Friday, 23 November 2012

Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013! Testing Times Ahead...

Soon comes around doesn't it? The 2012 season has drawn to a close, all the bikes are off to Shows around the world, riders are all on holiday or rallying or whatever they choose to do and Alex Briggs has hung his pass on the back of the door with the other 19 he's collected... THAT'S when I know it's all over...It was a season that, in places, lacked excitement and few meaningful on-track battles at the front, with Brno and Silverstone the notable exceptions in a difficult season.

Things at Valencia for the final GP could've been so different in the MotoGP class and really they should have been but for two episodes of misfortune, Jorge at Assen and Dani at Misano which in turn would maybe have lead to a different podium at Phillip Island at the penultimate round, where win or bust for Pedrosa was the order of the day.

It was Lorenzos early season form that helped him secure the title, every season is a marathon not a sprint but in 2012 it was Yamaha who got the head start in to that marathon while HRC were still tying their laces. Yamaha were hurting from losing their crown to Casey Stoner at the end of 2011 and came out swinging, Honda had made errors with the new bike that both riders were critical of, although I guess one of the riders was just moaning for no reason... However the Yamaha looked to be on rails and the  metronomic rhythm and blistering pace of Lorenzo was no match for his biggest rivals and the season looked to be a foregone conclusion as far in to the championship as Silverstone.

But Honda fixed the RCV213V a little and the tide turned...

Dani Pedrosa found some self-belief, a consistent but somewhat lack-lustre start to the season saw the diddy Spaniard consistently finish top four and remain fully fit. His first victory of the season at the German GP at Sachsenring saw the beginning of a sequence that, had Honda produced THAT bike for Qatar would have seen a whole different light shed on the 2012 season.

Sachsenring was almost the beginning of the end of Casey Stoners title charge, a fighting second at Silverstone followed by a win at Assen showed he had the desire to defend his crown, even though at that point he was all for retirement from the sport, a distant eighth at Mugello made many ask questions of Caseys commitment before a dominant win at Laguna (the race noted for its ONE pass) saw a brief upturn in fortune but then came Indianapolis qualifying, and we all know what happened there...

Caseys injury at Indy saw a fire lit under Pedrosa, after spending the whole of 2011 in the dark shadow of his imperious team-mate, he looked a different rider. While Stoner struggled round the Brickyard (struggled as in finished fourth, 30 secs ahead of Valentino Rossi) with an injury that curtailed his season, Dani, in true Spanish style, took the bull by the horns (you see what I did there? Always thinking...) and embarked on a remarkable string of results which Lorenzo had no answer to, regardless of how hard he tried. You could sense the tension in the Yamaha camp as Dani was on a run of form that matched Lorenzo's early season stats, at Phillip Island though the story was to end prematurely.

I know that every season can be looked at in hindsight with ifs, buts and maybes but really, IF after qualifying on pole for the San Marino GP at Misano, the chain of events that followed hadn't happened therefore making Dani over-ride too early at Phillip Island and IF Jorge hadn't have been skittled by Bautista at Assen or dropped it at Valencia...well  the championship would have looked the same...

Jorge was going to win at Assen, of that I have no doubt. Dani was going to win at Misano, again of that I have no doubt - such is the season we've just had - so taking that in to account, with the Phillip Island result staying as per qualifying leaving Dani in third, which was also more than likely and Jorge staying on to finish second at Valencia, then Dani Pedrosa still would not have been 2012 World Champion. Jorge would have still taken the crown 390 to 369. Even though both riders shared an outstanding run of results, it was Pedrosa's early season form over the first six races with three 3rds and a 4th that ultimately cost him the title compared to Lorenzo's staggering 1st/2nd consistency throughout the year.

But, back to reality, as it was Dani had to ride hard, fast and early at Phillip Island to stand any chance of clawing the defecit back on Jorge, and in Stoners back yard it was, ironically, the tallest of orders for the shortest of riders... On that day nobody, and I mean N.O.B.O.D.Y, was going to beat Stoner on his final appearance in front of his adoring crowd and it was the simplest mistake that handed Jorge Lorenzo his second world crown. A crown won the hard way, from the front and without the 'ah, but' stigma of injury to his closest contenders.

