The sense of expectation in the air at Valencia is wound so tight it hums. Tomorrow morning, some time after 10am, some of that expectation will start to dissipate as we get the first glimpses of answers that have preoccupied MotoGP fans for the past few months.
Two things we hope to see: a glimpse of the past and a glimpse of the future. After two long, hard years, the army of Valentino Rossi fans will be hoping to see something they haven't since 2010, or maybe even 2009: a flowing, comfortable, aggressive Valentino Rossi at one with the machine underneath. That was something he never showed while riding the Ducati, the figure in the Rossi replica helmet sitting on the Ducati always looking more like a club racer had sneaked into the back of the Ducati garage to take the bike out for a spin, terrifying himself in the process. Rossi looked stiff, awkward, uncomfortable, his back arched like a cat negotiating a dog-infested yard.
2012 Valencia MotoGP Post-Race Round Up: On Marquez' Talent, Pedrosa's Gamble, Lorenzo's Crash, And A Debt Left Open
So the 2012 MotoGP season is over, and someone with a great deal of courage and a little bit of money to wager could have ended the year rich beyond their wildest dreams. If you could have found someone to take your bet seriously, you would have got a very, very good return on one race being won from the back of the grid, and the other from a rider starting from pit lane. Just one of those events is highly unusual, having both of the happen on the same day is unheard of.
The odds on Marc Marquez winning from the back of the grid were probably disappointingly short. By now, every bookmaker in the world will have seen the onboard clip of Marc Marquez after stalling his bike on the grid at Motegi, and the way he disposed of twenty Moto2 competitors in the space of half a lap. The first lap at Valencia is likely to create as much of a sensation - or at least it would, if Dorna would either resist the temptation to take down Youtube videos before they go viral to keep their TV rights holders happy, or make the videos available free of charge on the MotoGP.com website so that they can go viral while retaining control - as Marquez passed another twenty riders in the space of five corners.
2012 Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Lap Records, Hunger For Success, And Giving Factories Enough Rope
The last of the 990 pole records finally went at Valencia, along with the last record held by Valentino Rossi at any of the tracks currently on the calendar. Dani Pedrosa's astonishing last lap was inch perfect, and put him 0.158 seconds faster than Rossi's time, set in 2006 at the infamous season finale in which Rossi got a dismal start, then fell off trying to catch Nicky Hayden, handing the American the world championship in the process. Pedrosa's lap really was something special, though the Spaniard was not as impressed as the onlookers. He had had a few good laps in his career, he told the press conference, and this was definitely one of them. Pedrosa has looked ominous all weekend - actually, since Indianapolis - and if it were going to stay dry, then you would be hard put to think of anyone who could beat the Repsol Honda man.
Jorge Lorenzo is keen to try, and is fast all the way round the circuit to the final sector, but is losing a couple of tenths just in the acceleration out of the final corner and towards the line. The Hondas dominate there, good round the long left before the final corner - both Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa were hanging the rear out all round that turn, showing a hint of the old tire-smokin' 990 days - but absolute missiles on acceleration. That has been Lorenzo's complaint all year, not sufficient acceleration and not the wheelie control which the Hondas appear to have. If Lorenzo arrives at the final corner with a Honda behind him, he will fear for his position.
2012 Valencia MotoGP Friday Round Up: Dr Marquez And Mr Hyde, Bumpy Tracks, And Leasing Yamaha Engines
If there is one rider in the entire MotoGP paddock who recalls the strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, it is Marc Marquez. Around the paddock, speaking to the press, at public appearances, the Spaniard is soft-spoken, polite, friendly. When he speaks, he speaks only in commonplaces, his media training having expunged any trace of opinion or controversy from his speech (in either English or Spanish). Put him on a bike, however, and the beast is unleashed. He is merciless, in his speed, in his ownership of the track, and in his disregard of anyone else on the track.
