MotoGP Season Review 2011: Stoner Dominant In Season Of Tragedy


Marco Simoncelli & Casey Stoner - Photo Credit: MotoGP.com
Marco Simoncelli & Casey Stoner – Photo Credit: MotoGP.com

 

When a man dominates a season in the style we’ve seen in MotoGP this year, the default response is to dub it boring but all motorcycling followers have been treated to sheer sporting brilliance from Casey Stoner. For someone to achieve such accolades in a world-class sport takes some doing and deserves nothing but acclaim but events in the back-end of 2011 have reminded us all that it is, at the end of the day, just a sport.

In Malaysia on Sunday 23rd October, a charismatic, charming human being had his life tragically cut short. As you will soon find out, Marco Simoncelli would never be too far from the headlines in 2011 as his flamboyant style earned him countless admirers, and the odd critic, but when all is said and done, he did it all to fulfil his dream of racing motorcycles on the world stage. Here, The Checkered Flag looks back at how the world’s finest motorcycle racers, Marco included, produced another year to remember.

The 2011 season actually got underway on Monday 8th November 2010, the day after the final race in Valencia. The Yamaha team had barely finished sticking the number one on the front of Jorge Lorenzo’s bike when testing for 2011 got underway and hardly anyone was paying attention to the new world champion with his rivals hogging the headlines.

For Italian motorcycling fans, the dream combination had finally come together as Valentino Rossi climbed aboard a Ducati for the first time. The sight of packed spectator stands for a test session said it all. The initial lap times weren’t exactly eye-catching with Rossi still feeling the aftereffects of his injured shoulder but no-one cared. The sight of the no.46 on a Ducati was good enough for the legion of fans.

Further up the pitlane, another high-debut took place as Casey Stoner kicked off his Repsol Honda career. There wasn’t quite the same fanfare for the 2007 world champion but in true Stoner style, he let his riding do the talking and set the pace when testing concluded 24 hours later. The first warning shot had been fired ahead of a potentially thrilling three-way title fight with Lorenzo matching him on the Yamaha.

Testing resumed in February with two sessions in Sepang and the overall picture was becoming a little clearer. It didn’t make pretty reading for Ducati as Rossi and Nicky Hayden languished down in 11th and 12th respectively, over 1.8 seconds away from the ultimate pace, set once again by Stoner.

Along with Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, the factory Hondas were threatening to wipe the floor with the opposition but Yamaha’s new signing Ben Spies raised hopes of an even contest by going third quickest in the final test at Losail.

British eyes were focused on the satellite Yamaha’s as Cal Crutchlow geared up for his MotoGP debut at Tech 3. His pace was encouraging to say the least but an accident on the final day of testing saw him lose the tip of his left little finger. Despite the pain, the 2009 World Supersport Champion was ready for his first taste of Grand Prix racing. Colin Edwards is no stranger to the paddock and the ultra-experienced American would provide the perfect benchmark as teammate for the 2011 season.

Cal Crutchlow - Photo Credit: MotoGP.com
Although testing didn’t go to plan, Crutchlow was ready for his MotoGP debut (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)

 

Toni Elias is another familiar face but the Spaniard had spent a year away from the premier class as he went in pursuit of the Moto2 title. That mission was accomplished with three races to spare and the former MotoGP race winner was back in the big time with LCR Honda, replacing Randy de Puniet. The Frenchman formed half of an all-new line-up at Pramac Ducati with Loris Capirossi who embarked upon his 22nd Grand Prix season.

Capirossi’s departure left Alvaro Bautista as Rizla Suzuki’s sole entrant while Mapfre Aspar and Cardion AB Motoracing also fielded one rider each, Hector Barbera and MotoGP newcomer Karel Abraham, both on satellite Ducatis. Completing the grid was Hiroshi Aoyama at San Carlo Honda Gresini and although he rode alongside Simoncelli, ‘Hiro’ had to make do with a satellite RC212V.

The phoney war ended in Qatar and the same floodlights would provide the backdrop for the season’s opening race but before the first qualifying session had even started, the injury curse struck. Rizla Suzuki were the victims with Bautista breaking his left femur in a practice crash. No replacement was immediately available and the team were forced to sit out the race.