Dani was back to dominant form at Valencia where interference from Mother Nature saw the most exciting race of the season unfold. Starting from Pit Lane after a last minute tyre change saw Dani chase down race leader Lorenzo and win from the very back of the pack. Sadly an uncharacteristic lapse of concentration saw Jorge end the season in the gravel, and with it the chance of taking the record for most podium appearances in a season, after a mis-guided attempt to pass James Ellison, who rode a fantastic last race to finish a deserved ninth. Shock of the day was a CRT machine leading for two laps, a mix of youthful exuberance and nationalistic pride helping Aleix Espagaro to his short burst in the limelight before normal service was resumed.

Maybe Dani felt a little karma at this point after his Phillip Island off, over-excitement putting paid to a points haul there and the same for Lorenzo at Valencia. Either way it didn't prevent him from hammering home his seventh win of the season and taking the 'prize' of Most Wins in 2012. He'll carry that forward in to 2013, whereas Jorge showed us that he still has, albeit deep-rooted, that impetuousness that flared so often in the junior classes with his haste to get around James Ellison but his consistency is nothing short of phenomenal, and if Dani starts '13 the way he ended '12, then it's going to be an amazing season.

Testing for 2013 was held in difficult conditions over the Tuesday and Wednesday  following the  GP with Valentino Rossi's long-awaited return to Yamaha the focal point of most peoples attention. The keener eyes of the paddock were waiting for the young pretender to take his place at the top table. Enter Marc Marquez....erm...but not until the Thursday and, sadly by that point, Yamaha had de-camped to Aragon.

This is the point where my limited vocabulary runs out of superlatives, his performance in testing was nothing short of spectacular. Whereas rookies before him had had two full days and a 100+ laps to get within 2 seconds of the fastest time of the test Marquez required half a day, 28 laps in total, to get to within 1 second of Dani Pedrosa's best time. I said it last time, this kid is special, very special. He may well visit the Clinica Mobile on a regular basis as he searches for the limit on a 1000cc Prototype, just as Jorge did in his maiden season on the 800. But believe me, he's going to win races next season. Dani, Jorge, Marc, Cal, Stefan all fighting it out to be on that podium...oh and Valentino too. Bring on Sepang!

David Emmett at Motomatters.com sums the testing and rookie debut up far better than I right here and if you haven't already, then read it - it's an education in to the future of MotoGP and that future IS Marc Marquez.

Final word, as I said earlier, goes to @guyhanderson 'What if...'



Casey Stoner retiring at the age of 27 is nothing if not remarkable.  And he neatly steps away from the circus as a two-time world champion to enjoy fishing and his marriage and daughter as well as some V8 car racing it seems.  It must take a lot of determination to get to the top and even more to walk away from it all when riding the crest of the biggest wave in bike racing.  Its almost been universally accepted in the racing circus that Stoner has done what a lot wish they could do; that is separate the mind-blowing act of racing from reality.  Its not that important to Stoner; it might be to armchair experts and 99% of the other riders, but to him?  “Pfft…!” as he might say.

But what if he hadn’t?  What if he had stayed at Honda next year? He was possibly the number 1 in the team as the reigning World Champion at the time of joining and recognised by all as being the fastest on the RCV213, although Pedrosa’s transformation into a tougher, faster rider this year has been not much short of brilliant.

Stoner staying would have caused HRC a mighty headache.  Remember the 3 man team last year with Stoner, Pedrosa and Dovizioso?  As rich as Honda are they only wanted a 2-man team, and only ran a three man team because Dovizioso (foolishly?) exercised his rights in his contract that said if he was third the season before he would be retained.  But Stoner left Ducati and Honda wanted him. 

So to 2012 and there was one thing that was 100% cast-iron certain; Honda wanted to keep Marquez in the family.  Marquez is Spanish, but don’t read too much into that – they’d have wanted him if he had been British and that fast!  Repsol have no problem with Marquez, after all he’s already riding a bike sponsored by them; a perfect marketing tool for Repsol and the other sponsors.  There was no way Honda were going to let him go to Yamaha.  Can you imagine Lorenzo and Marquez in a team together?  What a prospect; the current World Champion and almost certainly a future WC.  Now Rossi is good and alongside Lorenzo, Yamaha have a great team, but Lorenzo and Marquez? Phew.  Anyway dream on; its not happened - yet. You almost get the feeling Honda paid Yamaha to take Rossi, so they couldn’t have Marquez.  Don’t ya?

