it turned out Pol didn’t even see the grid.

Finally, I should also note that in Moto2, this weekend was also the 317th and final race for 2005 125cc World Champion (And 2-time Moto2 runner-up) Thomas Lüthi, who sits 4th on the all-time GP starts list (317), behind Rossi, Andrea Dovizioso and Loris Capirossi, and true story, Tom won the Swiss Sports Personality of the year in ’05, the only time Roger Federer didn’t win the award between 2003 to 2007.


Qualifying


It was mixed news for the Espargaro family, as Aleix Espargaro topped the Combined Practice times following a wet Friday turned FP3 into Qualifying 0.5, while Pol suffered a nasty highside at Turn 13 on Saturday morning from which he was declared unfit and originally sat out of Qualifying, but Honda made the call to withdraw Pol from the weekend and focus on the Jerez post-season test, meaning there was no factory Honda rider on the premier class grid for the first time since Assen in 1992, when Mick Doohan suffered his broken leg, and Wayne Gardner had concussion.

Come Qualifying, it was the same story that we’ve seen in every race bar one since the summer break – A Ducati started on pole position, although for the first time in 6 races it wasn’t Pecco Bagnaia, with Jorge Martin taking pole by 6 hundredths of a second (1.29.936 vs 1.30.000) from the Italian and his factory teammate Jack Miller, with both the factory Ducati riders falling on their final laps in Q2, but still giving Ducati their second front row lockout in the last three races, and Johann Zarco in 5th made it all four GP21s starting in the Top 5.

Amazingly, at one stage Jack and Jorge topped the time sheets with exact same lap time (1.30.325), but Jack was ahead due to having a faster 2nd-best time, but Pecco topped it twice, then Martin beat Pecco to take his fourth pole of the year, which is impressive considering he missed 4 races, and gave him a huge advantage over Enea Bastianini, starting from 18th, in the Rookie of the Year fight.

Outgoing World Champion Joan Mir started 4th for Suzuki, just ahead of Zarco, with Alex Rins coming from Q1 to start 6th, Brad Binder was the only KTM rider to escape Q1 and start 7th, World Champion Fabio Quartararo was 8th, Takaaki Nakagami was the only Honda in Q2, Valentino Rossi pleased just about everyone by making it directly into Q2 and starting 10th for his last hurrah, ahead of his protégé Franco Morbidelli, with Aleix Espargaro the slowest in Q2.

Of the Q1 stragglers, Andrea Dovizioso started 13th, in the last race before he becomes the elder statesman of Grand Prix racing, Maverick Vinales was 14th, Iker Lecuona 15th, Danilo Petrucci 16th, Luca Marini 17th, the aforementioned Enea Bastianini was 18th, with Alex Marquez and Miguel Oliveira forming the back row, minus Pol.


Race (30 Laps)


After being holed up for well over a year, 140,000 fans lined the amphitheatre, most of them clad in yellow, to see the farewell of The Doctor, and before the race had even started the 9-time World Champion was getting chants, a mural on the pit wall, and a standing ovation from the crowd, and there was one particular surprise guest that Valentino got to see before he hopped on his Yamaha one last time, the great Brazilian No.9 RONALDO, with the story being that Rossi is a fan of Internazionale, and many moons ago, Ronaldo, during his successful stint with the Nerazzurri, gave a bleach blonde Rossi a No.9 Inter shirt.

There was also a hug between the two departing Italians, with Danilo Petrucci dressing up for the occasion:

Another noticeable feature of the race was that Aprilia went with an all-red livery for the race, in partnership with Product Red, which was originally started to raise awareness and funds to eliminate HIV/AIDS in Africa, but has now come to raise money against pandemics full stop.

If Aleix wanted to ride with Red, he could’ve just stuck with Gresini and gone to Ducati.

On the Michelin tyre front, it was a unanimous choice to run the Hard front/Medium rear combination, just to make it through the 27 laps with enough grip to be competitive, and at the start, Martin got a jump from pole so good Steve Day thought he’d jumped the gun, leading into Turn 1 ahead of Miller and Mir with Bagnaia settling into 4th, Binder was up to 5th until he ran wide at Turn 9, while Rossi got ahead of Zarco into 9th to end the opening lap.