The qualifying session itself went smoothly for Repsol Honda whose riders had a private battle for pole, won in the end by Stoner, but Jorge Lorenzo was arguably the star of the show to drag his Yamaha onto the front row ahead of Simoncelli and Spies. Against pre-season expectations, a Ducati did make it onto row two but surprisingly it came in the form of Hector Barbera, with Rossi a miserable ninth. Cal Crutchlow stunned everyone by outqualifying the nine-time champion, as well as teammate Colin Edwards in eighth.

Lorenzo seemed to relish his underdog status and stormed past the Hondas to lead the opening lap of the season. Once Stoner and Pedrosa got up to speed, they would fight it out at the front and Casey capped a memorable debut with his fourth Qatar victory. Arm pump would severely handicap Pedrosa late on, costing him second to Lorenzo while Andrea Dovizioso beat Simoncelli to fourth from seventh on the grid. Ben Spies completed the Honda-Yamaha lockout of the top six after an entertaining tussle with Rossi who had to settle for seventh in his first race in Ducati red. Cal Crutchlow’s first Grand Prix yielded five points for 11th after overtaking Barbera late on.

The first point of order ahead of round two in Spain was over the vacant seat at Rizla Suzuki. Bautista was still sidelined so Paul Denning brought in a familiar face, John Hopkins no less, and the American certainly wouldn’t let him down, qualifying a tenth of a second slower than the factory Ducatis.

While that achievement was impressive, it probably told us more about the Ducatis than the Suzuki as Hayden and Rossi set the 11th and 12th quickest times in qualifying and as in Qatar, one of their customers had managed to outpace them. Randy de Puniet was the giant killer this time in seventh. The front row mirrored that of Qatar although Lorenzo matched the Hondas on this occasion with Spies beating Dovizioso and Simoncelli to fourth. Yamaha had slashed the gap in the two-week break and went into race day full of hope.

As it turned out, the performance gap was closed for them as wet conditions greeted the riders on race day. Stoner led the early laps but Simoncelli scythed past Lorenzo before taking Casey for the lead on lap five. Unbelievably, the fastest man on track was Rossi with the GP11 Ducati transformed on the intermediate tyres. By lap seven, he was up with Stoner but his attempt to take second resulted in a low side, sweeping Stoner’s bike into the gravel with him. Rossi restarted to somehow salvage fifth but Stoner was furious at the lack of assistance he received from the Jerez marshalls. Rossi didn’t escape his anger either and upon receiving an apology from the Italian, Stoner cheekily suggested “your ambition outweighed your talent!”

Casey Stoner & Valentino Rossi - Photo Credit: Juan Carlos Toro Del Rio - MotoGP.com
Stoner and Rossi’s collison provided one the season’s great flashpoints (Photo Credit: Juan Carlos Toro Del Rio – MotoGP.com)

 

Lorenzo wasn’t complaining as he inherited second and Simoncelli would present him with victory two laps later when he highsided his Honda. A golden opportunity to win his first Grand Prix had gone begging for ‘Super Sic’ and it was left to Lorenzo to lead home Pedrosa. Nicky Hayden kept his head in the chaos to give Ducati a welcome podium although that owed a lot to Ben Spies’ late crash.

Stoner and Rossi weren’t exactly seeing eye-to-eye heading to Estoril for round three but another feud was emerging between Jorge Lorenzo and Marco Simoncelli.  The Spaniard was particularly outspoken after the two came together in Valencia last year and was clearly concerned after taking pole position in Portugal when he found Simoncelli alongside him in second. The world champion warned Simoncelli that if something happened in the future “there would be a problem”. Marco, quick as a flash responded, saying “I will be arrested!” Even Jorge managed a smile.

As in Jerez, Simoncelli’s blinding speed would be followed by a disappointing crash as the Gresini rider fell on the opening lap, leaving Dani Pedrosa to take the fight to Lorenzo. After shadowing the Yamaha for most of the race, Dani hit the front five laps from home to become the third different winner in three races. Stoner was a subdued third while Dovizioso and Rossi scrapped over fourth on the last lap. In a finish reminiscent of five years ago when Toni Elias pipped Rossi to the chequered flag, Andrea got to the finish line first, 0.025s ahead of the Ducati.

The consistency of Lorenzo gave him the championship lead three races in but Honda’s pre-season superiority returned at Le Mans as the four factory machines headed the grid from the field’s four Yamahas. Stoner was back on pole while Simoncelli starred again to take second ahead of Dovizioso and Pedrosa. As expected, Lorenzo was the top Yamaha in fifth but he came within a tenth of being beaten by Cal Crutchlow who qualified a stunning sixth.