So if Stoner hadn’t have announced his retirement; Stoner, Pedrosa and Marquez in one team?  I think not.  Marquez to LCR to replace Bradl who is rookie of the season would have been a tough call.  So I guess Marquez to Gresini might have been the only way, but those guys are the only team to run Showa suspenders still.  The rest of Honda went to Ohl├»ns (after Yamaha sold them) because basically they make better suspenders.  And as you can tell everybody wants Ohlins.  I guess there could have been some technical and political manoeuvring to give Marquez a full-on full-fat factory bike at Gresini, and he may have brought some headline sponsors with him, but at the same time I doubt Repsol would have been happy.  Or Pedrosa out of Honda and off to Yamaha with Alberto Puig?  Blimey – now there’s a salivating thought!  Puig is pretty much a Honda man, and I doubt he’d hold the same sway at Yamaha as he does at Honda.  Alternatively, Pedrosa to Ducati, but Dani is much shrewder than that – he’s seen the metaphorical car crash that has been happening at Ducati for the past 2 years.  Personally I would have liked to have seen Pedrosa at Yamaha, but you have to admire his loyalty staying at Honda ever since he stepped up to the main class, despite all the speculation. 

At the end of the day, as much as Casey Stoner retiring might be a big disappointment to 99.9% of race fans, it sure as hell helped sort out the remaining riders’ team places.

Takes a special kind of talent to get 'pfft...!' in to a piece doesn't it...

Thanks for reading.












  




Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Goodbye Casey Stoner...and Thank You

The 2012 MotoGP season came to a close this weekend and with it came the end of Repsol Hondas Casey Stoner. The very much maligned and misunderstood Aussie has hung up his Alpinestars for the very last time (NB: 'very last time' is subject to change), heading to his ranch to steer cattle, ride horses, go hunting and more than likely practice making more babies with his beautiful wife and do you know something? I'm so jealous...sorry, I mean I'm going to miss him.

I've not always been a fan of Stoners, my admiration has always been there just because he races motorcycles, but the full appreciation of his style and sheer speed is only, in the grand scheme of things, relatively recent. In his days as a Ducati rider I may have been guilty of having a soft spot for Valentino Rossi which, on occasion, clouded my judgement of Casey. The tide of change began at the Valencia post-season test in 2010 and, to be honest, the comments made in that Summer by Rossi and Jerry Burgess about him not trying and 'we can fix that bike in 80 seconds' probably let me see the nine time champion in a different light. The comments were unnecessary and disrespectful, regardless of who the rider was it was aimed at. Didn't it come back to bite them on the arse tho...

As I've said before, Casey Stoner has THE most exciting riding style I've ever witnessed, what he did on that Honda defied belief, he made a motorcycle make shapes it wasn't designed to do and made his achievements on the Ducati look all the more impressive. Although the racing in 2011 wasn't the most exciting, Stoner was imperious and it got to the point that I was just enjoying watching him race, it was that special. If it wasn't for Rossi's ambition out-weighing his talent at Jerez then he would undoubtedly have gone a full season appearing on the Podium in every race. I lost a little more respect for Valentino Rossi that day, apologising to Casey in front of the watching world but without removing his helmet, maybe afraid the fans would see through his insincerity...

Yes he moans. So do you. So do I. But we don't get jumped on every time we express an opinion, if something's not right he says it's not right. Why flower it up? It is what it is. The thing that strikes me most though is the irony of the patch on his leathers and his pit board as he crossed the line...'Gone Fishing'. As I tweeted earlier in the week, that is something Casey has done throughout his MotoGP career, and every time he's 'gone fishing' he's got a bite and with the growth of social media he gets thousands of bites every time he drops bait. And I love that.