It was the start of a Ducati vs Suzuki stoush that lasted well over half the race, and after getting a run down the pit straight to end the opening lap, Miller took the lead into Turn 1, but Martin got it straight back, then Mir passed Jack for 2nd, then he went in too deep at Turn 14 and lost 3rd to Bagnaia, then shortly afterwards the Aussie made it 4 lost spots in a lap, as Rins went into 4th, and Jack’s early attempts to save his tyres were being complicated by being forced into racing other riders, leaving him unable to settle into a rhythm.

In a rematch of the Styrian GP, Mir tried attacking Martin through the middle sectors, but Bagnaia closed up at Turn 13, and while the Top 4 traded fastest laps like a dirty needle, Pecco blitzed by the Suzuki, then Rins, who was the fastest of the 4 riders, made a move on Mir at Turn 6 on Lap 4 to move into the Top 3:

After settling into 5th, Miller seemed to still be having troubles stopping the Ducati on a full tank of fuel, and he was now under attack from Quartararo, first at Turn 14 to end Lap 5, which was solved by Jack blasting back ahead down the straight, but the Aussie then went into Turn 2 a bit too hot, and Quartararo got 5th place at Turn 4.

Elsewhere in the race, Aleix Espargaro on the red Aprilia had gone up from 12th to 7th, Zarco had dropped 5 places down to 10th after being passed by Rossi, who was lapping reasonably consistently, but Zarco didn’t waste any time getting back up to 9th, while Enea Bastianini was charging once again, going from 18th up to 12th, while Taka Nakagami became the first retirement when he went down on Lap 5, leaving Alex Marquez as the last Honda standing.

On Lap 6, Rins made a pass on Bagnaia at the same spot he passed Mir, but Bagnaia stuck with him on the run through Turn 7 down to 8, and held on to 2nd place:

For now, Martin was still leading, with Bagnaia and Rins setting new fastest laps and starting to put a small gap back to Mir, while Miller had finally stopped worrying about tyre life and settled into a rhythm, as ‘The Beast’ Bastianini made his way into the Top 10 after passing Rossi.

Off screen, Miller passed Quartararo for 5th on Lap 9, and he started putting a gap back to the Yamaha in pursuit of the Top 4, where Mir had finally responded and set a new fastest lap, Bagnaia was now seemingly eyeing up a pass on Martin, with Rins tucked in behind waiting for it to go wrong…

THEN ON LAP 11, AT TURN 6, RINS DID IT WHAT HE’S DONE TOO MANY TIMES, AND FELL FROM A GOOD POSITION!

Just carried too much corner speed and the front end couldn’t take it, and that’s the fourth time this year alone Rins has fallen from a Top 5 position…. I think that’s why he’s called Alex Bins.

So as the riders crossed half-race distance on Lap 14, Mir and Miller were closing up to the leaders to once again make it a 4-way fight for the lead, and the prospect a Ducati podium lockout was now looking a serious possibility if Miller continued at his current pace, but a consistent pattern following the Rins falls was that Bagnaia would close up to Martin in Sectors 2 and 3, but given it’s a GP21 vs a GP21 in a straight line, Martin was never threatened into Turn 1.

Eventually, Pecco had a huge lunge at Turn 6 on Lap 15 but couldn’t get it done there, then he got close enough through Turn 13, and once a space opened up, Baganaia TOOK THE LEAD at Turn 14!

As if making a statement to everyone else, Bagnaia started pulling away on Lap 16 and smashed in a 1.31.042, breaking the Valencia lap record that Marc Marquez set back in 2019, but not going quitetly, Martin put in his own personal best to keep the margin at 3-tenths with 10 laps to go, while Miller had now started ranging up to Mir, who was the only rider capable of making a sustained challenge to the Bologna Bullets, but even then, his Suzuki was completely outmatched and was starting to feel the tyre pinch.

After getting close enough down the straight to start Lap 19, Miller made the move on Mir at Turn 2, with the two managing to not make contact after doing so it in just about every second weekend this season, and the Ducati 1-2-3 was on!

A few laps later, Martin still hadn’t fallen away, cutting the gap back to 2-tenths, with Miller just over a second behind the Spaniard after setting his own personal best with 6 laps to go, Mir was starting to fall into the clutches of Quartararo, Zarco was up to 6th after passing Espargaro, who was starting to really fade away late in the race, and Rossi was still in 10th, and somewhat fittingly/ironically/whatever you want, it seemed Vale’s career would end with Franco Morbidelli, the first rider he ever signed to the VR46 Rider Academy, directly behind him in 11th.