The disappearance of the red lights was Stoner’s cue to clear off himself, leaving Pedrosa to fend off Simoncelli for second. What followed was a key moment in the title race as Simoncelli swooped around the outside of the Spaniard at the end of the back straight. Contact was unavoidable from Pedrosa’s point of view and the resulting fall left him with a broken right collarbone, side-lining him until the summer. Marco was handed a ride through penalty for his troubles which didn’t promote Dovizioso or Lorenzo but Rossi into second after an excellent ride from ninth on the grid. For the second race running, Andrea would edge out his compatriot but third represented the first dry weather rostrum of Rossi’s Ducati career, made all the more impressive with Lorenzo a distant fourth.

The headline from Le Mans though was Pedrosa’s injury and Honda’s decision not to replace him for Catalunya to save engine mileage. The Spaniard would have company in the casualty room before long as Colin Edwards suffered a collarbone injury of his own in Saturday practice. The Tech 3 rider was desperate to maintain his uninterrupted record of starts in MotoGP but medics wouldn’t clear him to race.

While Edwards sat out the rest of the weekend, Marco Simoncelli set about making his piece of history by pipping Casey Stoner to pole position, his first in the premier class. The Italian wasn’t his usual self in the race though as he slipped to a quiet sixth. Whether he was lacking pace or had been becalmed by the controversy surrounding him, it was a disappointing result. A quiet race played straight into Stoner’s hands and he cruised to victory ahead of Lorenzo, Spies and Dovizioso. Valentino Rossi couldn’t match his Le Mans heroics, finishing fifth, but the gap of just seven seconds to the winner was a source for optimism.

Silverstone was next on the calendar but once again, the curse of the collarbone struck and for the home supporters, the worst possible rider had fallen victim to it. Cal Crutchlow was enjoying a sensation rookie season with seventh from sixth on the grid in Catalunya another result to be proud of but early in qualifying, the Briton fell heavily with a concussion and a fractured left collarbone the damage.

Torrential rain added to the misery for the Silverstone supporters, although Bradley Smith did his bit to change the mood in Moto2, but the horrendous conditions would provide another dramatic race. It saw a crucial turning point in the championship race as Jorge Lorenzo crashed for the first time all year, handing the victorious Stoner the lead in the standings. Dovizioso followed his teammate home in second but the third man on the podium was more of a surprise.

Jorge Lorenzo - Photo Credit: MotoGP.com
A rare sight as Lorenzo walks away from his crashed Yamaha at Silverstone (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)

 

He wasn’t wearing red as Valentino Rossi endured an awful weekend, nor was he wearing light blue despite Alvaro Bautista’s excellent ride to fifth. Instead it was MotoGP’s iron man, Colin Edwards, who marked his return in the grand manner, seven days after his injury in Barcelona.

If that couldn’t inspire Crutchlow, nothing could, and he duly returned at Assen but Dani Pedrosa’s recovery was still on-going. Honda did at least call in a replacement this time as Hiroshi Aoyama moved up from the Gresini team, finally getting his hands on factory machinery. His place on the satellite bike was taken by test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi.

Aoyama’s debut in Repsol colours got off to a rather inauspicious start with a crash in opening practice but he needn’t have been too downhearted. Stoner and Dovizioso had crashed as well. For once, Simoncelli was the only factory rider to keep his Honda upright and when Friday came, he claimed his second career pole although Ben Spies pushed him close.

The two riders, understudies in their respective factories so far this season, had been the class of the field throughout the weekend and the Dutch TT looked set to be a shootout for their first victory. Unfortunately, the battle only lasted four corners as Simoncelli crashed for the third time in four races, only this time he’d taken Jorge Lorenzo with him, doing their fractious relationship no good at all. After recovering to finish sixth, Lorenzo jumped on the offensive, accusing Simoncelli of failing to learn from his mistakes, a criticism that certainly seemed to have some validity.

After steering clear of the mayhem, Spies did indeed break his victory duck with aplomb, forcing Stoner to settle for second. Under the circumstances, that was as good as a win for the Aussie who led the title chase by 28 points heading to Mugello. The Dutch TT hadn’t dodged the injury curse though as Loris Capirossi suffered damage to his shoulder and ribs, necessitating a call-up for Sylvain Guintoli.