So it was unsurprising that the Spaniard should find himself in trouble once again. During the afternoon practice, Marquez slotted his bike underneath an unsuspecting Simone Corsi going into turn 10, sending the Italian tumbling through the gravel in the process. The move was reminiscent of the incident at Motegi, where Marquez barged past Mika Kallio with similar disregard for the consequences, but unlike Motegi, this time Marquez received a penalty from Race Direction, for contravening section 1.21.2, a section Marquez by now must know almost by heart. That part of the Sporting Regulations which governs 'riding in a responsible manner which does not cause danger to other competitors'. For his sins, Marquez is to start from the back of the grid on Sunday, regardless of where he qualifies.
2012 Valencia MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Of Anticipation, Determination, Preparation, And New Rules For 2014
The atmosphere in the paddock at Valencia is an odd mixture of fatigue, excitement and anticipation. Fatigue, because it is the end of a long season, and the teams and riders are barely recovered from the three back-to-back flyaway rounds; excitement, because this is the last race of the year, and the last chance to shine, and for some, the last chance to impress a team sufficiently to secure a ride next year; and anticipation, because with so many riders switching brands and classes, they are already thinking about the test to come on Tuesday.
Or in Casey Stoner's case, thinking about a future outside of MotoGP. As his departure from the championship grows near, it is clear that he has had more than enough of the series. Asked if he was worried about the politics in V8 Supercars, where he is headed in the near future, he said he wasn't, because he understood that V8 Supercars is a different kind of championship. MotoGP, though, was supposed to be a professional championship, and in his opinion, it was 'a joke'. Four races in Spain, another just over the border in Portugal, this was not a truly world championship, Stoner said. Instead, MotoGP is too much of a European championship, and it needed to rediscover its roots.
Two freshly anointed champions, three impressive winners, and a large crowd of ecstatic and yet wistful fans, come to say goodbye to a departing hero and hope to spot a new one arriving. Even the weather cooperated. That's how good the Australian Grand Prix was at Phillip Island this year. All three races were a lot less intense than the previous two weekends, but even that didn't matter, because of the manner in which the winners secured their victories, and because the Australian crowd had something to cheer about in all three categories.
It started in the Moto3 race, where Sandro Cortese rode one of his best races of the year, the title he clinched last weekend at Sepang clearly a weight off his mind, allowing the young German to ride freely. He had Miguel Oliveira to contend with for most of the race, but in the end, he would not be denied. The home crowd still had much to cheer about, as local boy Arthur Sissis, the 17-year-old former Red Bull Rookie, won an intense battle for third, putting an Australian on the podium for the first time on Sunday.
2012 Phillip Island MotoGP Saturday Round Up - Unstoppable Stoner, Honda's Magic Gearbox, And A Dark Horse
Two championships could be settled at Phillip Island on Sunday. Marc Marquez looks certain to wrap up the 2012 Moto2 title in Australia, as the Catalunya Caixa rider needs just 2 points to put the title out of reach of Pol Espargaro. Marquez' chances of wrapping up the Moto2 title with a win look slim, though. Pol Espargaro has been in a class of his own at Phillip Island, his love for the circuit showing through in the way he has been riding. The only man to get near to Espargaro all weekend has been Scott Redding, Phillip Island one place where Redding's size is less of a handicap. With few places where hard acceleration from low speed is required, Redding can rely on his natural speed to get around the track. Despite still being the youngest rider ever to win a Grand Prix - a title he is likely to hold in perpetuity, since the minimum age went up to 16 - Redding is still winless in Moto2. If he can follow the pace of Espargaro, Phillip Island could well provide him with a real shot at his first win.
The MotoGP title may not be settled in Australia, though. Jorge Lorenzo leads Dani Pedrosa by 23 points, and just needs to finish ahead of the Honda man to wrap up the championship at Phillip Island. The odds of that happening looked much better on Saturday, Lorenzo taking 2nd spot in both the morning's free practice and qualifying in the afternoon, finishing ahead of Pedrosa in both sessions. But Lorenzo's may yet have to leave the box of championship t-shirts in the flight cases, as a closer look at the race pace between Lorenzo and Pedrosa gives the advantage to the Honda man. Lorenzo is lapping consistently in the high 1'30s and low 1'31s, but Pedrosa has been reeling off strings of high 1'30s in race trim.
