Twenty years pass in a blink. Was it really two decades ago that Regis Laconi became the last Frenchman to win a premier class race at that very first Grand Prix at the circuit on the outskirts of Valencia? So much has happened to MotoGP™ since that September afternoon. The circuit, named after local hero and World Champion Ricardo Tormo who died of leukaemia, has staged some memorable races in the last 20 years. Since 2002 the track has been the venue for final Grand Prix of the season. Many a World Championship in all three classes has been decided on the tight twisty 4-kilometre circuit, and all witnessed by vast, noisy and patriotic crowds. The track is surrounded by packed grandstands and produces an atmosphere more akin to a big football stadium. Then, there are the fireworks!
Where do you start? Valentino Rossi signing off his Honda career with victory in 2003 on the machine sporting an Austin Powers paint theme. Three years later the late Nicky Hayden winning the MotoGP™ World title in the race in which Rossi crashed and World Superbike supremo Troy Bayliss secured his one and only Grand Prix win. Certainly in the paddock, and especially the media centre, Hayden’s third place and subsequent World title was the most popular of the past two decades.
In 2011 we arrived in Valencia grieving the death of Marco Simoncelli at the previous round in Malaysia. The weekend was a poignant reminder to us all just how dangerous the sport we love can be. Michele Pirro celebrated and honoured the life of his team-mate Marco with victory in the Moto2™ race for the devastated Gresini team. Casey Stoner then rode the finest ever final bend of the season to prevent Ben Spies winning his second Grand Prix in an amazing finish – Marco would have approved.
Nobody was prepared for 2015. The atmosphere coming into that final round of the season may have been toxic, but it was both exhilarating and so exciting to be involved. War had been declared at the previous round in Malaysia between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. It started with words, continued on the track and then in the Stewards Office. There were no grey areas for the millions of fans worldwide. Social media exploded in support of the two protagonists. Tickets for the final showdown were sold out within minutes, riot police were on standby but never required, media accreditation applications poured in from all over the World and Formula One drivers hired private jets to ensure they were there. Global interest and media coverage surrounding Grand Prix motorcycle racing had never experienced or felt anything like this before or since. By the time the 30-lap race finally got underway at 14:00 on an October afternoon, the circuit was at boiling point and ready to explode. Despite the considerable efforts of the aggrieved Rossi, it was Jorge Lorenzo who won the race from Marquez and Pedrosa to clinch the World title to conclude a couple of weeks the sport will never forget.
For me, that day in Valencia was so special and it had nothing to do with Rossi or Marquez. I’d been reporting on Grand Prix racing for 37 years and it was such a barren time for British riders. The likes of Jeremy McWilliams, Bradley Smith and Scott Redding had brightened the gloom with Grands Prix wins but never had I witnessed a British World title since Barry Sheene way, way back in 1977. A lad from the West Country changed all that in Valencia. Danny Kent’s ninth place in the Moto3™ race, at last, brought Great Britain a World title after such a long wait.
No World titles to be settled on Sunday as the curtain drops on the season but Valencia never fails to come up with the goods. Hopefully, we’ll be treated to some late autumn sunshine, the fireworks and, of course, the end of season party.