At Valencia in the 18th and final race of the season, Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) won his seventh race of 2012 to end the year as rider with most wins. Weather was very unpredictable all weekend with all three practice sessions being wet, qualifying held in dry conditions, and then rain appearing again on race day. Skillfully managing a difficult race that switched from wet to dry conditions, Pedrosa went from a pit lane start to a magnificent and well deserved victory.
Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda) began his final GP before retirement at a careful pace, not wishing to risk further damage to his injured ankle in these bad conditions. Placing third in qualifying, he started the race on rain tires. After a few laps he returned to the pit to swap his bike for one fitted with dry tires. This pit stop knocked him back to 16th place, but he determinedly worked his way through the pack to take third place and end his MotoGP career with a podium finish.
Finishing in fourth place was Alvaro Bautista (San Carlo Honda Gresini) and Michel Pirro (San Carlo Honda Gresini) on a Honda-engine CRT machine came in fifth, giving Honda four out of the top five places in the season's closing race.
For the eighth time this season, the Repsol Honda Team had both riders on the podium. This gave Honda their 19th MotoGP constructors title, winning for the second year running. Honda's grand total for all classes now stands at 61 constructors titles. Thanks to Repsol Honda taking the team championship, Honda ends 2012 with two of the three titles.
Now that Round 18 is over, Honda starts preparations for the 2013 season with two days of tests starting at the Valencia circuit on November 13. We asked HRC Team Principal Shuhei Nakamoto to discuss the Valencia GP and his ambitions for the coming season.
We've had a lot of bad weather this season, and the final race was no exception. But I didn't expect it to be so unpredictable and it really was very hard deciding which tires to use. Still, we won, and this gave us the constructors title. The riders championship escaped us this time, but I'm very happy that we got both the other titles. Honda took 12 of the 18 races this season, Casey winning five and Dani seven – more than any other rider this season. New regulations just before the start of the year and then tire changes basically meant that we had to rebuild our bike from scratch, and that was why our teams and riders had such a hard time in the first six months. But we had built up a good advantage over our rivals for the final half of the season. The final race is in one sense the first of the next season, and on top of that we had these terrible conditions, but Dani pulled off a fine victory here. Winning this kind of very tough race really motivates a team. Dani made the right decision to change tires, even though this meant a pit lane start, and he went on to give a superb performance. It was a great race to watch, and it gives me hope that we will be able to take the triple title again next year.
This decision is up to the riders. On the grid, we told them that was OK to go with slicks. But then I guess conditions on the sighting lap made them decide that it was too soon to use slicks, so back on the grid, Dani swapped both front and rear for hard rain tires and Casey chose a hard front and soft rear rain tire. Dani reasoned that the track still didn't have enough grip for slicks, so it would be best to start on rain tires. But the warm up lap changed his mind and he decided to come back to the pit and change to slicks. It wasn't just Dani – Alvaro, Nicky and Cal also changed bikes at the last moment and started from the pit lane. Conditions were really hard to judge. Casey, on the other hand, chose rain tires out of concern with safety. This was his final race and he was riding with an ankle that's still not healed. After the track gradually dried out, Casey came in to change to slicks in lap five. In the end, it was Dani, starting on slicks, who won, while of all the riders who started on rain tires, Casey had the best result with third. There did seem a possibility at the start of rain recurring, but in fact our information was correct. The choice is up to the riders in the end, but I can't help wondering what kind of race we would have had if both of them had set off from the grid on slick tires.
It's just as Casey said. If this hadn't been his final race, I'm sure even under these weather conditions we would have seen him giving it his usual turn of speed. Obviously he was very concerned about not further damaging his leg in his last race. Conditions were bad in free practice, so Casey just did the minimum checks then. That meant we didn't get much data, and when qualifying turned out dry he was complaining that all kinds of things weren't right. There was a chance to use the slicks in practice, and if he had seriously tried them then this wouldn't have happened. But then, that's just like Casey. In the race, even after changing bikes he kept to a cautious speed for a while. But after the track had dried in the second half, he started setting a really fine pace. Once he saw Alvaro, he really got moving and had the speed to take that podium place. Of course he really wanted to end his career with a win, but a podium finish in his last race is pretty good. I'd really like him to stay in MotoGP – I'm sure he could keep on racking up the titles. But that's Casey's decision, and we have to respect the path he's chosen. When I congratulated him after the race, he said he was looking forward to his new life – from tomorrow, his time is all his own again.
Dani has had a good year. No injuries, and seven wins this season is a big leap forward from his previous best of four. And he won his first race in wet conditions, too. Today was another first for him – winning from a pit lane start. Last year he always seemed overshadowed by Casey, but this season he confidently took on both Jorge and Casey. That makes it all the more disappointing that we had a troubled first half to this season as we adjusted to new weight and tire regulations. That was what cost us the riders championship. But if Dani keeps performing next year the way he did in this season's second half, then I'm very confident he will bring home the title for us. We're just starting the tests for next year now. I hope Dani will put even more effort than usual into these winter tests, and that we can all move on from the setbacks we suffered this season.
Yes, the way he passed everyone was quite astonishing to watch. I'm thinking he has something I maybe haven't seen in a rider before. Really thrilling to see. Stefan has made a huge improvement this year too, and Alvaro is finally managing to get the full performance out of our bikes. Next year is going to be very interesting for me. The two days of tests starting on Tuesday will be very important for the coming season, and I want to use them to get a full grasp of what we need to do to take back the triple title next year. Finishing this year with a win certainly has everyone in good spirits ready to start the new season, and this time next year, I hope you will be congratulating us on the triple championship.
The 2012 championship is over, but we're about to start the tests for 2013. These are very important to give us the data we need to construct next year's bikes, so there can be no taking a break for us just yet. I'd like to end by thanking all our Honda fans out there for their excellent support that's helped keep us going all year. See you all again next season!