Alex Debon went out for a test lap, but was in too much pain. So the final 250 race ever will start with a different polesitter. Debon qualified on pole, but because he won't be starting, Marco Simoncelli will be starting from pole, alongside Hector Barbera, Ratthapark Wilairot and Hiroshi Aoyama, who moves up onto the front row.
Sadly, our regular photographer Scott Jones couldn't make it to Valencia. Fortunately, we ran into Israeli TV commentator Tammy Gorali, who also happens to be a pretty mean snapper herself. She was kind enough to allow us to use some of the shots she took today during qualifying.
Results of qualifying for the 250 class at Valencia:
Results of qualifying practice for the MotoGP class:
Results of Qualifying Practice for the 125cc class:
Mike di Meglio topped the timesheets in the second session of free practice for the 250cc class, relegating the Valencian riders into a battle for 2nd. Alex Debon was the fastest of the local boys, edging out Hector Barbera by just fifteen hundredths of a second. Championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama finished the session in 4th, in good shape for this afternoon's qualifying. Marco Simoncelli, the only man capable of denying Aoyama the final 250 crown, had a more difficult time, ending the session in 8th.
Casey Stoner continues his domination of proceedings at Valencia, the fastest rider once again in the morning session of MotoGP practice. The Australian topped the timesheets just about all session, with only Jorge Lorenzo to get close. Lorenzo looked to have a firm grip on 2nd, but was bumped down to 3rd by Dani Pedrosa, who put in a blistering lap in the dying minutes of practice. Pedrosa leapfrogged over both Fiat Yamahas, leaving Valentino Rossi down in 4th behind his team mate.
Ben Spies continued his steady improvement, finishing the session in 12th, 1.377 behind Stoner's fastest time. More importantly, the Texan improved his time from yesterday by nearly nine tenths of a second.
Sergio Gadea was the fastest 125 rider in this morning's session of free practice, beating out his team mate and 2009 World Champion Julian Simon, and by quite a margin. Nico Terol was the 3rd fastest man, while Pol Espargaro made it an all-Spanish top 4 just a fraction off Terol's time. British rider Bradley Smith had another middling start, ending the session in 9th, while Scott Redding ended up 12th. De Graaf's Danny Webb finished practice with the 18th quickest time.
You would think that the secrets of how to make a MotoGP bike go faster would be kept under lock and key at all times. Not so if you're Yamaha: On Friday night, Yamaha's technical leaders Masao Furusawa and Masahiko Nakajima gave their annual presentation on what they did to the YZR-M1 to ensure that they won the championship again in 2009.
The first thing they did was identify the changes to the 2009 regulations that would be key to the development direction. They highlighted three rule changes they needed to deal with to maximize the performance of the bike:
- The tire restrictions, with just 20 slicks in two compounds and 8 wets available at each race;
- The reduction in practice, with the Friday morning session scrapped;
- The engine limits, with just 5 engines available for the final 7 races of the season.
They then pinpointed three goals that would allow Yamaha to adapt to these rule changes, and get the best out of the 2009 bike. An improvement in the chassis, to allow them to get the maximum performance out of the tires; increased reliability, while sacrificing as little performance as possible; and a refinement in the engine management system, to allow them to control what they called the vehicle dynamics.
Hector Barbera won the battle of the Valencians on the first day of practice for the 250cc class. The local hero relegated Alex Debon to 2nd place, Barbera leading Debon by over three tenths of a second. Alvaro Bautista was another three tenths behind in 3rd, ahead of championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama. Aoyama usefully put his team mate Raffaele de Rosa between himself and the only man capable of challenging him for the title, Marco Simoncelli.
Casey Stoner continued his domination of the MotoGP class during the first session of free practice at Valencia, coming in fresh from victory at Sepang to top the timesheets during practice. The Ducati rider took his time, though, spending most of the session as 2nd fastest behind Jorge Lorenzo. With 5 minutes to go, the Australian finally found the extra pace he was looking for, putting nearly four tenths of a second between himself and Lorenzo.
