Former 500cc World Champion Wayne Gardner will be offering his GP insights on a regular basis to cyclenews.com readers and we're happy to have him. For more from the Wollongong Wonder, visit his website at www.waynegardnerapproved.com.au.END OF THE ROAD
With Sunday's Valencian MotoGP being such a sombre and reflective occasion in the wake of the Marco Simoncelli tragedy, it almost seems strange that the last-ever race of the 800cc era turned out to be one of the best. After years of largely processional contests and not much close action to speak of, the scrap for second between Pedrosa, Dovi and Spies was amazing to watch. And what about the finish, with Casey just pipping Spies for the win by just 0.015 of a second. Just brilliant - a great tribute to the memory of Super Sic. If only more races in the recent past could have been as good as that.
On the subject of Casey, what can we say about him that hasn't already been said so far this year? Yet again, he was on another planet compared to the rest of the field. To set a record-equalling 12th pole position of the season and build up such a massive race lead on such a twisty track is a pretty fair achievement, especially since he was the one with the task of setting the pace in difficult and wet conditions. Sure, he may have made a small mistake to allow Spies through, but the fact he fought back and took risks he didn't have to shows what an awesome competitor he is.
Despite the fact he just fell short, it was also great to see Ben Spies put in such an impressive showing. He's really struggled this year, and maybe Lorenzo's absence has given him a bit more motivation to make that next little step up. Still, he'll be gutted to have lost the race like that. Somehow he just didn't manage to achieve the drive he needed off the final turn, and that was enough to enable Casey to use the Honda's superior acceleration to beat him over the line. I was also really impressed with Dovi's ride. I don't think I've ever seem him display such fighting qualities. If only he'd displayed that same aggression and determination over the past couple of years.
Though disappointing, I can understand Dani deciding to drop out of the battle when the rain came. He's had a tough year with injury, and the last thing he needed in the last race of the year was to fall down and break something else. By his own admission, he's not the greatest wet weather rider, and he does need to improve in this area. He even said as much after the race. A lot of people may think it's too late in his career for him to make such an adjustment. However, continuing to learn and adapt is something all top riders never stop doing. Having said that, he will never be a Casey Stoner. While unbeatable at some tracks, Dani, even after all the chances he's had, still lacks the ability to be fast everywhere and in all conditions. If nothing else, Casey's victory again showed that the Honda should have been winning championships long before now.
FAREWELL TO A LEGEND
After 22 years, Sunday's race was also the MotoGP swansong for my old mate Loris Capirossi. One of the greatest entertainers and toughest competitors the sport has produced in recent decades, it was great to see him finish his illustrious career in one piece. Still, I reckon it will take a while to get used to the idea of him not being on the grid. I also don't think we'll ever see anyone come close to matching his career stats. Just think about it: Loris rode 324 races in all classes - 125cc, 250cc, 500cc, and MotoGP - and scored 29 wins, 99 podiums and three world championships. I'm amazed he was able to maintain his enthusiasm and drive for that long. Still, I do think it's the right time for him to hang up the leathers. You can't race forever, and even Loris will admit that the opportunity to battle for wins and podiums is something that has long passed. And as he's about to find out, there is definitely a life to be enjoyed after so many years in the GP paddock. Good luck, Loris, and thanks for the memories.
As this is my last Review for 2011, I just want to say a huge thanks to everyone who's supported and enjoyed the column throughout the year. It's been a lot of fun putting it together for you and I've also really enjoyed the Tweets that everyone has sent through as the year has gone on. The next time you hear from me, we'll be living in Spain in what will hopefully be the start of another great adventure. In the meantime, I just want to take the opportunity to wish you all a happy, safe, and fun Christmas and New Year. See you all in 2012!