The Assen race was also notable for a shift in development strategy from Ducati. After two podiums and not even a hint of a victory, the Italian squad took the decision that 2011 was a write-off and turned their attentions to 2012, bringing their new bike into play nine months early. With the 1000cc rules still in the future, Ducati fitted their 800cc engine into the GP12, giving it the catchy title of GP11.1 and effectively turning the rest of the season into a public test session. The next of those just happened to be on Rossi’s home turf and he could only qualify 12th, 1.8 seconds shy of polesitter Stoner, and a sixth place finish in the race was as good as it would get for the local favourite.

Valentino Rossi - Photo Credit: MotoGP.com
All eyes were on Rossi at Mugello but the dream victory never looked possible (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)

 

Stoner looked set for another straightforward waltz to the chequered flag but Lorenzo had other ideas, wiping out his 2.7 second lead before overhauling him in superb style. Victory against the odds was sweet for the defending champion, especially with Dovizioso beating Casey to second.

The tight twisty confines of the Sachsenring were next which Jorge hoped would play into his hands. Despite qualifying only third behind Stoner and the fit-again Pedrosa, he was right as the three fought out a fascinating battle for victory. Each of them took turns in the lead but the title contenders were forced to give best to a motivated Pedrosa who emerged triumphant. Dani had made a rather understated comeback in Italy but this felt like the return of the real Dani Pedrosa, a man capable of taking on the world. Lorenzo got the better of Stoner though with a wonderful last corner lunge to snatch second. Suddenly, the pressure was starting to build as Yamaha built up a head of steam. The task for them was to maintain it at Laguna Seca.

At the other end of the grid, Toni Elias was having a nightmare of a season. The Moto2 champion finished outside the points in Germany as his lack of comfort on Bridgestone’s control tyre showed. No sooner had he returned to the premier class than his place was under threat again. LCR Honda marked the U.S. Grand Prix by giving AMA Superbike rider Ben Bostrom a wildcard ride on Toni’s spare bike. Life wasn’t getting any easier for the Spaniard.

Jorge Lorenzo’s upturn in form looked like continuing as he dominated free practice in California but on Saturday morning, his world nearly came crashing down around him. On his way back to the pits, Jorge lost control of the YZR-M1 and landed awkwardly on his hip. After looking in agony initially, he returned to his feet and miraculously stuck his Yamaha on pole hours later. The performance of a champion and no mistake.

Sunday brought a reminder that he wasn’t the only champion in the field as Stoner piled on the pressure. Lorenzo fought valiantly but lost the win to a sensational piece of overtaking. With seven laps remaining, Stoner lined the Yamaha up down the main straight but with Lorenzo holding the inside, he looked safe. The Australian responded by braving it out around the outside of the high-speed first corner to take the lead, and the win. Pedrosa’s revival continued with a strong third with Spies, Dovizioso and Rossi completing the top six.

Marco Simoncelli’s United States GP came to a disappointing familiar conclusion as the Italian ended up in the gravel again. Although he continued to shine in qualifying, Marco still couldn’t climb the next rung on the ladder and step onto a MotoGP podium. His wait had gone on for long enough and his time would come in Brno.

Yet again, Casey Stoner would take maximum points despite seeing another rider dominate the weekend. This time, Dani Pedrosa would lead the way in practice, qualifying and the warm-up but his perfect weekend would end on lap three, handing the victory on a plate for his teammate. Yamaha’s summer pace deserted them on this occasion and the two other factory Hondas, ridden by Dovizioso and Simoncelli, would complete the top three, bringing Super Sic’s drought to an end at last.

Casey Stoner & Marco Simoncelli - Photo Credit: MotoGP.com
Stoner was among the first to congratulate Simoncelli after ending his podium drought (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)

 

In one of the quirks of the MotoGP calendar, Brno fell right in the middle of two trips to the States. The second race in the U.S.A took place at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Jorge Lorenzo knew he needed to act quickly to avoid his championship bid being consigned to history. Fourth was the best he could manage in the Czech Republic and he that would be as good as it got in qualifying at Indy as Ben Spies led the Yamaha challenge in his home GP.

Neither of them were anywhere near threatening the Hondas as the RC212V proved tailor-made for the Brickyard. Despite unbearable heat, Stoner coolly led from the front with Pedrosa unable to do anything but play a supporting role. Spies wasn’t in any mood to do the same in his camp and outraced Lorenzo to secure third. The temperature took its toll on the tyres as Simoncelli hit problems, as did the Ducatis of Nicky Hayden and Loris Capirossi, allowing Alvaro Bautista to give Suzuki their best dry result of the year in sixth.

