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MotoGP: Tears in Valencia as eras slither to an end

Bryan Edwards

As the riders lined up in Valencia for the start of the last race of the 2012 MotoGP season, it was difficult for them to know where to start. And so it is with this final race report of the current campaign as there are more endings than beginnings.

Japanese rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga has spent the season as Yamaha's test rider and, with Ben Spies missing his last race for the team due to injury, his chance came. Starting in the mid-field on slick tyres in damp conditions, his team gave him the same equipment and set up as his newly crowned World Champion team mate Jorge Lorenzo. It was a brave move: despite the stewards declaring a wet race, they started on slicks - a decision echoed by four other riders after the warm up lap, leaving them on the correct kit but at the back of the field.

As the race wore on and conditions changed, those six capitalised on the fact that they did not need to come in mid-race to change bikes.

But being on the correct kit was no guarantee of success: having dropped to as low as eighth from pole, Lorenzo worked his way up as the track dried, only to crash out while leading in an accident that - because he appeared to land on his head - could have proved extremely serious. More angry than hurt, he walked away.

Crutchlow, another of the late changers, was riding a magnificent race, up to a comfortable second, but pressing hard in a late season dash to give his Monster Tech 3Yamaha a win in what was expected to be his final race for the team came a cropper in a corner that was not even taken at a steep angle of lean. However, in August, Crutchlow said that Ducati "lied" to him about the availability of a works ride with them and signed for another season with Tech 3. He was furious as borne out by a quote in Italian magazine Gazzetta dello Sport. "For three months they (Ducati) lied to me and even at Laguna Seca they told me they would give me a factory bike. After that no one contacted me anymore," That was at the same time as Rossi left, strongly implying that his decision was, in part, made because Ducati had misled him as to their commitment to the series.

Late changer Pedrosa, consistently the fastest man on the track for much of the race, pulled himself up from the back into the lead and happily dropped his pace by around a second a lap once he had consolidated his position, bringing him to the same wins tally as Lorenzo for this season but not enough points to beat him: even so, it was enough to further emphasise the Honda constructor's title.

In his last race, Casey Stoner, who started on wet tyres and changed mid-way, came a comfortable third behind the Japanese rider - the only podium finish for a Japanese rider in any of the three premier classes this season.

After his team mate Nicky Hayden fell, only Rossi was left to carry the flag for Ducati: his last race for the Italian team, despite the conditions, struggled and managed only tenth, suffering the embarrassment of being behind three CRT bikes and a lap down.

Dovisioso caused consternation by aggressively dicing with Pedrosa as Pedrosa came to lap him in the closing stages of the race: Pedrosa decided not to get involved in a dust up that threatened to cost him the win and backed off in the absence of effective blue flags.

As the riders came in, the mood was sombre: Nakasuga and his crew were in tears: his first MotoGP ride was in Malaysia in 2011 but that race was cancelled due to Marco Simoncelli's fatal crash. Standing in for the injured Lorenzo in the 2011 Valencia GP, he came sixth, much to his own surprise.This was only his third start and he came second.

But elsewhere, everyone just looked tired.

It's been a long season. There were no excited celebrations for winner Pedrosa. He greeted his team with quiet calm. But it was Stoner, finishing third after a super-fast final few laps, who looked the most tired. On the podium, his tenth of the year despite missing or under-performing in several races due to injury, he didn't just look tired, he looked old. Stoner has won 38 Grands Prix since his arrival in the premier class at the Spanish GP in 2006. This, his 20th third place was his 69th podium finish in those six years during which he has been World Champion twice. In the era of Rossi and Lorenzo, that is no mean feat. When he arrived in MotoGP, there were concerns as to whether the diminutive Stoner, with a stature more like a flat racing jockey than a rider of big, super-fast bikes, would be able to handle the big heavy machines. Instead of muscling them around corners, he simply leaned and slid, adopting a style of sitting as far forward as possible putting his weight over the tank and front wheel in a way that others, most notably Pedrosa, now follow. Others sit further back, putting their weight over the middle of the bike.

As he crossed the line, his team held out his pit board for the last time. "Gone Fishing," it said in day-glo green capitals. At 27, still hobbling from this season's crashes including a serious accident at the dreadful - and dangerous - Indianapolis circuit, Stoner heads into retirement with MotoGP's masters awarding him the "MotoGP Legend status alongside riders such as Giacomo Agostini, Barry Sheene, Kenny Roberts and John Surtees as well as his own compatriots Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner. Stoner's plan is simple: stop before, like Sheene, he ends up with almost as much metal as bone holding him up.

Stoner's 2011 title came as MotoGP split into two classes: his 800cc win was the last for that class of bike before the conversion to 1000 cc this year and the introduction of the CRT sub-class.

Post race in Valencia, Rossi - who will climb back onto a Yamaha for testing in Valencia this week - said "I would have liked to finish these two years with Ducati better. They were two difficult seasons, but I nonetheless leave behind many people that I enjoyed working with, and with whom it was nice to go racing.” But it's no secret that he can't wait to get away from the awful performance, the failure to address faults, the politics and the uncertainty that undermines the team that, when he joined, everyone hoped would become the Ferrari of motorcycling.

For Rossi, the challenge for next year will not be the bike, nor the team but how well he stands up to Lorenzo's mind games.

But, however, one looks at it, the 2012 season slithered to an end and no one, except one very surprised Japanese rider, went home happy.