The 2009 MotoGP weekend at Valencia will be one that features in motorcycle racing trivia contests for many, many years to come. Both the 250 and the MotoGP races started with grids slightly different from those set during qualifying. While the alteration to the 250 grid was understandable - Alex Debon was in too much pain to race from the pole position he set on Saturday - the events leading up to the modified MotoGP grid were just plain bizarre.
As the pack sat on the grid waiting for the red lights to dim, one spot remained empty. Casey Stoner, always the last rider to arrive on his starting position, failed to appear. So surprising was his absence that Dani Pedrosa, sitting 2nd on the grid, failed to close his visor in time for the race to start. It didn't hinder him, though, as he entered the first corner in the lead, as is his wont.
So where was Casey Stoner? In an incident as bizarre as it was unexpected, the Australian had highsided off during the warm up lap, being tossed off his bike as he pitched it into Turn 2. After Stoner's crash speculation immediately turned to the cause. The consensus of opinion in the press room was that Stoner had got in too hot on cold tires, and this had thrown him off. The assembled press looked forward to hearing from Stoner himself the reason for his crash in the customary press debrief.
The chaos and excitement of the final MotoGP race threw a spanner in the works of the regular press debriefing schedule, and Stoner's usual slot got lost in the melee. It slipped back until after Nicky Hayden's slot, and the press was told to stand by, as Stoner would be appearing soon. Journalists mingled, chewing the fat with Nicky and his brother Roger, but after half an hour, they slipped away one by one, finally giving up on talking to Casey and finding out his side of the story.
Instead, upon returning to the press room, a press release awaited us, explaining what happened from the point of view of technical guru Filippo Preziosi and Casey Stoner. Both stated that it was a failure of their warm up lap strategy, the first time it had failed in the two years they had used it. The strategy consists of hanging back in the early part of the lap, while pushing hard to get heat into the tires, arriving late and with warm tires, ready to get away from the line and push as hard as possible from the off. This strategy has given Stoner an almost unbeatable advantage in early laps in many races over the past two years, helping him to amass as many victories as the legendary Freddie Spencer.
According to the Ducati press release, Preziosi explained Stoner's crash thus: "We've been using this grid strategy for the past two season, but the only risk is that the tyres are colder than they should be for the warm-up lap. We obviously need to change this for the future and make sure there is enough temperature in the tyre. It is the first time it has happened in two years but once is already too much so we will look to improve on that. We have some ideas already and we will have something different in place for the first race of next season." Stoner concurred: "Obviously this is a frustrating and disappointing way to finish the season. There have been plenty of highs and lows throughout the year and we have ended on a low, but with another lesson learnt for next season. We have had this strategy for two years and not had a problem until today so I guess it is better it happened here than in the first race of next season in Qatar!"
Unfortunately, due to the scheduling problems with the press, the media were unable to hear directly from Casey Stoner what the problem was, how he thought it had occurred, and the ideas he had for fixing it. Testing for the 2010 season starts here tomorrow, and the teams and the media are staying on at Valencia for those tests. The subject is sure to come up again at some time over the next few days.