The VROOM Blog – #ValenciaGP – Pecco wins as Ducati lock out the podium, and The Doctor says goodbye

 In MotoGP, News

Well, that was it – the final round of MotoGP in 2021, and the final race of Valentino Rossi’s incredible 26-year GP career. What a weekend we were treated to – the Moto2 championship was still to be decided, there were many riders moving on to pastures new, and there were tributes to a legend everywhere you looked.

After missing last weekend due to a concussion sustained in a training crash, it was announced this week that Marc Marquez would sit out this weekend too – and possibly more importantly the test at Jerez at the end of this week. In addition to the concussion, it would appear that Marc has suffered a recurrence of the double vision issues that ended his Moto2 Championship fight back in 2011. While this is undoubtedly a huge blow to Honda and their development plans for 2022, the most important thing is that Marc takes time to heal and assess the situation before he makes any kind of return to action, and I’m pleased to see that both he and the team are doing so. Hopefully we’ll see Marc back on track soon.

There was one final title to be decided this weekend, with Remy Gardner heading into the weekend with a 23-point lead over rookie team mate Raul Fernandez. While it may have looked like Remy had one hand on the trophy, this is motorcycle racing, and it’s not over until it’s over, especially when both riders have had strong performances here in the past.

The Rookie of the year crown was also still up for grabs in MotoGP, with Enea Bastianini now 3 points ahead of Jorge Martin. It had looked earlier in the season as though the title would surely go the way of Martin, but Bastianini has put in a string of good performances in recent races to edge his way in front of the Spaniard and all was still to play for coming into the final round of the season.

Talking of Jorge Martin, he was among a number of Spanish riders to reveal one off helmet designs for the weekend. Jorge’s featured a cartoon of himself setting off the traditional post-race fireworks, while Iker Lecuona sported a black helmet with photos of his MotoGP career as he races for the last time in the MotoGP paddock before heading off to World Superbikes. And yes, I’m still bitter that he doesn’t have a seat in MotoGP next season – he has really been finding his form recently.

Aron Canet, Sergio Garcia and Izan Guevara also donned one off designs for the weekend.

The final piece of the 2022 grid was confirmed this weekend – albeit without a press release or official statement. Pablo Nieto confirmed to Jack Appleyard during Moto2 FP1 that Marco Bezzecchi will be reunited with Luca Marini as he steps up to MotoGP next season. Luca and Marco raced together in the VR46 Moto2 team, and will do so again in the VR46 MotoGP team. Nieto also confirmed that Bezzecchi’s place in the Moto2 team will be taken by fellow VR46 Academy rider Niccolo Antonelli, with Celestino Vietti remaining.

It was also confirmed this weekend that although nothing has been signed yet, an agreement has been made that will see Cal Crutchlow will continue as a test rider for Yamaha in 2022.

It was clear from the outset that this would be a weekend filled with emotion as the curtain comes down on the remarkable career of Valentino Rossi, but I was not prepared for just how emotional I would feel about it!

The weekend started on Thursday afternoon with The Doctor – who was sporting a black hat with gold embroidered Monster, Yamaha and 46 logos – being presented with a display featuring all 9 of his championship winning bikes. Displayed under a canopy which read “The nine wonders of Valentino Rossi”, Valentino worked his way from the 125cc Aprilia that he took his first title on in 1997, to the 250cc Aprilia of 1999, to the Hondas of 2001 – 2003, right up to the Yamahas of 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009. It was lovely to watch him react to each machine as he pulled the cover off, and to then sit on the bike and make engine noises – it was like watching a kid at Christmas!

This was followed by Valentino’s second “exceptional” press conference of the season, and when he was asked what he would like to be remembered for, he talked about the impact that he has had on the sport.

“I think that the most positive thing in my career is that a lot, a lot, a lot of people start to follow MotoGP (to) follow my career from the beginning, and the sport became bigger, became more famous in Italy, but all around the world. It’s good to understand that during my career I became something different, something like an icon, and this is a great, great pleasure. Also, for a rider it is always more important what has happened on the track, the result and everything, but I think this is the best thing of my career.”

