Christina Bulpett |
Image: GeeBee Pictures
A weekend that is guaranteed to go down in the MotoGP history books awaits you with the last fiesta of 2021 at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit.
After another jaw-dropping year of racing, it’s time to drop the curtain on 2021. But this time it’s not just any season finale, it’s one that will be remembered for a long time when the paddock – at least on the track – says goodbye to one of the greats. 26 seasons later, after more than 44% of all grands prix in the more than 70-year history of the sport, Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) is out. The statistics make an incredible read, but the legend speaks for itself.
While the sea of yellow fans enjoys their final date with the “Doctor”, part of his legacy will already be on the grid next to him, including the youngest winner, Ducati Lenovo’s Pecco Bagnaia Pecco. Looking back at 2020 champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Bagnaia was almost perfect in Portugal, with its metronomic pace and incredibly consistent lap times that heightened that feeling for everyone who watched. But Valencia is a place where the Italian says he struggles sometimes so it might be interesting to watch him as a breakthrough season comes to an end.
However, last year there was already good Ducati form at the venue – and even more good form from the first VR46 Academy rider to reach the top tier in MotoGP. This duel between Franky Morbidelli from Monster Energy Yamaha and Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) was an instant classic and showed more Borgo Panigale pace on a track that was traditionally not a hunting ground for them. But as Miller says, the days of X-strengths and Y-weaknesses in the bike are largely a thing of the past, so he and Pecco can be expected at the top.
Morbidelli will want to use his fond memories as a stepping stone to move forward one more time and Andrea Dovizioso (Petronas Yamaha SRT) will want to end the season on a useful tip before taking over the new Spec machine for next season. Rossi will of course be guaranteed the most spotlight, but Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) will be trying to bring something back. For a venue that treats Yamaha pretty well – the Iwata brand has eight wins here, just two of Honda’s 10s – the reigning champion doesn’t have the best record, so he’ll try to correct that and get back in style after a fall at Portimão and his only DNF of the season so far. With Ducati now in the hot seat in the battle for the team title and having already won the constructors’ crown, there is still a lot at stake.
However, when this duel between Morbidelli and Miller rounded off the 2020 season, Mir came into a racing weekend not only as a man on the verge of fame, but also as the first winner of the premier class. Constancy and podium pace were his calling card last year, but the victory finally came at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo – although in Styria it looked like it could have been close. This time around, Mir is third overall and the title fight is over, but it comes from serious form in the Algarve, including his first MotoGP top 3 in qualifying. I was Bagnaia’s main opponent last time and Valencia is swinging the form book in favor of the Suzuki driver. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) also took the front row at the European GP last year and followed Mir home on a Suzuki 1-2, with the number 42 taking fourth place in the season finale. Can the Hamamatsu factory take its first win of the season?
The fight for the Rookie of the Year is still pending. Incredibly, there are now only three points between Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama) and Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing), just ahead of the Italian. Martin probably has the better record in Valencia – he took his first win on the track in Moto3 – and it’s at home too …
Valencia is also home to Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and the number 73 comes from a great duel with Miller in Portugal, taking the honor of the top independent team in the race and almost taking another podium in the premier class. To repeat the feat he’ll have to beat Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing), who was at the top regardless of the season, as well as Rookie of the Year duelists and LCR teammates Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu). who has a great record in Valencia. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) will also want to beat his previous form at Valencia as Aprilia continues to make progress.
Even though Marc Marquez is on the sidelines, Honda’s record on the track – those 10 wins – is good read, and that’s something that both Alex Marquez and Nakagami need more motivation from. Likewise, Pol Espargaro, who had three MotoGP podiums in Valencia before arriving at the Japanese factory, and he wants another to end the season well with Honda.
The above podiums for Espargaro were with KTM, which Valencia has some history for – their first premier class podium in 2018 and then two more last year. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and team-mate Miguel Oliveira are also in serious form in the lower classes at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit and will try to end the year with some bigger placings. For Tech3 KTM Factory Racing it is also an emotional one, because both Danilo Petrucci and Iker Lecuona are saying goodbye to MotoGP. Can they swing?
Arrivederci, goodbye, ciao, but not goodbye. VR46 remains present in the paddock; a legend for millions of people and the sport itself. Petrucci and Lecuona face new challenges … and in 2021 they all take on the Circuit Ricardo Tormo again.