MotoGP: 2012 Valencia
And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry St Dr Seuss' timeless classic is a tale of seemingly disparate stories that form a singular truth by the end. For much of the story the central character weaves an ever more intricate tale about a horse and carriage spied on his way home, transforming it into such fantastic sights as an orchestra laden elephant with attendant lords and ladies plus a police escort. In the end, rather than tell his father about the wonders that he had imagined, he instead tells the truth about what he saw. Poignantly, the simply truth was enough. The 2012 Gran Premio Generali de la Comunitat Valenciana will be the historic final ride of two time MotoGP champion Casey Stoner. There is much that could be said about Stoner's tenure in the series - from his early beginnings in the support classes where he challenged factory backed riders with an uncompetitive customer ride, to securing a championship on two manufacturers (both on his first year on the team), to providing Ducati with the only manufacturer and rider wins in the near and forseeable future. There are books that could be written on any one of these points and the steps that he took along the way, yet the simple truth would say it best. He accomplished on a motorcycle what even legends of the sport can neither explain nor duplicate, he out-rode horrible design flaws of any motorcycle, he leaves the sport young but fulfilled, and he will be missed. Casey's departure brings to a close an interesting era of GP racing - the age of the Alien. Given as an anectdotal psuedonym for the 4 riders who have won almost all dry (and wet) races in almost the past decade, several factors are aligning which bring this chapter to a close despite the fact that the remaining protagonists may continue to dominate. Most importantly is the increased visibility this past year on the importance of having, not just a factory ride, but the lead factory ride is to competition in the series. All four riders have been supremely talented and remarkably consistent over race distance, but the level of support awarded to the teams lead rider and their resultant success has come under intense scrutiny. Dorna is actively trying to reign in the performance of the prototypes and provide the CRT machines with a fighting chance over race distance, and an indelible part of this has been to put a target squarely on the backs of the small group of riders who stand a chance of a dominant win on any given weekend. The rhetoric has gradually shifted away from talk of "aliens" to speaking about factory riders prototype bikes, and how to account for the performance discrepancy. This tug of war is already proving to be more bitter than previous speculation, with Dorna and Honda both laying public ultimatums that could rip the series apart if taken literally. At Valencia this weekend, the grand experiment will be over. Valentino Rossi with ride the Ducati GP12.x for the last time, and will leave behind a factory confounded on how things went so badly wrong. One of the greatest riders in the world, with one of the best crews and attendent crew chiefs in the world, simply could not make the only European motorcycle in GP competition work. There have been, and will continue to be, much speculation on which factor contributed most to the incompatability of rider to machine. This is especially true considering the moments of promise that flickered into being at times. Perhaps the most truth can be gleaned from the war (which is undoubtedly too strong a term) of words that developed between lead designer Preziosi and chief mechanic Burgess. Prior to joining the team, one of the comments that Burgess made was that after enticing Rossi to join the squad it was up to the factory to listen to his feedback and respond appropriately and that if they failed to do so it would be disastrous. Halfway through their term, when it was very apparent that there were deep problems with the design that fitness (or lack thereof) did not account for, Burgess indicated after a seemingly productive session that one of their main issues lay in adjustability - right at the point that the could begin to feel the bike responding as they wanted it to they would run into an adjustment limit and be stuck until Ducati made a complete redesign. These designs were long in coming, leading to frustration on all sides and for Burgess to comment recently that Ducati's inability to keep pace with their competition in the delivery of parts to test was a major factor in the team's inability to raise the performance of the bike. How much truth there is to the statement is now a matter of conjecture. Valentino Rossi is leaving the team, and his performance on the revised M1 will tell the tale of how far his drive and ability has fallen in the past 2 years. When he switches leathers to either the Yamaha blue or testing black, as is his wont, he will be the only man on the grid to have competed on the 500cc GPs - never mind winning a championship. In the meantime, Ducati will try to salvage what they can of the project, backed by financing from new owner Audi. Jorge Lorenzo is now a 2 time Moto GP champion. From crashing brilliantly throughout his first championship season in the top class he has matured into perhaps the most lethally consistent rider on the grid to date. It is never enough to best when battling with the Mallorcan, you must be able to push to the point that it is impossible for him to catch you when the tires go off; because his pace won't slack, even if yours does. He has had absolute frustration through the year, complaining of a lack of power as Honda's development brought the RC213 up to speed to dominate the second half of the season. The push was too little too late for Honda's Dani Pedrosa, and Lorenzo's brilliant start to the season saw him take the crown. Going into 2013, Lorenzo rekindles his rivalry with Valentino Rossi aboard the tuning fork brand. Yet the big story isn't so much the rivalry as it is the change in both riders as they enter it. Lorenzo is no longer the brash upstart who undoubtedly used some of Rossi's own tactics on and off the track against him. Lorenzo's presence in Biaggi's crew box during the Italian's championship winning WSBK ride confirms long reports that Biaggi had been Lorenzo's idol growing up and that the feud with Rossi was in part caused by the rivalry between the two Italian legends. Yet in the past two years Lorenzo has grown confident in his own ability and established himself as the undisputed lead rider on the team. Whatever point he may have hoped to accomplish with his off track battles with Rossi, he can consider the point well and truly made. For his part Rossi returns to the team humbled by his experience with Ducati. While longtime friend and crewchief Burgess tried to temper expectations on the Ducati merger, Rossi approached the problem with his typical brash style and was ceremoniously - and publicly - put on his rear. Despite the undoubted, and much needed, sponsorship that he will bring to the team Lorenzo will be the top dog unless he can prove differently. Based on his public statements, Rossi knows this to at least some degree even though he will undoubtedly work to push support in his favor. What will follow will likely not be the brawl that fans experienced two years ago, but a more subtle battle akin to a Game of Thrones between two seeming kings of the sport.