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December 15, 2011 | By Chris Martin - SPEED.COM
Courtesy of Speed.com
While the battle for official 2011 MotoGP Rookie of the Year honors was not fought in the spotlight as it had been the year before with high-profile debutants Ben Spies, Marco Simoncelli, Alvaro Bautista, and Hector Barbera, it was even more heated on track.
The season-long joust came down to the final lap of the final race, when Cal Crutchlow survived a (literal) attack from fellow MotoGP newcomer Karel Abraham, the Briton staying upright as the Czech pilot fell to the earth after the two collided in a desperate clash for the honor.
And as such the Dorna's 'Rookie of the Year' title ended up exactly where most everyone figured it would -- to Crutchlow, who continued to do his best to fill the very large boots of Spies, the rider he ably replaced the season prior with the Yamaha World Superbike outfit, scoring three wins and six poles a year after taking the World Supersport crown, and the rider whose seat he claimed again in '11 at Tech3 Racing with Spies graduating up to the official Yamaha squad.
While perhaps not quite at Spies' level in terms of sheer talent, Crutchlow managed to add his already rock-solid CV in 2011 by narrowly defeating his rookie rival.
However, while Crutchlow's performance was pretty much as expected, Abraham's came as something of a revelation.
In six years on the undercard, the 21-year-old Czech racer had never really been much more than a mid-packer (and that might be a bit generous). While he did happen to score a couple of late season Moto2 podiums in 2010 -- including a victory in the season finale -- those results only provided a degree of late justification for his advancement into the premier class in 2011, not as the reason for it. By that point he was already MotoGP-bound despite barely eking his way into the Moto2 Championship top ten with his strong finish.
A fair amount of scoffing and eye rolling took place when Abraham's '11 plans were first announced at a time when the youngster was 0-87 in Grand Prix podium attempts.
In fact, Abraham might have been held up as an prime example of everything wrong with modern day MotoGP racing, clearly buying his way to the upper ranks thanks to the money and influence of his father, Karel Abraham, Sr. owner of the Brno race circuit, the Cardion medical supplies firm, and Jr.'s race team.
However, despite being saddled with satellite Ducati equipment -- a career killer if there every was one -- as opposed to Crutchlow's comparatively sweet-handling Yamaha M1, Abraham acquitted himself quite nicely in the ruthless MotoGP battleground.
Sure, he started off slow, ranking dead last among all finishers in the season opener at Losail. And yes, he took his lumps, tossed around like a rag doll by his unforgiving Desmosedici on a number of occasions. But he also rung up eight top tens and regularly outpaced his considerably more experienced Ducati-mounted rivals, including back-to-back outings where he ranked as the fastest Ducati in qualifying (an impressive second-row sixth at Silverstone followed by a seventh slotting at Assen).
Over the course of his rookie season Abraham proved -- at the very least -- that he belonged and that was statement enough.
Karel Abraham -- SPEED.com's MotoGP Rookie of the Year.