So, thank you Casey. Thank you for leaving me, at times, lost for words with your style and speed. Thank you for helping the likes of Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Crutchlow etc raise their game. You will be missed.

As with the last installment of Straw Bales, @guyhanderson as again kindly penned a piece that is worthy of a read. I'll leave the last words to Guy...


“This website won't be updated during the 2011 Campaign.” *

There is more than one Casey it seems.  One is a father and husband who likes nothing better than fishing and the outback.  The other is, in the eyes of some, an arrogant whining Aussie who rides faster than anyone else. 

MotoGP fans don’t get to see nice Mr Stoner except maybe at Philip Island when TV shows him with his family.  Some MotoGP fans only chose to see the arrogant part of Stoner.  But those of us who divest the emotion of favouritism get to see a blindingly fast exponent of bike racing.  A guy who has made the unrideable Ducati Desmosedici win when no one else could.  Stoner won the last six MGP races at Philip Island – 4 on a Ducati. 

Until this year Stoner’s biggest competitor was Valentino Rossi. Comparing one aspect of Stoner to one aspect of Rossi is telling: Rossi has had at sometimes in his career absolute adoration of a bike he has ridden.  Rossi looked lovingly at the Yamaha M1 of 2008, and has spoken with affection of other bikes he’s ridden.  Ever heard any such nonsense from Stoner?  Me neither.  It’s as if he hates the bike and he’s in a 45 minute fight with it hanging on for his life.  I’ve heard less contempt of Jimmy Saville than the way Stoner looks at his bike when he gets off at the end of a practice or qualifying session.  Consequently Stoner has a reputation.  A reputation that has been borne of beating Rossi.  And beating Rossi is tantamount to being the insurrection in the eyes of the fan-bois.  None of this is Stoner’s fault, but the negative press he receives may weigh (wears?) heavily on him.  And this ends up being a self fulfilling prophesy; that is, Stoner is negative/whining/ungrateful/disrespectful/whatever whereas he says his job is to ride a bike faster than anyone else and win races.  Which is what he does.  So what’s your problem? 

To some viewers beating Rossi is unthinkable, but to a rider it is probably the pinnacle of their career, although he would probably never admit that.  Admitting that beating a rider is above winning a World Championship is flawed.  It shows a flaw in your character of being a rider.  And 95% of winning is psychological, so you don’t do it.  You don’t admit anyone is better than you.  Least of to yourself.  Until you win the championship and are being gracious in victory (but never in defeat).

So Stoner carries these projections around with him; from being booed at Donington by fuckwits who are comparable to Jimmy Saville to being “difficult with the press’ and to this day I’m unsure if it bothers him or not. 

Well not anymore.  Valencia 2012 was the last time you will see Casey Stoner on a motorbike in a race.  Or so he says.  I hope he changes his mind, but at the same time I suspect he won’t.  He has that dogmatic determination of a winner that comes across as arrogant, but is the only way they know. 

You can look back and read the cold statistics that say Stoner won 2 championships 4 years apart in 2007 and 2011. Neatly they were on different machines; Ducati and Honda.  2007 was Stoner’s second year in MGP and his first on the new 800 Ducati Desmosedici.  And from then on he risked the ire of many; from Rossi’s fans for not showing enough respect through to journalists who don’t understand his quite ways, of his dislike for everything to do with racing that isn’t riding.  And this has probably been the biggest negative side of Stoner; his unease at being involved in anything other than racing. 

Stoner doesn’t do PR bullshit; he doesn’t enjoy corporate crap or pandering to sponsors.  This is Stoner’s flaw.  Or one of his flaws.  He is also unspeakably hard on himself and his team.  In fact someone from his team this weekend took him to one side and told him that there is only so much a bike can be made to do – there are indeed limits, though to Stoner they are obstacles he wants to overcome. 

But Stoner is tired of racing.  Contrast that to his earlier years – in one weekend he won 32 out of 35 races he rode in.

There is another Casey too.  Casey Jones, steamin and a rollin.  *winky smiley face ;-) 


* Want an illustration of what Stoner thinks of all the media stuff he has to do?  This quote is from http://www.caseystoner.com.au/home.php - it hasn’t been touched for over a year.


  
As always, thanks for reading.