The GSV-R was coming strong in the second half of the season and began to establish itself as the bike to be on outside of the top six. Ducati now had both riders on the GP11.1 and the lack of pace from its original incarnation didn’t seem to be serving Aspar, Cardion AB and Pramac all that well. With a ride in World Superbikes set for 2012, Hiroshi Aoyama’s season had plateaued and Toni Elias’ struggles showed no signs of ending. The emergence of Suzuki was bad news for Tech 3 whose position as best of the rest was slipping away from them. Cal Crutchlow’s season hadn’t managed to reach the heights of the early rounds since his Silverstone agony and was in desperate need of a confidence boost at Misano. Tenth place was a step in the right direction.

On the Thursday before action got underway in San Marino, the news which many had expected all season was confirmed. The championship’s most experienced rider, Loris Capirossi, was calling it a day and broke the news in an emotional press conference at the track. Sharing the stage with long-time rival Valentino Rossi, the Italian revealed his 22nd season would be his last and the closing six races would be his farewell tour.

Valentino Rossi & Loris Capirossi - Photo Credit: MotoGP.com
The ever-popular Capirossi announced his retirement at Misano (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)

 

Casey Stoner slipped back into his usual routine with pole position on Saturday but 24 hours later he received a reminder that he wouldn’t be allowed an easy ride to the title. Jorge Lorenzo had gone four races without a win and the motivation was obvious in the way he caught, passed and dropped Stoner. Casey later admitted to suffering from fatigue, proven by the way he meekly surrendered second to Pedrosa but that did nothing to detract from Lorenzo’s success. With three-time world champion Wayne Rainey joining him on the podium, Jorge understandably described it as the “one of the best days” of his career.

Round 14 at Aragon would provide one of the strangest with the Motorland circuit losing power on Friday afternoon. Perhaps a loss of power was the only thing likely of stopping the Honda juggernaut as Stoner and Pedrosa took first and second, both on Saturday and Sunday. As in Indianapolis, Yamaha’s finest were forced to scrap over the final podium place but this time, Lorenzo would grab the advantage. Third place served merely to limit the damage though with his deficit to Stoner an ominous 44 points. Only four races remained in which to retrieve it.

The first of those would be the Japanese Grand Prix, a race rescheduled from the spring. The country was struck by an earthquake and typhoon earlier in the year with the Motegi circuit among the places affected. The question of whether the riders would travel to the rescheduled race was one of the sagas of the summer with many, including Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, voicing concerns over radiation in the area surrounding the venue. After a review from the FIM, common sense prevailed and a full complement of riders arrived for the race in the first weekend of October.

Honda also did their bit to support their compatriots by handing two of them wildcards to race in their home grand prix. Kousuke Akiyoshi was one of them, slotting in alongside Toni Elias at LCR, and Shinichi Ito was the other with Honda convincing him to make a one-off return at the age of 44.

Ito qualified where many expected him to while Casey Stoner qualified where he was expected to, first. Lorenzo and Dovizioso rounded out the front row with the latter riding for his future after Honda’s confirmation that he wouldn’t be retained for 2012. He was obviously too eager to get going on race day and jumped the start, ruining his chances of victory but he wasn’t the only one as Simoncelli and Crutchlow had bolted early as well.

After many had indicated a reluctance to attend, the Japanese GP soon turned into a race no-one wanted to win. Even Stoner threw away a winning position with a rare mistake, before Dovizioso gave it up to serve his penalty. All of this left Pedrosa ahead of Lorenzo and a third win of 2011 gave Dani the perfect 26th birthday present. Stoner’s slip-up cost him six places but a crash from Alvaro Bautista eventually helped him back into third, a major relief for the Australian who found himself on the brink of glory. His home Grand Prix was next.

The task for Casey was to outscore Lorenzo by ten points but with the defending champion joining him on the front row, the situation looked out of his control. On the morning of the race, everything changed though. With the warm-up drawing to a close, Lorenzo lost control of the Yamaha in an apparently innocuous crash but the YZR-M1 landed on top of his left hand, severing the tip of the ring finger.