To someone outside of our sport, such a statement might suggest arrogance or a massive ego, but Valentino displayed neither of these while talking (or ever, really) – he remained humble, but he knows what he has done for MotoGP, and I love that he is able to talk about it. And why shouldn’t he?

Valentino was also asked about the fact that the date of his final race can be added together to make his race number, to which he simply said that they realised “when we make fourteen plus eleven plus twenty-one, we say f**k, its forty-six!” He also talked about how numbers have often played a role in his career, and he touched on the significance of the number 9 – he has 9 world championships, 89 MotoGP victories, and 199 MotoGP podiums.

Saturday afternoon saw Valentino meet with a graffiti artist who had painted an astonishing portrait of him on the side of one of the paddock buildings. After a chat and a demonstration of how to use the spray paint, Valentino “signed” the portrait – in yellow, of course!

While most of the attention this weekend has inevitably been on Valentino Rossi, we will also see the final races for other riders, in particular two of the nicest men in the paddock – 2005 125cc World Champion and current Moto2 rider Thomas Lüthi, and two-time MotoGP race winner, Danilo Petrucci. While Lüthi will remain in the paddock next season as the Sporting Director for the PrüstelGP Moto3 team, Danilo will be leaving the MotoGP paddock behind for a new challenge as he takes on the 2022 Dakar Rally with KTM.

Track action got underway on Friday morning with a wet FP1, and we were treated to the shoulder cam view again. This time the camera was on the shoulder of the new World Champion, and we saw a different view from Fabio than we had with Rins thanks to their differing riding styles – Fabio tends to hang off the side of the bike much more than Alex does!

The wet conditions caught a few riders out, with crashes for Petrucci, Bagnaia, Miller and Marini throughout the session which was topped by Iker Lecuona from Jack Miller and Miguel Oliveira.

FP2 was a faster session as the track was pretty much dry and everyone was immediately able to improve their lap times. There were crashes in the session for Fabio Quartararo, Enea Bastianini, Iker Lecuona and Pol Espargaro, and it was Jack Miller who ended Friday as the fastest rider, ahead of Pol and Pecco.

Saturday morning was dry once more, and Fabio had the shoulder cam on again – I’m really enjoying this new view, and am really looking forward to the time when they are able to roll it out for all riders! Less than 10 minutes into the session we saw Johann Zarco pull into the pit lane as his bike had started smoking – thankfully there didn’t appear to be any fluid leaking from his Ducati!

With 13 minutes left on the clock, Pol Espargaro suffered a massive high side crash which saw him stretched off and taken to the medical centre. Pol was later transferred to a local hospital for further checks on sore ribs and his wrist. He returned to the paddock later on Saturday afternoon having missed FP4 and qualifying, but without major injury.

Pol was due to be reviewed on Sunday morning, but took the decision to sit out the rest of the weekend in order to focus on the Jerez test. A sensible decision, given that he was apparently struggling to breathe due to his rib injuries!

I have two complaints about the incident that Pol had – firstly, I didn’t see the need for cameras to be focussed on Pol’s brother Aleix while Pol was still laying in the gravel, and secondly – why wasn’t the session red flagged? There was at least two full minutes between Pol’s crash and him being stretched away – that’s at least two full minutes where someone else could have crashed at the same point.

Back on track, with just two minutes left on the clock, Valentino Rossi – who had been tucked in behind protégé Bagnaia – went 7th. Would we be seeing Valentino progressing straight through to Q2 in his final race weekend? Indeed, we would – he did get bumped down a few places as others went faster, but The Doctor held on for 10th place and was headed straight through to Q2 one last time.

It was Aleix Espargaro who topped the times, and he would be joined in Q2 by Miller, Franky Morbidelli, Pecco, Jorge Martin, Joan Mir, Taka Nakagami, Zarco, Quartararo, and of course, Rossi.