2012 Phillip Island MotoGP Friday Round Up: Confidence, Control, The Half A Second Between The Rider's Ears, And A Minimum Wage
When Casey Stoner was asked on Thursday about the key to his speed through Turn 3 - now renamed Stoner Corner in his honor - he refused to answer, saying only that he might tell everyone after he had retired. To anyone watching Stoner scorch around that corner and the rest of the track, the secret was plain to see: the Australian is completely in his element, totally comfortable and confident in every move he makes at the circuit. Stoner left thick black lines round most of the left handers at the circuit, including daubing them all over the inside of the kerbs at Turn 3. It was a display of mastery that left even the injured Ben Spies in awe, watching at home on the computer. "I gotta say without a doubt Casey Stoner does stuff even GP racers watch and scratch their head at!" Spies posted on his Twitter page. Stoner ended nine tenths of a second up on second-place man Dani Pedrosa, the only man to dip into the 1'29s (just, his fastest lap being 1'29.999), and the only man bar Pedrosa to hit the 1'30s.
Confidence. That's Stoner's secret. And it's the secret of another Australian, a rider almost surprised to find himself at the front of the Moto2 class, Ant West having bagged the 3rd fastest time on the first day of his home Grand Prix. The podium at Sepang had kicked him into gear, West admitted, pointing out the importance of confidence to results. "I must have woke myself up!" West joked. "This class is all about having good confidence, because from 1st to 20th, everyone's fast. I just feel confident, and it makes everything so much easier. Today I feel good, and the bike's working really well." West's success was more than just an overnight transformation, West insisted. Things had slowly been improving since the QMMF team switched from the Moriwaki to the Speed Up chassis, West now able to close the gap the front. "We've been building up the last few races getting better and better, and I'm happy today. It just seem to be going well, even went out the first part of this session on old tires and still had quite a decent time."
This weekend's Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island is going to be a very Australian affair, more so than most other years. For one obvious reason: this is the last chance to see Casey Stoner race a Grand Prix motorcycle at the iconic venue before he hangs up his helmet and retires from MotoGP. Record crowds are expected, and local media coverage is expanded as everyone gathers to say goodbye to the latest in a long and honorable line of Australian Grand Prix champions who have left an indelible mark on motorcycle racing.
The weekend started off with Stoner's name being added to those of Wayne Gardner and Mick Doohan, in a ceremony to rename Turn 3 Stoner Corner. Gardner's name has been given to the front straight, Doohan's to Turn 1, and Stoner's name follows after the Southern Loop. It is a fitting tribute to the man who has started from pole four times in a row, won here five times in a row and achieved some remarkable feats in MotoGP.
The only man to have won on a Ducati MotoGP machine since 2007, when Loris Capirossi won a flag-to-flag race in difficult conditions at Motegi. The only rider to have regained the premier class title after three seasons. Tied with Mike Hailwood for 4th in the all-time list of premier class winners, with 37 MotoGP victories. Tied with contemporaries Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa for 8th in the standings for victories in all classes, the three leading riders in the championship having 44 wins each, though the two Spaniards have vastly fewer wins in the top class.
Ever since Jorge Lorenzo's #3 engine went up in smoke at Assen after the Factory Yamaha man was skittled by Alvaro Bautista in the first corner, MotoGP followers have been asking themselves whether Jorge Lorenzo will make it to the end of the season with the remainder of his allocation, or whether he will have to take a 7th engine and start from pit lane at some point. As each race goes by, the questions have become more urgent: will this be the race where Lorenzo finally runs out of engines, and hands Dani Pedrosa the advantage in the championship fight?
So how is Jorge Lorenzo doing with his engines? Is he, as many suspect, in imminent danger of losing an engine, and with it potentially his second World Championship? What strategies have his pit crew been using to manage with one engine prematurely withdrawn? And will those strategies be enough to see him through to the race at Valencia?