As George Lucas once said, it’s like poetry, it rhymes.

With 4 laps to go and the entire town of Bologna about to die of happiness at what they were seeing, Bagnaia seemed to have things under control with a half-second lead, Miller was now within 6-tenths of Martin, while Quartararo now had a realistic chance of taking 4th from Mir, cutting the deficit down from 1.4 seconds to 6 tenths in the space of 4 laps.

Still, I don’t Fabio ever got close enough to make a lunge on Joan, while Miller started to ask serious questions of Martin, closing to within 3 tenths to start Lap 26, then the gap did get down to 2 tenths during the lap, but unfortunately for Jack, time was the enemy, and that was pretty much the way the race and the season ended.

On a memorable day for Italian motorcycle racing, Pecco Bagnaia won for the fourth time in the final 6 races, Ducati locked out the podium for the first time in their 18 year history with MotoGP, the Corse won the Teams’ Championship, and with Ronaldo waving the chequered flag, Valentino Rossi’s 432 race career came to a close with a Top 10 finish!

The end of the most storied career we’ll ever see…. Grazie Vale.

And here’s that nice little banner Suzuki made for Rossi when he came back to the guard of honour in pit lane:

A fitting end to Vale’s career- One of his VR46 Academy students in Pecco takes the win (With one of Rossi’s helmet designs) and carries on the legacy, and the first guy he ever signed to the VR46 Academy (Morbidelli) was right behind him.

Amidst all the celebrations, Dorna showed the video tributes from the likes of Tom Cruise, Chris Hemsworth, Keanu Reeves, Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Kelly Slater, Andrea Pirlo, Christian Vieri, Mick Doohan, Wayne Rainey, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer:

Of course, those celebrations should distract a few people from the utterly frightening result that Ducati just delivered to end the year, and with 8 Dukes on the grid next year, if they get the GP22 as well as they have the GP21, then all I can say is, start rubbing your rosary beads.


Results & Standings


So rounding off the results, Bagnaia won for the second time in 7 days, polesitter Jorge Martin finished 2nd and wrapped up the Rookie of the Year title, after revealing he nearly missed the race due to non-stop vomiting overnight that left him unable to eat for well over a day, Jack Miller finished 3rd for the second time in a week, the third season running he’s made the podium at Valencia/The season finale, completing the Ducati podium lockout, also ensuring Ducati Lenovo easily wrapped up the Teams’ Championship, their first since 2007, and funnily enough, an Australian (Casey Stoner) and an Italian (Loris Capirossi) got it done for Ducati that year as well.

That also means Jack has finished 4th in the World Championship, his best ever result, so this has been another worthwhile chapter in the Journey of the Jackass!

Mir did hold on to finish 4th by a quarter of a second to Fabio Quartararo, Zarco finished 6th and took the best Independent Rider title for the third time, Brad Binder’s 7th ensures he finishes 6th in the World Championship, thanks to the absence of Marc Marquez, Bastianini made up 10 places, Aleix Espargaro faded in the final laps to finish 9th, the aforementioned Valentino Rossi not only finished his final outing, he finished in the Top 10, with Morbidelli sitting in behind, Dovi was 12th, the sole surviving Honda of Alex Marquez was 13th, Miguel Oliveira’s forgettable run to end to the season saw him finish 14th, the last point went to the departing Iker Lecuona, with Maverick Vinales, Luca Marini and Danilo Petrucci being the last of the finishers.

Now, to celebrate another great result by an Australian rider!


Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster Reaches Its Climax

Keith Campbell, Tom Phillis, Kel Carruthers, Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan, Casey Stoner… Remy Gardner!

I’ll be honest, I don’t want to relive the Moto2 race, because good lord I nearly had a heart attack watching it, but as you all know, with a 23-point lead after winning in Portimao, the equation was simple for Remy Gardner – If his brilliant teammate Raul Fernandez won the race, then Remy needed to finish no worse than 13th (14th would mean Fernandez won on a countback) to become the first Australian to win a World Championship since Casey Stoner’s second MotoGP title in 2011, and the first Aussie to win the Intermediate class title since Kel Carruthers won the 1969 250cc title on a Benelli, which would make Remy and Wayne Gardner (1987 500cc) only the second father-son motorcycle World Champions, joining King Kenny Roberts (1978-80 500cc) & Kenny Roberts Jnr (2000 500cc) in the annals of history.

