Moto GP

Stoner wins 2011 finale with dazzling drag-race finish


World Champion Casey Stoner won a thrilling, last-gasp victory at rain-dampened Valencia overnight, passing rival Ben Spies just one metre before the finish line to score his tenth success of the season by just 0.015s.

Stoners Repsol Honda team-mate Andrea Dovizioso completed the podium in third place to take third overall in the 2011 MotoGP series ahead of the other Repsol rider Dani Pedrosa who finished the last race of MotoGP's 800cc era in fifth position.

This last weekend of the 2011 season was a sombre affair, with the entire paddock honouring the memory of MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli who lost his life at the Malaysian Grand Prix two weeks ago.

Motorcycles, riding gear and team trucks all carried Simoncelli's famous number 58 logo, and many of the tens of thousands of fans present also wore tributes to the popular Italian. Following the morning's warm-up session all three classes ‰ÛÒ MotoGP, Moto2 and 125s ‰ÛÒ honoured the former 250 World Champion's memory by riding a lap together behind 1993 500 World Champion Kevin Schwantz, one of Simoncelli's childhood heroes.

"We had all the bikes out there because Marco would've wanted all that noise and that's what we wanted too," said Schwantz who rode Simoncelli's number 58 San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V.

The race itself was run in treacherous, changeable conditions and started with a four bike pile-up at the first corner that sidelined Alvaro Bautista (Suzuki) and Ducati riders Valentino Rossi, Nicky Hayden and Randy de Puniet. None of the fallers sustained anything worse than bumps and bruises.
Ben Spies had it in the bag until a meter before the finish line. Photo: Yamaha Racing
Stoner ‰ÛÒ who was crowned World Champion at last month's Australian GP ‰ÛÒ was out front from the moment the lights went out and kept building his advantage, despite drizzle falling around much of the track. By half distance he was already 9.9s ahead and victory seemed assured. But then the drizzle turned into rain and suddenly Stoner was being caught by Spies and Dovizioso.

As leader of the race, it was more difficult for the Australian to judge the conditions than for the riders chasing him. In three laps his lead had shrunk to 2.5s and with three laps remaining he was a mere three tenths ahead of Spies. The Texan pounced on the penultimate lap when Stoner hit a neutral and it seemed like Spies was going to hold a slender advantage to the flag. But halfway through the final lap Stoner decided he wasn't prepared to accept defeat, so he started pushing harder and taking risks. By the final corner he was right behind Spies and then used the awesome acceleration of his RC212V to out-drag his rival to the finish line.

The victory was his 16th podium finish from 17 races, equaling the record held by Rossi and 2010 World Champion Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) who is still recovering from a finger injury sustained at Phillip Island three weeks ago. It has been a mostly perfect season for Stoner, whose only non-podium finish came at the soaking Spanish GP where he was taken out by Rossi.

"My heart was in my throat! We did such a good job all the race and then it started to rain heavily. 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," Stoner explained.

"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 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," the Australian concluded.
Andrea Dovizioso finished third and more importantly ahead of Dani Pedrosa to take third in the final championship standings
Like Stoner Yamaha Factory rider Ben Spies was also unsure of the changing conditions.

"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," Spies said.

"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 theres no rider in front of you, you don't have a judge on how slippery the track is so its 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! Im happy enough; we made a huge charge at the end and finished well. Considering how the last month has gone its a great way to end. Well 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, Im pretty sure he heard us and I know he would have approved!" the Texan concluded.

Andre Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa went into today's season finale separated by just four points in their contest for third overall in the series and spent the first two-thirds of the race disputing second place, swapping the position on numerous occasions, while Spies watched and waited just behind. Dovizioso knows that Pedrosa is faster round this track, so he did everything in his power to overtake the Spaniard and stay ahead. Their duel was finally decided when heavier rain arrived and Pedrosa eased off. Thus Dovizioso secured third overall in his final race with Honda.

