The Ricardo Tormo Circuit in Valencia is usually the biggest party host in town, with the MotoGP fraternity coming together to celebrate the end of another exhilarating season and crown its champions. But this weekend, the motorcycle world will congregate for the first time since losing one of its most popular members.
Marco Simoncelli was quickly becoming the new face of MotoGP. His unique and flamboyant style, on and off the circuit, earned him admirers with every passing weekend and created a buzz whenever he appeared on the television screens of supporters watching around the world.
This was no different two weeks ago in Malaysia as the Italian went wheel to wheel with long-time rival Alvaro Bautista before tragically losing control of his Honda on lap two in front of Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi. His death left the motorsport world in a state of mourning and total shock but two weeks later, the time has come to go racing once again.
A true racer, Simoncelli will undoubtedly be watching from above, waiting for a thrilling race but before any of the Grand Prix classes get underway on Sunday, the riders and personnel will unite to pay their respects in front of the world. At the request of Marco's father Paolo, a moment's silence will be replaced by a moment of 'noise' as the bikes from all three categories rev their engines in tribute to “Super Sic”.
In what is certain to be an emotional weekend up and down the paddock, a thought must be spared for Fausto Gresini and his team. The satellite Honda squad lost Daijiro Kato to a tragic crash at Suzuka in 2003, the last occasion that a rider was killed in the premier class, and has been forced into an unimaginable situation once again. But bravely, the San Carlo Honda Gresini and Gresini Moto2 outfits will both race on, meaning Hiroshi Aoyama will all be in action on his final race before departing for World Superbikes, as will Yuki Takahashi and Michele Pirro.
While the paddock mourns the loss of one Italian, another will take centre stage as a 21 year career comes to a close. Loris Capirossi will go down as one of the all-time greats in Grand Prix racing and on Sunday will line up on the grid for the 328th and final time. Along with his 125cc & 250cc titles and 29 race victories, the 38 year old has 99 podium finishes to his name and while it may prove tough to reach his century this weekend, Loris will be determined to honour his countryman with a good performance.
Valentino Rossi was one of Simoncelli's closest companions off the circuit, and one of his key allies when he became embroiled in controversial clashes, and the Ducati star is another who will have Marco on his mind when he takes to the track. Rossi and teammate Nicky Hayden have a busy time ahead with one final weekend on the GP11.1 before a crucial test with their 1000cc GP12 at the beginning of next week.
Outgoing world champion Jorge Lorenzo will be in attendance but not in a riding capacity with his injured finger still preventing him from a return, meaning the fight for victory on Sunday is likely to be an all-Honda affair.
Two weeks after the loss of their colleague, a Honda winner would perhaps be a fitting outcome for this weekend's race and Casey Stoner must surely be the favourite to underline his new world champion status with a tenth victory of the season.
Teammate Dani Pedrosa must also fancy his chances on a circuit he has tasted victory at five times but Andrea Dovizioso will be out to stop him, with the two disputing third in the championship. The two are separated by four points in the Italian's favour and 'Dovi', sporting #58 on his leathers, has one last chance to claim victory before leaving the Honda stable to join Monster Yamaha Tech 3.
His future teammate Cal Crutchlow will lead the French squad in the absence of the injured Colin Edwards and the Briton will has own personal duel to resolve this weekend, as he and Karel Abraham battle it out for the 'rookie of the year' title. Crutchlow currently leads by a single point.
The Coventry rider will be partnered by Josh Hayes who will make his GP debut at the age of 36 with the double AMA Superbike champion rewarded for his second consecutive title. Katsuyuki Nakasuga will surely provide his main competition as the Japanese Superbike regular continues to deputise for Jorge Lorenzo while Ben Spies will carry the factory Yamaha team's victory hopes on his return from injury.
Hector Barbera will start what is likely to be his final race for Mapfre Aspar before a likely move to Pramac Ducati with current employee Randy de Puniet in need of a strong display to secure a ride for 2012. Toni Elias is another with question marks hanging over his future plans and a good performance in Valencia looks imperative for him.
In the Moto2 class, any hopes of a head-to-head showdown for the title look slim with Marc Marquez almost certain to miss the race through injury. The Spaniard sat out the Malaysian GP through injury and is still suffering from double vision, clearing the way for Stefan Bradl to clinch the title. Even if his rival does make a miraculous recovery, the German will only need to finish in the top 13 to take the crown.
While Marquez remains injured, Bradley Smith will make a welcome return to the scene of his last GP win after recovering from the collarbone injury sustained in the same accident while Axel Pons will also race despite a heavy crash in Malaysia
After coming agonizingly close two weeks ago, Nicolas Terol faces his second match point as he looks to secure the 125cc title but if he fails on this occasion, the title will go to Johann Zarco. Terol's final lap slip-up at Sepang kept Zarco in contention but with a 20 point cushion to fall back on, the odds remain in the Spaniard's favour. Terol has his destiny in his own hands and a top 11 finish will do the trick but anything less will leave the door wide open for Zarco to snatch the title with a victory.
Danny Kent, Harry Stafford and Taylor Mackenzie will be keen to impress as their first full seasons come to a close while John McPhee will take the total of British riders in the junior class up to five this weekend as he makes his second wildcard appearance of the year, backed by the Racing Steps Foundation.
The Gran Premio Generali de la Comunitat Valenciana weekend gets underway with FP1 in the 125cc class, the final ever race for the two-strokes, at 8:10am UK time on Friday morning. The Checkered Flag will have full coverage throughout the weekend.
Valencia Former Winners:
|Alex De Angelis
|Randy de Puniet