In an ideal world, championships are settled in a straight fight between the main contenders in the final race of the season. Unfortunately, the world we live in is far from ideal - as the ever-dwindling stock of prototype machines on the grid testifies - and so the last race of the year can be a bit of a formality. In 2012, with the champions in all three classes securing their titles during the flyaways, there is not much more at stake at Valencia.
Except pride. And given that pride is what motivates a motorcycle racer above all else, that means that there is every reason to hope for a real treat at Valencia on Sunday. This is the last race of the season, the last chance to prove your worth, to silence your doubters, to settle those scores before the long winter begins. No need to be conservative here, no need to calculate the odds. You can take that chance, take a risk and crash out trying. At the last race of the season, you go all in, as Nicky Hayden's leathers proclaimed at Valencia in 2006, when it looked like he might miss out on his first ever MotoGP title.
And there is a lot of pride at stake. Jorge Lorenzo wrapped up the MotoGP title by finishing second at Phillip Island, but he has not won a race since Misano. What is worse, he has not won a race in which both Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner finished since Mugello, nine races ago back in July. Lorenzo's championship has been near perfect, six wins, ten second places, his only failure a DNF caused when Alvaro Bautista took him out at Assen. There would be no shame in another second-place finish, nor even much shame in a third, but a win in Valencia would be the crowning achievement of his season. His seventh victory would put him ahead of both Pedrosa (six) and Stoner (five) in wins this season, an important statistic going into 2013.
But Lorenzo faces an unleashed Dani Pedrosa, the Repsol Honda man having his best ever season in MotoGP. Pedrosa has finally had a season without major injury, and it has shown in his results. Pedrosa has won five of the last seven races, falling short only twice. Once through no fault of his own, demoted to the back of the grid at Misano due to a foul up by his team, and another time at Phillip Island, when in his eagerness to put some space between himself and Lorenzo, he got into the Honda Hairpin too deep, and lost the front over a piece of poor quality tarmac. A win at Valencia - a track he does exceedingly well at - would put him ahead of Lorenzo in the number of wins, and make him the moral victor in the 2012 championship. It will also serve to intimidate Lorenzo ahead of 2013, providing a useful psychological advantage going into the winter.
And then there is Casey Stoner. Despite an ankle injury that still leaves him limping, the Australian made good on his promise to win at Phillip Island two weeks ago. When tracks go left, Stoner can rest up his ankle, meaning he is not slowed by the injury. In his very last race, Stoner will want to go out on a high, making the point as graphically as possible that he is leaving the series because HE is unhappy with IT, not the other way around. Valencia, though, is a tougher proposition than Phillip Island: in Australia, there were few spots which required really hard braking, so Stoner was not forced to compensate for his ankle very much. At Valencia, that is not the case, with a number of places round the circuit where Stoner will be forced to bear more weight on his arms, draining him of energy. In pure number terms, a Stoner win would leave all three top men with six wins a piece, a fairly accurate reflection of just how finely balanced the 2012 MotoGP season has been throughout.
The fact that this is Casey Stoner's very last MotoGP race is reason enough to watch Valencia, though, whatever the outcome. Though the circuit may be, in the words of Stoner's arch enemy Valentino Rossi, 'a Mickey Mouse track' it still has a couple of spots worth savoring. Watching the Australian drift down the endless left-hander of Turn 14, up and over the crest and down towards the tight final turn, is one of the most visceral and jaw-dropping sights a race fan can see. That sight alone is worth the entrance fee.
Valencia also marks another final appearance, though this one is cause for great joy, rather than great sadness. The marriage of Ducati to Valentino Rossi turned out to be a tale of star-crossed lovers, rather than matrimonial bliss and glory, and Valencia sees the final chapter in their fruitless alliance. Ducati failed to turn the bike into something which Rossi could ride, Rossi failed to adapt his style - and perhaps more significantly, his mindset - to the Desmosedici, and crew chief Jeremy Burgess' bag of tricks, which served him so very faithfully at both Honda and Yamaha, turned out to be worthless with the Ducati. Nobody comes out of this affair smelling of anything but the dank reek of failure, and it is fitting that the alliance should come to an end at Valencia, a circuit at which Rossi has had little good fortune. Last season, his race lasted just a few hundred meters, the Italian finding himself taken out in the first corner by a chain reaction triggered by a coming together of Andrea Dovizioso and Alvaro Bautista. On Tuesday, a new chapter begins, between two ex-lovers between whom the old flame never really went out. Whenever Valentino Rossi has referred to the Desmosedici over the past two seasons, he has always spoke of "the Ducati". From Tuesday, he can go back to calling his bike "my M1".
Ironically, the Valencia circuit may the best it has ever been for the Ducatis in 2012. The track has been resurfaced, and both Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi have suffered most on bumpy tracks, the bumps unsettling the Ducati and making it difficult to both steer and get out of corners. Nice, smooth, freshly laid tarmac could be just what The Doctor ordered. A win is an impossibility, barring a downpour, but just being in sight of the leading group would count as progress for Ducati.
There is one title that remains to be settled at Valencia: that of the best CRT. Aspar teammates Aleix Espargaro and Randy De Puniet have battled over the spot as best CRT finisher all season long, even getting close to the factory prototypes by the end of the year. Espargaro currently leads De Puniet by eleven points, which should be good enough to clinch the spot as best CRT finisher. To prevent him, De Puniet would have to finish 5th while Esparagaro crashes out. Given that the best result of any CRT machine this season has been 8th, moving up among the really fast guys looks beyond the realms of the possible.
So there are many reasons to watch the races at Valencia, even though no titles are at stake. This is the last time to see the sublime beauty of Casey Stoner on a MotoGP bike; the last time to see the horror show that has been Valentino Rossi on the Ducati; the last chance to see Marc Marquez work his magic in Moto2 - the Spaniard will be moving up to MotoGP in 2013, where his speed or lack of it will reveal exactly how much of his current success was deserved, and how much down to alleged shenanigans by his crew. The last time to see Marquez go head-to-head with Pol Espargaro, which has provided one of the greatest junior class rivalries since Dani Pedrosa fought Casey Stoner back in 2005, or Loris Capirossi did battle with teammate Tetsuya Harada in 1998. Time may pass and memories fade, but there will be much to cherish come Sunday.