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Capirossi's controversial career comes to a close

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Matt Roberts | 17:55 UK time, Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Like many parents, Loris Capirossi will have gone back to the school run this week and waved his son Riccardo off at the gates with a mixture of melancholy and relief.

It has been an intense summer for the Italian, spent contemplating his own future and that of his young family before finally making the decision to hang up his leathers after 22 years as a Grand Prix motorcycle racer.

Capirossi's emotional announcement to a packed press conference at Misano will have been made all the more difficult because, deep down, he knows that on the right package he could probably still be competitive, even at the age of 38.

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However, a tumultuous season on board the Ducati has led to injuries and inconspicuousness unbefitting of a rider of his calibre. With little room for improvement from the current Desmosedici, as well a new generation of stars snapping up all the prime real estate for next season, this is as good a time as any to say goodbye.

It is also apparent that Capirossi's notorious killer edge has been blunted by time, a fact he may well have felt compelled to reflect on this week when he looked across the school playground to see Tetsuya Harada, whose daughter will be in the same class as his four-year-old son this term.

Capirossi and Harada were the protagonists of one of the most controversial finishes to a world championship season back in 1998, when they arrived at the final round of the 250cc series in Argentina with the Italian leading the Japanese by just four points.

With Valentino Rossi leading the race on the final lap, Harada held second place ahead of Capirossi, a result that would have made the Japanese world champion by merit of having more wins. But then he was brutally rammed off the track and off his bike by his then team-mate, Capirossi, who went on to clinch second place and the crown.

Eight years earlier, Capirossi had been crowned 125cc world champion in the final round of the season at Phillip Island in similarly controversial circumstances, although this time it was compatriots Fausto Gresini, Bruno Casanova and Doriano Romboni who dished out the rough treatment on his behalf.

Blocking title rival Hans Spaan at every turn, to the point that the Dutchman became so frustrated he actually threw a punch at Gresini, the Italian 'mafia' gave Capirossi the opportunity to escape at the front and seal the title by a nine-point margin.

After repeating his title triumph in 1991, Capirossi began his first spell as a 250cc rider with limited success, finishing 12th in his first year. In both 1993 and 1994, he missed out on the championship because of what he described in our interview at Misano as "my aggression, my mistakes".

Capirossi also reflected on another potential title bid in 1996, his second season as a 500cc (now MotoGP) rider, that slipped through his fingers due to a series of crashes.

It wasn't until the final race of that year that he took his first premier-class win, by which time he was already destined for a return to the quarter-litre category for 1997.

His next opportunity at the MotoGP title didn't come until a decade later. And, in my opinion, it was the big one.

The 990cc Ducati GP6 had shown enough versatility at contrasting circuits such as Jerez, Losail, Mugello and Le Mans to suggest it was a title-winning package. Thanks to podiums at each of those four circuits, Capirossi was tied with Nicky Hayden for the championship lead after six rounds as the series headed to the Circuit de Catalunya, where he had scored an historic first win for Ducati three years earlier.

However, a six-rider pile-up caused by an initial collision between Capirossi and team-mate Sete Gibernau left him out of the race - unconscious, battered and badly bruised. By the time he had bravely limped home to a single point in the next race two weeks later at Assen, Hayden was celebrating the first of two victories that would help secure the title by a five-point margin from Rossi - with Capirossi 23 points adrift.

The 800cc era has been largely unkind to Capirossi. A single win at Motegi in 2007, when Ducati team-mate Casey Stoner clinched the title, would prove - barring a miracle over the last five races of 2011 - to be his last.

It was fitting that Wayne Rainey was on hand to witness Capirossi's Italian farewell at Misano on Sunday, having been his team manager for that first 500cc win in 1996. In fact, if you watch our show from Sunday back on the iPlayer and look closely at around 00:08:48 on the timeline you will see the pair celebrating that victory together.

You can see from this clip alone that, only three years after his career-ending crash at Misano, Rainey's enthusiasm for racing remained as strong as ever so perhaps it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that his return to the Italian circuit almost two decades later was as pragmatic as it was poignant.

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Having said that, I thought his comments to Steve Parrish, in particular that he felt the circuit had been spoiled by the safety changes made in the wake of his accident, were remarkably candid and gave an unparalleled insight into the mindset of a racer.

