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GP Week : Issue 144
F OR many of those involved, 2011 was a year to forget. It was also a year that will be remembered with great sadness, for the loss of Marco Simoncelli. For one person, it was a triumph and a vindication. Casey Stoner topped and tailed the 800cc era by repeating his 2007 victory. But he did much more than that. He also toppled a legend. Fans expect racing stories to be about Rossi. Stoner’s dominance was the other way around. It impinged on Rossi, for Stoner had come off a season with three wins and many more crashes on the Marlboro Ducati. Rossi took his saddle and managed the crashes – a round dozen. But not the wins. This threw a whole new light on Casey’s natural ability. As if he needed it. His move to Repsol Honda, fulfilling a childhood dream of riding for his hero Mick Doohan’s team, was perfectly timed. Honda, desperate to win the last remaining 800cc title after four years of failure, had finally turned the RC212V into a paragon of power, tamed by class-leading electronics and a chassis that had been through a dozen changes, and delivered by the new seamless- change gearbox. It outclassed the Yamaha by a measureable distance, Ducati and Suzuki by miles. Stoner rode it better than anybody. He was off the rostrum only once, knocked down by Rossi at round three at Jerez. “Did your ambition outweigh your talent?” Stoner asked, in response to Valentino’s helmet-on apology. A bad weekend for Stoner was finishing third. More often, much more often, he was first – ten times in 18 races, backed up by 12 poles (a four-stroke record, equalling Doohan’s 500cc record). Jorge Lorenzo lost the title to him, but deserves some sort a prize for effort. Hs Yamaha was running in factory colours to celebrate a half-century of GP racing (not to mention being unable to find a sponsor to replace Fiat). The bike simply wasn’t up to the standard of the Honda. Jorge rode inch-perfect on the limit almost all year long, claiming three wins, and still mathematically able to retain his title when he finally crashed in warm-up in Australia, hurting his finger and out of the game. He’d been on the edge for so long that really it was inevitable. Stoner’s Repsol Honda team-mates were outclassed. Dani Pedrosa (three wins) might have been a factor, but for physical fragility. Third man Andrea Dovizioso had his best year yet and his consistency beat Dani to third overall – but it was winless, and not good enough to keep his ride. Ben Spies did win once in his first factory- bike year, at Assen, but sundry falls and misfortunes took the edge off, and he was a distant fifth. Still needs to find his best pace earlier in the race is he’s to fulfil his threat. Simoncelli was sixth, and deserved it in a year that began with controversy and had turned into rostrums when it was cruelly terminated at round 16. He really was becoming a force to be reckoned with. Rossi’s role was of scene-stealing extra, at least if you measure it by results. He proved just how good Stoner was, and also disproved the adage he had espoused when he quit Honda for underdog Yamaha in 2004 – that it’s the rider that matters, not the bike. Try as he might, and assisted by three different engines and four chassis, he could get no closer to his comfort zone on a bike that just didn’t feel right. By year’s end he was distraught, but still full of promises to come back fighting next year. Hayden was a workmanlike eighth on the second Marlboro Ducati; compatriot Colin Edwards a veteran’s ninth, including a dogged rostrum in the rain at Silverstone a week after smashing his collarbone at Catalunya. The Texan’s new Monster Yamaha team- mate Cal Crutchlow had an up-down-up first year, finally if narrowly taking the Rookie title ahead of Karel Abraham (AB Cardion Ducati). Abraham proved to be no rich kid playing racers on daddy’s money, although he was that as well. But he put in a solid effort all year on what was clearly a very difficult bike to ride. So difficult that Loris Capirossi brought his retirement plans forward by one year, calling it a day after 22 seasons and three smaller- class titles. The carbon-framed Ducati was “the worst bike I have ever ridden,” he told GPWEEK. Hiro Aoyama was tenth, ahead of Hector Barbera and Crutchlow, but the Japanese left forthwith for World Superbikes. Alvaro Bautista was fast on the Rizla Suzuki by year’s end, but it was too little too late, and he crashed out too often. He ended up 14th, just three points ahead of Abraham. Toni Elias, back after dominating Moto2, had a truly awful year on the LCR Honda, and goes back down next year. He still finished ahead of Randy de Puniet, who found the Ducati as difficult as anyone at his first attempt, and got hurt by it. MICHAEL SCOTT looks back over a year of MotoGP with mixed feelings STONER’S TRIUMPH, ROSSI’S DEFEAT