The Valencia GP brought the 2011 season to a finale with a race week held in conditions so difficult it was a fitting symbol of a long, hard-fought racing year. The race started Sunday at 2 pm in low temperatures and intermittent rain showers that made the track really hard to judge. Even so Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda Team) got off to a fine start from pole and quickly built up a commanding lead. In the rain of the last laps, Spies closed the gap and overtook Stoner, but then at the very last second Casey pulled it off again, roaring out of the final corner to pass almost on the line and seize a stunning victory by a nose – his tenth win of the season. This race was also a memorial to Marco Simoncelli of Team San Carlo Honda Gresini, who lost his life in a tragic accident in the Malaysian GP. Riders from all three classes wore Marco's number 58 logo on bikes, helmets and gear in remembrance of the popular Marco, a cheerful character well liked by everyone in MotoGP.
HRC Team Principal Shuhei Nakamoto looks back over this final race of 2011, a real race to remember.
Casey only won this race in the last moment and by a tiny fraction of a second. He had built a strong lead in the early laps, but then he slowed a little too much in the rain. Ben Spies had closed the gap, saw his chance and passed Casey. After the race, Casey himself admitted he'd let the rain slow him too much, but slippery conditions like today will always bring out the strengths of the Yamaha bikes and the weak points of the Hondas. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when Casey managed to overcome that disadvantage, and amazingly took back the lead almost as the bikes were crossing the finish line.
If it had been clearly either full dry or full wet, I'm sure we would have been able to dominate this race and sweep the podium, but these kind of unpredictable weather and track conditions mean anything can happen. Another factor is that you have special problems when you're the leader in bad conditions like this. It's very hard for the rider in front, who has nothing to show him how to go. The other riders can watch what the lead man does, calculate from distance and time to see what conditions are like to decide their moves, but the leader is constantly having to make those choices himself as the track and conditions ahead keep changing. It's a huge amount of pressure on a rider, not knowing what will happen as you go into each corner.
Yes, this wasn't the only race held in tricky conditions – there have been a lot like it this season. And in every one of them, I think Casey has shown great skill in staying in control. I really feel that he has grown into a rider who uses his brain more than anything to win races.
Yes, his time really fell off at that point. These are the kind of conditions that Dani finds it hardest to ride in.
A bigger problem was that Dani is still struggling to overcome his issue with not being able to keep producing the times he's capable of if conditions suddenly reduce grip. For example, Dani always has worse times in the morning sessions, when lower track temperatures mean poor grip. Dani's a rider who can be amazingly fast as long as he has a certain level of grip, but this is his weak point – he can't keep up the speed in conditions like these.
To a certain extent, of course. He must use skill and technique to compensate for his disadvantages in that respect. Dani himself is well aware of this and is working hard to stay on top of the issue, but of course none of us can control what kind of weather we'll face on race day.
Before the race, starting at 10:10 am, Kevin Schwantz on Marco's bike led a memorial lap at the head of all the riders, followed by a big firework event. Marco's family asked for it to be like this, in honor of a flamboyant, much-loved personality who would definitely have wanted to be remembered with a colorful, lively display. Words can't express how sad I am to lose such a young and talented rider, right in his prime. Marco gave so much in the short time he was with us, and I'm sure that his greatest wish would be for us to go on doing our best to make MotoGP an even greater source of enjoyment for ever greater numbers of fans.
It's my hope that we will do as well, or even better, next year. And we start early on Tuesday working toward that goal. The battle for the 2012 championship has already begun. I want to say a heartfelt thanks to all our fans who have supported us throughout this season, and I hope you will all be there cheering us on in 2012.