"I'm so happy with third place in the Championship, it's a great achievement born from a lot hard work throughout the year," Dovizioso said. "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."

Pedrosa crossed the finish line in fifth spot, after Cal Crutchlow came past him on the final lap. The Spaniard ‰ÛÒ winner of the 2007 and 2009 Valencia MotoGP races ‰ÛÒ didn't feel as comfortable as usual today, especially when the rain got heavier. He thus eased his pace to ensure a safe finish and complete the series fourth overall.

"It wasn't an easy race. I did my best, trying hard but I wasn't feeling good on the bike, I was rigid and didn't ride very well," Pedrosa lamented. "It has been a tough year, but we will try to take the positives from here and be optimistic for the 2012."
Cal Crutchlow took fourth and the Rookie of the year title. Photo: Yamaha Racing
Cal Crutchlow and the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team ended the 2011 MotoGP World Championship in fantastic fashion to win the coveted Rookie of the Year title.

"That was a pretty dramatic way to finish the season and I am obviously thrilled to win the Rookie of the Year title. But I'm equally happy to have finished in fourth place because that was an incredibly difficult race," Crutchlow enthused. "This year has been an incredible learning experience and we have a lot to work on for next season, but I feel confident I can make the step to the next level. I can hold my held up high and now I am looking forward to getting my first experience of the Yamaha 1000cc bike on Tuesday."

Jorge Lorenzo's fill in, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, put in a brilliant performance in his first ever premier class MotoGP race. The Japanese rider faced with a grid of experienced GP riders and hugely changeable track conditions, despite a depleted field Nakasuga-san delivered, holding his own and fighting through to take a very respectable sixth place finish.

"I was really surprised with sixth position in the race! In the beginning I was very nervous because of the weather condition so my main target was to complete the race," Nakasuga said.

"I am used to Japanese races which only last 30 minutes so I was worried that I might not be able to keep my concentration for nearly double the time. Finally Im very happy, the last five laps were quite risky because it wasnt easy to go faster but I had nothing to lose so I wanted to push as hard as I could. Its been amazing to experiment with a real Grand Prix race, not only can I use this for future development riding but Im very pleased with the good result. The weather maybe helped me, but I am happy and enjoying the moment."

Nakasuga was followed home by another MotoGP Rookie in the shape of American Superbike Champion Josh Hayes who was filling in for Colin Edwards.

"It was a very exciting and difficult race but certainly an experience I will never forget. I had a joke with my crew that I should have packed up at lunch after I was fastest in the warm-up!" the American joked.

"The conditions were really difficult with the rain but riding the Yamaha YZR-M1 with the carbon brakes and Bridgestone tyres was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it. The bike felt perfect each time I went out of the pits and it is a real bonus to finish inside the top 10.

"It i s not exactly how I wanted to do it with so many guys going down at the first corner but I am happy with my race and how I rode. It was a successful race for me and I managed to beat a lot of experienced riders, which is something to be proud of. Riding a MotoGP is definitely something I would like to do again in my career. I want to send a big thank you to everybody who helped me be here. Yamaha US, GYTR, YES and of course Herv̩ Poncharal gave me a great opportunity and everybody has been so nice to me. Hopefully people enjoyed seeing me out on track, because I definitely enjoyed being out there."

Karel Abraham finished eight after a last lap move on Cal Crutchlow didn't pay off and he was left to pick his bike up out of the gravel trap.

In his final MotoGP race an emotional Loris Capirossi finished ninth.

"What can I say, now it's really finished. The race was complicated by the rain, and in the last laps I couldn't push because I risked crashing. I wanted to end my career in a good way honoring Marco. I gave my best. Thanks to all the people that have supported me. Now I'm retired!" the Italian champion said.

Toni Elias made a fantastic start from the fifth row of the grid and was lucky not to get involved in the first-corner pile-up. He ran a good, consistent pace throughout much of the race, but like many riders he struggled to find grip when the rain intensified. He finished his last race with the LCR team in tenth place.