It was something of a coup and great credit to Steve that Rainey agreed to speak to the BBC as he accepted only a handful of interviews that weekend. As well as being wonderfully evocative viewing, it also served as a timely reminder that we should never underestimate the risks the riders assume for our entertainment.

Capirossi may be struggling right now but he will continue to put everything on the line over the final five races of a glorious career - just as he has for the past 325.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I, for one, will mourn the passing of Loris once he calls it a day. He has been an incredibly entertaining rider to watch, and an extremely likeable person with it. Hats off to him.

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm new(ish) to Moto GP so I can't say too much about him, but any guy who can hang around in a very competitive sport at such an age deserves respect.

  • Comment number 3.

    Loris Capirossi is a legend, pure and simple. Shame he was never champion in the premier class, he's certainly good enough but never seemed to get the break he needed. How many of the current riders will still be competitive after 20 years? I have huge respect for his talent, and for his decision to step down. He will be sorely missed. Loris is not just a talented rider, he's a colourful character who will leave a huge hole in the sport next year. We wish him well in his retirement.

  • Comment number 4.

    Am i the only one who finds it curious that as Motegi approaches, Casey Stoner, one of the most vocal riders who do not wish to attend, is now complaining of a "mystery" tiredness that severely hampered his riding at Misano? His complaint may be genuine, but the timing is rather convenient. I hope I'm wrong. Casey is a very talented rider, but he still shows signs of immaturity at times. For example slapping Rossi in his injured shoulder at Jerez after their accident, and his comments afterwards. To question the talent of a 9-time champion was disrespectful at least. Rossi was on the floor before Casey hit him, Rossi didn't clean him up! Prove me wrong Casey. Go to Motegi and ride like we know you can. Let your results do the talking.

  • Comment number 5.

    Good blog this week, and a nice interview with Loris on the show. Steve's interview with WR was great too. Steve seems to have upped his game lately.
    How about Toseland for new commentator next year (sorry Charlie)?

    I've grown up watching Capirossi (i was in my early teens when i discovered just how awesome motorcycle racing is). I think this is the right time for him to go. But equally it isn't a time to mourn (he hasn't died) but to celebrate all the new talent and interest in MotoGP.

  • Comment number 6.

    Its a shame he no longer has any impact on the development of the Ducati; as the man who gave the engineers the info to design the 2007 bike, surely he should have had a larger say on the design of the 2011 machine?

    At the beginning of this year, so many fans of a certain rider promised me the Ducati would become an amazing bike by mid-season, and they are all now proved wrong. If Pramac jump ships and try and lease a bike from a different manufacturer, losing Loris is not terrible; too many good young guns in Moto2 deserve a chance, like Iannone et al.

    Agree with all the posts though on the topic of Capi, always seemed a nice guy and he really was one of those whose talent deserved a 500/1000/800 world title. Shame he wont achieve that or the 100 podiums but...bl**dy hell, good effort too achieve a career record like his!! That pile-up at the beginning of the 2006 Catalan GP still makes me wince.

  • Comment number 7.

    I doubt if Capirossi`s record of 22 years in GP`s will be broken, which is a great testimonial to his enthusiasm, determination and skill, let alone his 3 world titles.
    It is a shame that he is doing his last season on such a uncompetitive bike [unless your name is Casey Stoner]
    Not sure if he would of got away with that move he did on Harada if it happened these days. What i remember,it was very deliberate and as Matt says "brutal"
    But it certainly gave us allot to talk about in those days

  • Comment number 8.

    Caparossi's departure will, and already have, reduce big boys (and girls!) into tears on the day of his departure. Just to think Rossi grew up admiring him, having a Caparossi-poster-clad-bedroom, to then go on to race and beat him, is in itself mind-blowing. For me, Loris is like a terrier with a bone: never.give.up. What a legend!!

  • Comment number 9.

    Very sad to see a great racer going after an incredible 22 seasons. But he will be remembered for sure in MotoGP.

    BTW sad to know today that James Toseland ending his carer. I am absolutely in disbelief after seeing this news. He is a great lad and good luck to JT.

  • Comment number 10.

    Oh yeah, forgot to add a tribute to Toseland, cheers #9!!! His first race was so aggressive in Qatar, wonder what the Lorenzo of today would have thought of the pass Toseland made on him at turn 3!! That start to '08 was relative perfection. Pass my regards to JT if you ever see him Matt, right up until he finished up at the Nurburgring he was a credit to British track motorcycling. So also, cheers #52

 

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