There was no question of Jorge racing with such an injury, certainly with the championship looking out of reach, and his withdrawal meant Stoner only needed a top six finish to clinch the championship. Yamaha wouldn’t be able to call on Ben Spies either as the American was out injured too after hurting his ribs in qualifying.

With the only serious threat coming from riders on the same motorcycle, Stoner had the race well under control, even when a late rain shower threatened to derail his victory run. The likes of Alvaro Bautista, Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow all came a cropper but Stoner serenely continued on his way, winning his fifth straight Australian Grand Prix and a second world championship to boot. Anything else to make it a perfect day? Oh yes, it was his 26th birthday as well!

Casey Stoner - Photo Credit: MotoGP.com
Phillip Island brought the crowning moment for the sensational Stoner (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)

 

With everything decided, the final two races had little more than pride and honour to race for but for John Hopkins, there was great cause for motivation. Just two weeks after agonisingly losing the British Superbike Championship to Tommy Hill, ‘Hopper’ was back in the Grand Prix paddock to offer Alvaro Bautista some competition at Rizla Suzuki. Sadly for the American, injury would strike again. Hopkins should’ve raced the GSV-R in Brno but for an injury sustained in practice and complications from that same problem had caused him to pull out in Sepang. The man just had no luck whatsoever.

With Lorenzo’s finger trouble ruling him out of the last two races, Yamaha called up test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga for his debut in Malaysia and with Ben Spies still sidelined, the Japanese rider had Yamaha’s hopes resting on his shoulders, an impossible task as he qualified at the back of the grid. Unsurprisingly, it was Honda to the fore again as they locked out the top four grid slots. A lap and a half into the race, racing was the last thing on anybody’s mind.

Battling for fourth position, Marco Simoncelli lost the front end of his Honda at turn 11 and slid back across the track. Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi were the riders immediately behind and were powerless to avoid the no.58. The impact removed Simoncelli’s crash helmet and the looks of horror up and down the pitlane said it all. Rossi, one of Simoncelli’s closest friends on and off the circuit, returned to the pits on board his Ducati while Edwards escaped with nothing worse than a dislocated shoulder. Simoncelli’s situation was much more serious and the news that the race had been cancelled to allow the entire medical staff to treat him was the correct one, despite the disappointment of the paying spectators.

Seven days after losing Dan Wheldon to an IndyCar accident in Las Vegas, the motorsport world prayed for good news but half an hour after the cancellation, race direction confirmed the passing of Marco Simoncelli who had succumbed to the injuries at 16:56 local time, around an hour after the accident.

The motorsport community was in mourning and his funeral in Coriano, the village in which he was born, was an emotional occasion. Question marks hung over the final race in Valencia but the popular opinion was that racing should continue, if anything, to honour one of the world’s most popular racers.

On the morning of the season closer, it was time for the paddock to pay its final farewell and in a sight that would make the hairs on your neck stand on end, every bike from the 125cc, Moto2 and MotoGP classes lapped the Ricardo Tormo circuit together, led by MotoGP legend Kevin Schwantz on the no.58 itself.  In true Valencia fashion, a firework display completed the tribute, fulfilling father Paolo Simoncelli’s wish for a period of noise to honour his son.

Marco Simoncelli Remembered - Photo Credit: Gresini Racing
The Valencia tribute to Marco Simoncelli will never be forgotten (Photo Credit: Gresini Racing)

 

There was still some racing to be done and the Grand Prix didn’t disappoint, despite a tough beginning. Alvaro Bautista dropped his Suzuki under braking for turn one and skittled three bikes with him. The three in question were all Ducatis and in fairness, Randy de Puniet, Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden were probably happy to see the end of disappointing seasons. For Suzuki, it was a sad end to what would later turn out to be their final GP season, for now at least.

After setting a blistering pace in qualifying (taking pole by over a second) Casey Stoner set about dominating another Grand Prix, leaving Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa to dispute second with third in the championship also on the line.

Fittingly, the final race of the year had a thrilling finale as the rain that had fallen all weekend returned in the closing stages. Suddenly the all-Honda scrap became one for third as they were both swallowed up by an inspired Ben Spies, back to full fitness on the Yamaha. Within five laps, Casey’s ten second lead had evaporated and Spies capitalised on a mistake to lead two and half laps from the end. In wet/dry conditions, the race leader is always in the trickiest position with no reference point and Stoner came back at him on the last lap. At the final corner, the Yamaha still had the edge but Stoner somehow managed to get an incredible slingshot, drawing alongside the YZR-M1. The finish line seemed desperately distant for the American and a second MotoGP victory would evade him by 0.015s, with Stoner claiming his 33rd.