Lorenzo only just hung on to 2nd, Dani Pedrosa getting within five hundredths of the Fiat Yamaha man's time to take 3rd, while Valentino Rossi's mediocre run at Valencia continues, setting the 4th fastest time nearly seven tenths behind Stoner.
Ben Spies got off to a cautious start, improving on his times slowly as the session progressed. At one point, he climbed all the way up to 11th, only to drop towards the end of the session, finishing the day in 15th. But the Texan wasn't too far off the pace, just two tenths of a second behind Marco Melandri in 12th, and just over half a second outside the top 10.
Julian Simon took the first session of free practice for the 125cc class at Valencia, seizing on the opportunity to celebrate his title in front of his home fans. The Spaniard took over from the German wildcard Marcel Schrotter, who had led for much of the session, surprising almost everyone, given that he is riding a Honda as a wildcard. Schrotter eventually finished the session 3rd, with Nico Terol also lapping faster than Schrotter in the last minutes of practice, while Sergio Gadea was the 4th quickest of the 125 riders.
The British contingent got off to a slow start, Bradley Smith only managing the 13th fastest time. Scott Redding ended the session in 16th place, while the De Graaf team struggled to get their Aprilias to go, Danny Webb finishing well down the order in 24th.
Ever since its inception, the 800cc MotoGP formula has been unpopular with both the fans and the riders. The high state of engine tune has made the formula extremely expensive, as well as requiring the extensive use of electronics just to make the bikes ridable. This, in turn, has taken much of the spectacle out of the riding, requiring an incredible precision of style to get the best out of them, and making passing very difficult indeed.
The biggest problem, though, is the expense. With the cost of leasing a satellite MotoGP bike upwards of 2 million euros a year, grids are shrinking with little prospect of that trend being reversed. Something clearly needs to be done, but with the manufacturers already heavily invested in the 800cc formula, getting any change in engine capacity through the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rule-making body, is a very difficult task.
Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is determined to try, however. In an online chat with visitors to the website of the Spanish TV broadcaster RTVE, Ezpeleta explained that he intended to push forward his previously discussed plans for a return to 1000cc at this weekend's meeting of the Grand Prix Commission at Valencia. When asked if he would like to see a return to 1000cc in 2011, he replied "Right now, it is not going to be possible to switch in 2011, because the agreement with the manufacturers means that we could only make that change before the end of the 2011 season if there was unanimous agreement among the manufacturers. But we are thinking about a return to a 1000cc capacity from the start of the 2012 season, and we will start discussing it this weekend."
There is always a strange atmosphere at the final MotoGP round at Valencia. It is probably the biggest party of the season, but a sense of sadness permeates the party atmosphere, making it feel more like the wild and desperate abandon of the night before the world is due to end than the joyous celebration of racing it could be. The Valencia MotoGP round is as much parting as it is party.
That sense of loss will be even more real this year, for MotoGP fans are once again about to lose one of the great triumphs of motorcycle racing. After the 500s made way for the 990cc four-strokes, then the 990s were cast aside for the 800s, at Valencia, the 250cc bikes are due to make their final ever outing, before being consigned to the dustbin of history, pushed aside for the 600cc four-stroke Moto2 machines.
There are many perfectly rational and sound reasons for the switch from two strokes to four, not least the question of cost. With Aprilia having a virtual monopoly on the class, the Italian manufacturer could pick and choose its winners and set the price of the factory-spec RSA250 at whatever rate it wanted. And with the other manufacturers having pulled out several years ago - though Honda still has a lingering presence - that meant that competition in the class was effectively dead.
More Is Less
But despite all of their shortcomings, the 250s are going to be sorely missed. The magical combination of light weight and decent power made the bikes more than fast enough, yet still incredibly nimble. As Andrea Orlandi, crew chief to Mapfre Aspar's Alvaro Bautista put it so succinctly: "100 kilo. 100 horsepower. Perfect."