In FP4 Valentino Rossi debuted an addition to his leathers – the word “GRAZIE” featured on the back and the collar of his Dainese suit.

There were crashes for Aleix Espargaro and Luca Marini in FP4, and the session was topped by Taka Nakagami from Fabio Quartararo and Alex Rins.

As Q1 got underway, there were several contenders for the two slots in Q2 – Iker Lecuona had been fast at points this weekend, as had Alex Rins and Luca Marini – but it was Alex Rins and Brad Binder who topped the times to make their way into Q2.

Q2 began with Pecco leading Valentino on an out lap, only for Valentino to run too hot into turn 1 on their first flying lap and ruin any chance of staying with Pecco! With 8 minutes to go, Jack Miller and Jorge Martin had to be separated by their second fastest lap times having set identical times to go top of the time sheets – that’s how close MotoGP is at the moment!

Valentino and Pecco had a more successful run second time out, with Vale able to go 7th. With just a minute to go in the session, Pecco crashed and his bike was stranded in the middle of the track. Pecco waited at the side of the track to warn his rivals before he was able to pick the bike up and move it out of the way.

There was more drama to come as Jorge Martin went even faster with 30 seconds remaining and Jack Miller crashed out while on a fast lap. Rookie Martin was able to secure his 4th pole position of the season, and Pecco and Jack made it an all-Ducati front row. Quartararo would be starting the race from 8th on the grid, while Rossi would start his final GP from 10th on the grid, alongside VR46 Academy rider Franky Morbidelli.

The Sunday morning warm up sessions revealed to us the brilliant tribute that the 9 VR46 Academy riders would be paying to their mentor, with each of them having chosen their favourite helmet design from Valentino’s 26-year career in the MotoGP paddock to wear for warm up and the races.

There were some great choices from the riders, with Pecco Bagnaia going for Valentino’s 2004 championship winning celebration helmet, Franky Morbidelli – of course – selected the “peace and love” one from 1999 while Luca Marini chose his big brother’s “5 continents” design from 2008. In Moto2, Celestino Vietti wore Valentino’s 2005 winter test design, while Marco Bezzecchi and Stefano Manzi chose sun and moon designs from 2003 and 1996. In Moto3 we saw Andrea Migno wearing a 2001 replica, Alberto Surra donned the 2020 sun and moon design, and Niccolo Antonelli had chosen the 2005 Laguna Seca design.

I have to say, I thought this was a fantastic tribute – it was subtle yet incredibly thoughtful, and I’m sure Valentino loved it!

Sunday morning also saw new helmet designs for the outgoing Danilo Petrucci and Thomas Lüthi. Danilo’s helmet had sticky notes with race stats – the post-its were colour coded to the teams the stats were from – as well as two polaroid pictures featuring his 2 premier class wins. Thomas Lüthi’s team surprised the Swiss rider with a special helmet and livery to mark his final race before retirement.

Before the MotoGP race got underway, there was the small matter of the Moto2 championship still to be decided. ‘All’ Remy had to do was to finish in the top 13 to secure the championship, even if Raul won the race, but this is Moto2 and that’s easier said than done, especially when starting from the third row of the grid!

Raul did win the race – his 8th victory of the season – but Remy held on to take 10th place, and his first World Championship. As Raul broke Marc Marquez’ record of 7 wins in his rookie season in Moto2, Remy and his father Wayne became only the second father-son pairing to win World Championships after Kenny Roberts and Kenny Roberts Jr.

Thomas Lüthi finished his final race in 12th position – probably not the result he would have wanted, but I really liked that his final race result was the same as his race number!

Finally, it was time for the MotoGP race, and time for Valentino Rossi to take to the track for the 432nd and final time in GP racing. The atmosphere was electric – the fans packed into the grandstands were doing Mexican waves – and there was emotion in the air.

