Gordon Hatch, MotoGP Correspondent
2011 Champion snatches glory in rain affected Spanish GP
Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner sealed his 10th Grand Prix win of the year in a drag race to the line with Ben Spies (Yamaha Factory Racing) at a rain-affected Gran Premio Generali de la Comunitat Valenciana that saw the newly crowned World Champion with a ten second lead only to be caught by Spies then pass the American on the finish line for the final 800cc MotoGP victory.
Stoner got a great start from the line and was gifted an immediate gap after an errant Alvaro Bautista lost the front-end of his Rizla Suzuki GSV-R. The Spaniard’s bike took both Ducati Marlboro riders Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden out of the race as well as Pramac Racing’s Randy de Puniet, with all four riders in the gravel trap at turn one but with no apparent injuries.
The field was immediately stretched from the turn one incident and also gave Stoner’s teammate Andrea Dovizioso an opportunity to get up to the back wheel of Spies and the third of the Repsol Honda riders, Dani Pedrosa. Stoner meanwhile was away at the front and building a strong lead at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit and had nearly a three second gap in the first five laps.
The threat of rain didn’t faze the riders as they fought their way around the twisty Spanish track with lap times falling throughout. Pedrosa and Dovizioso were locked in battle for second position and overall third in this year’s championship with Spies keeping a watching brief in 4th place. Meanwhile, Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Cal Crutchlow and Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham were fighting it out for fifth position and also for the title of Rookie of the Year.
Loris Capirossi (Pramac Racing) was racing in the final race of his 22-year Grand Prix career and the Italian was keeping LCR Honda rider Toni Elias at bay while substitute riders Katsuyuki Nakasuga (standing in for Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo) and Josh Hayes (replacing Colin Edwards) were both keeping each other entertained with Hector Barbera (Mapfre Aspar) and Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) at the back of the field.
Halfway through the race Stoner had amassed over a ten second lead ahead of the battle for second between his two teammates while Spies was close to both of the Honda men. Within another few laps Spies made a surprise move past Pedrosa into third and was immediately challenging for second with Dovizioso. Meanwhile, Crutchlow and Abraham were still locked in battle. Entering into the final ten laps of the race the rain began to fall and caution was the order of the day. Stoner’s lead began to plummet and Spies was now closing in on the Australian, who within one lap had lost over six seconds. While the crowds were enthralled in the change of the lead, they were also witness to Abraham running off the track after clipping the back wheel of Crutchlow, who then passed a slowing Pedrosa into 4th place with the British rider then automatically taking the Rookie of the Year title.
The following lap saw Stoner go wide and Spies going into the lead. The new world champion seemed not to have an answer back to the American’s pace and Spies continued to push as much as he could to the end. Going into the final lap Stoner began to reel Spies back in and as the two riders approached the final turn, Stoner picked his RC212V quicker than Spies giving the Australian better drive off the corner to enter into a drag race with Spies down to the line and Stoner snatching his 10th victory of this season by just 0.015s!
Dovizioso grabbed third place on the podium and in this year’s championship with Crutchlow in 4th being followed by Pedrosa. Nakasuga claimed a brilliant 6th place for Yamaha Factory Racing while Hayes also grabbed a stunning MotoGP Debut with 7th ahead of experienced riders Abraham, Capirossi and Elias in the final top ten positions. Bringing up the rear of the field was Barbera in 11th and crossing the line in last place was Hiroshi Aoyama.
Stoner was thrilled to have claimed his 16th podium finish of the year and now joins Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo with the record for the most podiums in a single season in the premier class. “My heart was in my throat! We did such a good job all the race and then it started to rain heavily,” said this year’s champion who continued, “Being the first one to arrive to the conditions on the track, I wasn't sure how hard to push so I slowed up to ensure I finished the race and I thought if they come past I can stay with them. Then coming onto the back straight I made a slight mistake when I went into neutral instead of first gear and Ben came past me. I tried to stay with him but he was riding very well, fast and smooth and he looked confident in the conditions, more so than me. In the first half of the final lap he made a nice gap but I knew we were quick in the second half of the lap.
I thought to myself, we haven't been able to take any risks all season, this is the time to take one and see what we can do.
“I thought to myself, we haven't been able to take any risks all season, this is the time to take one and see what we can do. I knew I had a better exit line out of the final turn and I kept my head down and went for the line. It's amazing to win this on the finish line, I've had it done to me in the past a few times but I've never done it to anyone else! I'm sorry for Ben, he rode a great race, a big thanks to my team for all their hard work this year,” Stoner added.
Despite being out-dragged to the line by Stoner, Spies was still very content with his second position, “The conditions were really tough today, with the rain it was so difficult to know how hard to push so I was just concentrating on bringing the bike home. We were able to follow Dani and Dovi and get past them eventually and then get past Casey when he made a small mistake. When there’s no rider in front of you, you don’t have a judge on how slippery the track is so it’s difficult to judge speed in that last lap. When we came out of the last corner I got the paint sucked off the bike by Casey as he went past!
“I’m happy enough; we made a huge charge at the end and finished well. Considering how the last month has gone it’s a great way to end. We’ll focus on the test now and aim to be up there and even more competitive next year. A huge thank you to Yamaha and my crew who made sure I had a great bike to ride today. This morning we all came out to make some noise and say goodbye to Marco, I’m pretty sure he heard us and I know he would have approved!” Spies added.
Dovizioso was delighted to have sealed third place in the championship and signed off on his ten-year partnership with Honda by adding another podium finish to his achievements before he moves to the test his new 1000cc Yamaha Tech 3 machine on Tuesday. He said, “I’m so happy with third place in the Championship, it’s a great achievement born from a lot hard work throughout the year. Before arriving here I knew I only had a few opportunities to arrive in front of Dani, because he has been always so fast here. Dani was faster than me also in this race weekend so I had to make a good strategy to beat him. Considering that I had a soft front tyre, I knew I couldn’t push hard for 30 laps, I tried to stop him when I was in front of him, then every time he overtook me, I tried to pass him immediately.
“It was a good battle and with the rain at coming with 7-8 laps to go, I wanted to push harder for the win because I’m good in these tricky conditions however, third position in the Championship was too important so I decided not to take any additional risks. Thanks to my team for these three years spent together, I’m very pleased to finish my career at Honda with third in the Championship, my best result so far in MotoGP. On the final lap I thought of Marco and in the end I succeeded here on a track where I have always struggled. Marco helped me in this challenging mission, Ciao Marco”, Dovizioso added.
The entire MotoGP Paddock paid tribute to Marco Simoncelli earlier this morning with MotoGP legend and good friend of ‘Super Sic,’ Kevin Schwantz riding the #58 RC212V with all the 125cc, Moto2 and MotoGP riders following in a parade lap that ended with the riders joining with the rest of the paddock for a two minute fireworks display in honour of the fallen Italian star. Meanwhile the riders look forward to testing their new 1000cc machines in the testing scheduled at the same track on Tuesday and Wednesday.