Dovizioso’s stronger pace in the wet secured him third in the race, and in the championship, but a wonderful battle was taking place just behind involving his future teammate Cal Crutchlow. The Briton led Karel Abraham by one point in the rookie of the year standings and ran nose-to-tail through the entire race. At the start of the last lap, the Czech youngster had the edge but Cal fought his way through at turn four. Abraham responded at the next corner but only succeeded in touching the rear of the Yamaha, sending him into the gravel. Crutchlow continued and even overtook the rain-shy Pedrosa before the finish to take fourth, his best result in Grand Prix racing and a perfect way to end his debut year.

It was also a great day for the substitutes with Nakasuga finishing sixth for Yamaha and American Superbike star Josh Hayes a superb seventh on debut as he filled the space left by Colin Edwards’ injury.

Emotions ran high at Pramac though as Loris Capirossi brought his Ducati home in ninth to bring his 328 race career to a close. His family greeted him on his arrival in the garage and along with Loris’ peers, saluted one of the all-time greats. The fact that he’d raced with Marco Simoncelli’s number 58 in Valencia showed his standing with the sport and the number, fittingly would retire with Loris.

With Jorge Lorenzo absent, Casey Stoner’s winning margin was 90 points in the end which although it emphasises how impressive he was, doesn’t do justice to Lorenzo’s heroic effort in taking the fight as far as he did. Dovizioso pipped Pedrosa to third as the Spaniard was forced to look back on another year where injuries cost him dear. Spies was a solid fifth while Marco Simoncelli was classified sixth, equal on points with his great friend and mentor Valentino Rossi.

Sadly, the story of the 2011 MotoGP World Championship will always be headlined by the tragedy of Malaysia and as seasons come and go, no-one will ever forget that afternoon in Kuala Lumpur. But neither will we forget the lovable figure who simply loved racing, win or lose.

As we say goodbye to the 2011 season, it is only right that we say “Ciao Marco”. 2011 will always be your year.

MotoGP Title Race
Stoner’s astonishing consistency kept him ahead of Lorenzo almost throughout

 

2011 MotoGP Riders’ Championship (Final Standings)

Pos Rider Constructor Team Wins Poles FLs Pts
1 (C)  Casey Stoner Honda Repsol Honda Team 10 12 7 350
2  Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha Yamaha Factory Racing 3 2 2 260
3  Andrea Dovizioso Honda Repsol Honda Team 0 0 1 228
4  Dani Pedrosa Honda Repsol Honda Team 3 1 4 219
5  Ben Spies Yamaha Yamaha Factory Racing 1 0 1 176
6  Marco Simoncelli Honda San Carlo Honda Gresini 0 2 0 139
7  Valentino Rossi Ducati Ducati Team 0 0 1 139
8  Nicky Hayden Ducati Ducati Team 0 0 1 132
9  Colin Edwards Yamaha Monster Yamaha Tech 3 0 0 0 109
10  Hiroshi Aoyama Honda San Carlo Honda Gresini 0 0 0 98
11  Hector Barbera Ducati Mapfre Aspar Team 0 0 0 82
12  Cal Crutchlow Yamaha Monster Yamaha Tech 3 0 0 0 70
13  Alvaro Bautista Suzuki Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 0 0 0 67
14  Karel Abraham Ducati Cardion AB Motoracing 0 0 0 64
15  Toni Elias Honda LCR Honda MotoGP 0 0 0 61
16  Randy de Puniet Ducati Pramac Racing Team 0 0 0 49
17  Loris Capirossi Ducati Pramac Racing Team 0 0 0 43
18  K. Nakasuga Honda Yamaha Factory Racing 0 0 0 10
19  Josh Hayes Yamaha Monster Yamaha Tech 3 0 0 0 9
20  Kousuke Akiyoshi Honda LCR Honda MotoGP 0 0 0 7
21  John Hopkins Suzuki Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 0 0 0 6
22  Shinichi Ito Honda Honda Racing Team 0 0 0 3
23  Sylvain Guintoli Ducati Pramac Racing Team 0 0 0 0
24  Ben Bostrom Honda LCR Honda MotoGP 0 0 0 0
25  Damian Cudlin Ducati Mapfre Aspar Team 0 0 0 0