In fact, it was noted by both Matt Birt and Steve Day that there’s a case of symmetry in some of those names, because Kel Carruthers moved to America in 1971 after accepting an offer to race for Yamaha, and while Kel was there, Yamaha asked him to tutor a young Kenny Roberts, and from that point on, Kel became King Kenny’s manager and crew chief, all the way through to Roberts moving to Europe and winning 3 consecutive 500cc titles in his first 3 years in Grand Prix racing.

Cutting to the chase a crazy beginning to Sunday saw the race red-flagged on Lap 1 due to oil on the track following a crash between Xavi Vierge, Marco Bezzecchi and Lorenzo Baldassari:

That cut the race down from 25 to a more manageable 16 laps for Gardner, albeit with most of the field riding for sheep stations, and Vierge and Bezzecchi made the restart, although Bezzecchi had to start at the back due to Sky VR46 taking too long to refit the Italian’s fairings.

Then, if it couldn’t get any more wilder, during the second warm-up lap, Simone Corsi, the polesitter who had taken MV Agusta’s first pole in 12 months, pulled off into pitlane and didn’t start the race due to some kind of electrical issue!

Poor old MV Agusta, the last time they had any luck was when Giacomo Agostini was in his heyday.

So on the second restart, the race between the championship rivals never really took off, probably because Fernandez had to put it all the line win the race to have any chance of the title, whereas Gardner just had to stay out of trouble and finish inside the Top 13, and it should be noted that Raul, despite starting 5th, absolutely rode his nuts off once again and found himself in a great 3-way fight with Fabio Di Giannantonio, back running in the Top 3 for the first time since Austin, and Augusto Fernandez, Raul’s compatriot of no relation.

Eventually, the race went the way of Raul, who passed Diggia at Turn 2 on Lap 13, and took his 8th win of the year, setting a new outright record for the most wins by a rookie in the Intermediate class, which had been a three-way tie on 7 between Raul, Marc Marquez (2011) and the ever-interesting American John Kocinski, who was the only one of the 3 to actually win the title (1990 to be exact) when he set the record.

Raul should hold his head extremely high, because he was absolutely sensational this season, even more so than anyone could’ve believed coming straight up from Moto3, and now he goes straight up to MotoGP, where he’ll get a chance to shine.

Meantime, Gardner seemingly knew exactly where he needed to finish and thus rode a very measured and safe race, not really trying to get engaged in a scrap with any riders, as shown when Sam Lowes and Jorge Navarro passed the Aussie and put him down to 11th place, leaving Remy with his former SAG teammate Tetsuta Nagashima for company, but eventually Gardner got ahead of Tom Luthi to take 10th place entering the final few laps, and it seemed like Nagashima didn’t want to pass his old friend, or moreso that Gardner had things under control.

Once again, it wasn’t a great performance to watch, but Holy Toledo, it was TENSE…

To be honest, I was so tense I couldn’t unclench my backside until about 30 minutes after the race, and if that was painful for me, I wonder how poor old Wayne Gardner felt sitting in the KTM Ajo pit box, because he told Simon Crafar he’d much rather be riding than watching.

However, to quote some random Englishman, nobody remembers the labour as long as they have the baby, and after a season-long fight the MOTO2 World Championship WENT THE WAY OF REMY GARDNER!

The Wollongong Whiz celebrates his son’s triumph:

After a career filled with crap bikes and crushing lows, plus plenty of knockers telling him he’d never make it in Grand Prix racing, Gardner junior joined Gardner senior as a World Champion, becoming the first Australian to win a World Championship in any category since Casey Stoner’s 2011 MotoGP title, and ironically, 10th was his lowest finishing position of the entire season.

Of course, the two teammates/rivals had a very nice moment post-race, as they marked the end of quite possibly the best Moto2 title fight we’ve seen since it was rebranded in 2010, and one of the best Intermediate class title fights we’ve seen in many a year.

311 points versus 307, but ultimately it was the consistency of Gardner that got him the title – Both riders scored 12 podiums, Fernandez comfortably edged Gardner 8 wins to 5, but the big difference was Gardner had just 1 DNF compared to 3 for Raul, whose crash from the lead at Misano was probably the defining moment of the season.


Of course, that means for the first time since 2006, we have maiden World Champions in all 3 categories – Fabio Quartararo in MotoGP, Remy Gardner in Moto2, and Pedro Acosta in Moto3!


So that’s it for the MotoGP reports this season – Thanks for reading everyone!

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