Danilo Petrucci was in tears on the grid – he put that down to a mix of emotions, and seeing people cry for him! I’m really going to miss Danilo – he has been a joy to watch over the last 10 years.

As the race got underway, Jorge Martin shot off into the first corner ahead of Jack Miller, Joan Mir and Pecco Bagnaia. Fabio Quartararo quickly made his way through on Alex Rins for 6th place, while Pecco was eyeing up a move on Mir.

At the beginning of the 2nd lap, Jack Miller passed Jorge Martin for the lead, only for Martin to take the place back before Miller lost another place to Joan Mir. Valentino Rossi meanwhile, was running in 9th place.

Now running in 3rd, Miller quickly found himself shuffled back to 5th as both Pecco and Rins made their way past the Australian. On lap 4, Pecco made his way through on Joan Mir for 2nd before Mir lost another place to team mate Rins.

Fabio and Miller had a little back and forth before Fabio made the move stick and claimed 5th place, as further back Taka Nakagami crashed out of the race. On lap 9 Enea Bastianini passed Valentino Rossi, demoting The Doctor to 11th, while a lap later Jack Miller re-took 5th place from Fabio Quartararo.

Alex Rins recorded his 6th DNF of the season as he crashed out of 3rd place at turn 6, surely not how the Suzuki man wanted to end his season. By lap 15 Pecco was all over Jorge Martin, and was able to make his way into the lead of the race with a move at the final corner. Pecco immediately began to pull away from Jorge, and a few laps later Miller had joined the Ducati party at the front as he took over 3rd place from Joan Mir.

Further back, Franky Morbidelli was closing on his mentor Valentino for 10th, and it was nice to see Franky being able to keep his pace going this late in the race as he continues his return from injury. Out front, Pecco, Jorge and Jack scorched across the line to hand Ducati their first ever premier class podium lock out!

Jorge’s 2nd place finish was enough to secure him the Rookie of the year title – an impressive achievement considering the injuries he sustained early in the season, and the races he missed as he recovered. It was also a great ride on Sunday considering he had been unwell all through Saturday night – he hadn’t slept much, and hadn’t eaten anything since Saturday lunch time. Jorge admitted that he was feeling very weak after the race, and even missed the post-race press conference to visit the medical centre. Thankfully, he had recovered enough to attend the awards gala on Sunday evening!

Pecco’s win was his 4th of the season, and he dedicated it to Valentino Rossi for all he has done for him and all of the Academy riders. I do think it’s rather fitting that Valentino’s final race was won by one of his Academy riders – we may be losing an absolute icon, but the legacy he leaves behind is a strong one!

Talking of Valentino – he finished his final race in 10th place, and the scenes post-race were truly something to behold. The whole grid came to a stop and waited for Valentino – once he arrived, they all applauded him and he made his way around many of them for hugs. Fabio Quartararo somewhere along the way had picked up a yellow 46 flag which he carried with him back to the pits, as did Aleix Espargaro.

I’m fairly certain that Valentino broke the record for the longest ever cool down lap – he took his sweet time, acknowledging fans and high fiving marshals before pulling some wheelies. I don’t think its an exaggeration to say that almost the entire paddock was in pitlane to welcome him back – he was mobbed all the way back to his pit box! Suzuki had prepared a banner thanking Valentino, and he rode underneath it as his made his way down pit lane – a lovely touch from a manufacturer that he never even raced for.

He eventually made it back to the front of his pit box and he stood on top of his bike to wave to the fans in the grandstands opposite before he was lofted onto someone’s shoulders to chants of “VALE, VALE!”

The celebrations continued back in the garage, with Valentino joined by friends, Academy riders and many others as they celebrated the end of an illustrious career.

There has been so much going on this weekend – including the FIM MotoGP Awards – and I am quite sure that I haven’t covered it all, but I’ll do my best to get it all into the season review. Until then, I’ll finish with the most appropriate two words I can think of – Grazie Vale.

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