The final race of the MotoGP season in Valencia was always going to be a 'casual jolly'. The championship had already been decided in Valentino Rossi's favour, there was an honorary guest in the person of Ben Spies, while Chris Vermulen and James Toseland of Rizla Suzuki and Monster Tech 3 Yamaha respectively contemplated their final moments in MotoGP's grand arena. As the Riders moved along the track to assume their positions on the grid, there was one noticeable surprise. Casey Stoner somersaulted off his Marlboro Ducati and was taken out of the race before it begun. A universal gasp ensued, and then the incident was duly forgotten. It was of little or no real consequence, and the 'fiesta' must go on. It was supposed to be a celebration /welcoming party for 'boy wonder' Spies. An innocuous flip by Stoner wasn't going to spoil the fun.
The festive atmosphere in Valencia provided a casual veil to obscure more profound and ominous aspects of the sport during these economic times. Similar to Formula One, MotoGP currently has to deal with issues regarding the sports development, marketing and affordability. Of the issues directly affecting the Riders on the track, the reduction of winter testing time for the 2010 season has generated vocal opposition from prominent Riders including newly crowned Champion Valentino Rossi.
Despite the jovial atmosphere and lack of the usual tension that surrounds most competitive races, “The Doctor” Rossi was reported as being unhappy with the poor performance of his No 46 Fiat Yamaha during qualifying. According to Jeremy Burgess Rossi's Chief Mechanic, the team had flipped the Yamaha over in the garage attempting to fix or readjust its mechanical settings before the main race. Rossi had qualified forth and appeared slightly off the pace. Whatever, Burgess and his team had done seemed to partially fix the problem, as Rossi finished the race in second place behind Dani Pedrosa.
Pedrosa had taken and held on till the end, pole position, after Stoner flipped off the track. All Riders had needed to give tyre selection paramount consideration. Being somewhat in between high and low temperatures, the track in Spain was neither ideal for soft of hard compounds adding an element of unpredictability to the overall race. The better choice appeared to be the hard compound Bridgestone Tyres, allowing Riders to raise the temperatures of the tyres as the race got underway. Nonetheless, this strategy had contributed to the undoing of Stoner as he attempted his traditional dropping back during the run up to the grid positions.
Regardless, the true significance of the Valencia lay with the much anticipated performance of Ben Spies, on a MotoGP bike. Spies' moment in MotoGP had come, and his Yamaha was not subject to engine regulations as he was a guest rider, and not taking part in the Championship. By the end of a rather dull race epitomised by Rossi's nonchalant glide past the flag in second place, Spies came in seventh, overtaking some seasoned MotoGP Riders along the way.
However, Ben Spies' first competitive MotoGP race was akin to Sarah Palin debating Joe Biden in 2008 without the obnoxious 'winking'. The odds were stacked in Spies' favour. So, realistically, all he had to do was give a good showing, and ease his bike home. Spies did just that, and like Sarah Palin after the 2008 debate was duly and predictably praised for it. He also won the accolade of new team mate Colin Edwards, who pressed on to take fifth place in the Championship with 161 points, while the man Spies' is replacing, James Toseland finished in twelfth position in Valencia, and 14th in the Championship overall with 92 points.
Pardon me, if I reveal to you that I hear Bonnie Tyler's power ballad “I need a hero” in my head, whenever I'm forced to listen to another commentator pour adulation on Ben Spies ad nauseum. I sincerely hope he succeeds because the expectations are huge. And with Rossi, Stoner, Lorenzo and Edwards still in the game there's little room or patience for mediocrity.
Like I've stated before, I want to believe in Ben Spies, but unlike some, I'm going to need a little more convincing. Mea culpa.