Hector Barbera finished eleventh while Hiroshi Aoyama had a challenging final race in the MotoGP class, coming home 12th and last after struggling all weekend to find confidence in the difficult conditions.

There is no rest for the MotoGP and Moto2 paddock. Testing for the 2012 season commences here tomorrow, with Moto2 riders taking to the track. On Tuesday and Wednesday it's the turn of MotoGP riders, who will be riding their new 1000cc machines in preparation for next year's new-look World Championship.
Remembering Marco
Main Photo: Casey Stoner
Credit: HRC:

Results - Round 18
1 Casey Stoner 48m18.645s AUS HONDA Repsol Honda Team
2 Ben Spies +0.015s USA YAMAHA Yamaha Factory Racing
3 Andrea Dovizioso +5.936s ITA HONDA Repsol Honda Team
4 Cal Crutchlow +8.718s GBR YAMAHA Monster Yamaha Tech 3
5 Dani Pedrosa +9.321s SPA HONDA Repsol Honda Team
6 Katsuyuki Nakasuga +23.818s JPN YAMAHA Yamaha Factory Racing
7 Josh Hayes +33.118s YAMAHA Monster Yamaha Tech 3
8 Karel Abraham +37.952s CZE DUCATI Cardion AB Ducati
9 Loris Capirossi +48.953s ITA DUCATI Pramac Racing Team
10 Toni Elias +52.501s SPA HONDA LCR Honda MotoGP
11 Hector Barbera +1m06.519s SPA DUCATI Aspar Ducati
12 Hiroshi Aoyama +1m08.760s JPN HONDA Honda Gresini
13 Randy De Puniet DNF FRA DUCATI Pramac Racing Team
14 Alvaro Bautista DNF SPA SUZUKI Suzuki MotoGP
15 Valentino Rossi DNF ITA DUCATI Ducati Team
16 Nicky Hayden DNF USA DUCATI Ducati Team

Championship standings
1 Casey Stoner 350 pts AUS HONDA Repsol Honda Team
2 Jorge Lorenzo 260 pts SPA YAMAHA Yamaha Factory Racing
3 Andrea Dovizioso 228 pts ITA HONDA Repsol Honda Team
4 Dani Pedrosa 219 pts SPA HONDA Repsol Honda Team
5 Ben Spies 176 pts USA YAMAHA Yamaha Factory Racing
6 Valentino Rossi 139 pts ITA DUCATI Ducati Team
7 Marco Simoncelli 139 pts ITA HONDA Honda Gresini
8 Nicky Hayden 132 pts USA DUCATI Ducati Team
9 Colin Edwards 109 pts USA YAMAHA Monster Yamaha Tech 3
10 Hiroshi Aoyama 98 pts JPN HONDA Honda Gresini
11 Hector Barbera 82 pts SPA DUCATI Aspar Ducati
12 Cal Crutchlow 70 pts GBR YAMAHA Monster Yamaha Tech 3
13 Alvaro Bautista 67 pts SPA SUZUKI Suzuki MotoGP
14 Karel Abraham 64 pts CZE DUCATI Cardion AB Ducati
15 Toni Elias 61 pts SPA HONDA LCR Honda MotoGP
16 Randy De Puniet 49 pts FRA DUCATI Pramac Racing Team
17 Loris Capirossi 43 pts ITA DUCATI Pramac Racing Team
18 Katsuyuki Nakasuga 10 pts JPN YAMAHA Yamaha Factory Racing
19 Josh Hayes 9 pts YAMAHA Monster Yamaha Tech 3
20 Kousuke Akiyoshi 7 pts JPN HONDA LCR Honda MotoGP
21 John Hopkins 6 pts USA SUZUKI Suzuki MotoGP
22 Shinichi Ito 3 pts JPN HONDA Team HRC
23 Sylvain Guintoli 0 pts FRA DUCATI Pramac Racing Team

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