Top Ten Riders Of 2011
Courtesy of SPEED.COM
The following is a very subjective ranking of the MotoGP riders based on who they were, who they are, and who they will be with a heavy emphasis placed on the season that just wrapped.
10. Cal Crutchlow
The outspoken Brit had the unenviable task of filling Ben Spies' boots for the second consecutive season. And while he again fell well short of a Spiesian performance, he flashed speed and potential (even if he also made multiple mistakes and questionable choices that led to some unusually harsh criticism from his team manager in the squad's press releases of all places…)
9. Colin Edwards
It's a bit hard for me to believe that Edwards has now been a MotoGP racer longer than he was a World Superbike hero. Edwards was again the top man on satellite machinery, but unfortunately for a racer who only needs a single MotoGP race win to truly complete his racing legacy, satellite riders don't win -- at least they didn't in the 800cc era, not even once. Edwards becomes a tester/racer/guinea pig in '12 as he goes the CRT route where he's likely to become regarded as the top man on a CRT bike. But if satellite racers didn't win, what's the best that can be hoped for a CRT man? Perhaps a wet-and-wild day will finally allow the Texan to stand atop the GP podium.
8. Nicky Hayden
Hayden is probably the best true #2 in the paddock (Ben Spies and Dani Pedrosa are #1s stuck behind better/more experienced #1s), as hard as that might be to accept for a former MotoGP World Champion. The Kentuckian's 2011 results might scream disaster on the surface, but in some ways it was a moderate success, at least when judged in context with the struggles of his megastar teammate.
7. Alvaro Bautista
Bautista made a lot of mistakes and suffered more than his fair of misfortune this past season. But there's no denying that by the end the season, the sophomore MotoGP pilot and his (now retired) Suzuki racebike were fast. Faster perhaps than the Ducatis and fast enough to be a pest to a struggling works Honda or Yamaha on occasion. With no regular teammate, it's been a bit difficult to judge whether Bautista was an absolute hero or the bike was much better than advertised, but we'll learn a lot more about the Spaniard in 2012.
6. Andrea Dovizioso
Third in the championship, sixth on the rankings, and further down the list in our hearts. Reliable and consistent, but neither quality was enough to secure him a slot on works equipment in 2012 and the solid Italian will have a very tough time indeed matching or bettering his '11 championship ranking going forward (that said, the first year of a new formula is the best time to be on a satellite bike as they will be unlikely to be far removed from the official bikes -- at least at the start of the season). Dovi is an efficient GP rider but it remains in doubt whether or not he has the magic to take the next step and become a legitimate elite-level rider.
5. Valentino Rossi
We all know that Valentino Rossi is not the fifth best rider in MotoGP but '11 was a brutal campaign for the 'Greatest of All Time.' While history will place the lion's share of the blame on Ducati, there is little denying that Rossi's legacy has taken a bit of hit as well -- certainly erasing any (unrealistic) notions that he was superhuman and could, along with crew chief Jeremy Burgess, instantly transform any racebike into a championship winner as they previously did with the four-strokes ofHonda and Yamaha. It doesn't help that Casey Stoner was far more competitive on the Desmosedici the year before and continues to pile up head-to-head statistics that are considerably superior to the Italian's. If Ducati and Rossi aren't able to turn things around in '12, the high-profile signing could go down as one of the biggest debacles in the history of motorsport.
4. Ben Spies
Spies was an unlucky man in '11 -- a rib injury here, a bum tire there, a misplaced tool here, an errant Rossi there, an illness here, and wet fall there, a bad start here, and trapped nerve there… In the end the Texan still managed to rank fifth in the championship and that's probably where he would have finished anyway, although third was not beyond question if things had fallen more his way. Spies has the innate ability and mindset required to match the likes of Stoner, Lorenzo, and Pedrosa but still needs to further adapt his riding style to get to that level on a consistent basis (although the hope is that the 1000s will better suit his hybrid SBK/GP techniques and that Yamaha will actually build one that won't allow a Honda pilot to steal away a win simply by hitting the win button on the final straight from 20 bike lengths back…).
3. Dani Pedrosa
Dani Pedrosa is probably already the best MotoGP rider to have never won a title, and, considering the era that he's in and the relative ages of his primary rivals, it has to be viewed as a relatively strong possibility that he'll eventually go down as far and away the greatest MotoGP rider to never win the crown. Pedrosa battled through more health issues in '11, but when he's fit, he can take it to the world on his best days. However, exactly where he fits in at HRC going forward will be interesting to watch after Stoner swooped in and easily outclassed him from the very first day. Pedrosa is no longer the unquestioned golden boy at Honda and how that will impact his confidence and the RCV's development remain to be seen.
2. Jorge Lorenzo
Lorenzo endured a most difficult title defense in '11. After everything went so perfectly in '10, 2011 was a hard climb all the way, thanks in no small part by the marked improvements the rival '11 RC212V boasted, which made the once ideally-balanced M1 appear borderline obsolete on occasion. After taming his riding the year before, Lorenzo was pushed back over the limit on a regular basis in hopes of willing his way to the front. In the process he demonstrated that he's arguably the racer most capable of riding bikes that are not designed to be taken beyond their capabilities to that point, but as a result, he also hit the pavement more than once and ended the year on the shelf. Lorenzo can battle Stoner head-to-head -- he just needs equipment that actually allows him to do so.
1. Casey Stoner
Like it or not, Casey Stoner is an all-time great. Just 26 years old, Stoner now has two MotoGP crowns claimed in dominant fashion and ranks fifth in career MotoGP wins, ahead of all the American legends. As mentioned above, he's actually gotten the better of Valentino Rossi during their shared time in the category and by a considerable margin, and no one expects him to slow down anytime soon. And as stellar as his 10 win, 12 pole, 16 podium '11 title campaign was, just how amazing do his Ducati years seem in hindsight? Rossi's humbling further cements the notion that only Aussie Stoner has what it takes to tame that beast -- a bike that has ruined many promising (and glittering) careers but one that Stoner somehow found a way on which to shine. Caustic, shy, irritable, whatever… the guy is a damn fine motorbike racer -- one of the best we've ever seen.