Capirossi's long career ends at Valencia



Capirossi's long career ends at Valencia

By Rod Hanrick

The Valencia season finale and close of the 800cc era also marked the end of the longest running career in motorcycle grand prix racing, for Loris Capirossi.

The 38-year-old Italian has accrued an amazing 328 GP starts, 29 wins and 99 podiums in his 22-season career, which started on a 125cc Honda in 1990 when he was just sixteen years old. His last season, plagued by injury and forever marred by the passing of countryman Marco Simoncelli may unfortunately be remembered as one of his worst.

Capirossi's debut in world class competition was a vastly different scene however and he was an almost overnight success, winning the 1990 125cc championship in his debut season to become the youngest rider ever to clinch a world title, a record that is still standing.

Famously, his championship victory came in the final round at Phillip Island, when he received much assistance from fellow Italians Fausto Gresini, Bruno Casanova and Doriano Romboni by acting like a swarm of bees attacking and blocking title rival, Hans Spaan who retaliated by throwing a punch at Gresini whilst swapping positions.

In 1991 he retained his 125cc title without such help before moving to the 250cc class in 1992, once again with Honda, where he finished twelfth in the championship.

Capirossi took seven race wins during the '93 and '94 season in 250, being narrowly beaten to the '93 title by long time rival Tetsuya Harada, who finished a mere four points in front, then finished third overall behind Tadayuki Okada and Max Biaggi.

1995 saw the Italian make his 500cc debut with Honda, achieving a season best third place in Barcelona. Capirossi broke his long Honda association by switching to Yamaha for the following year, taking his first 500cc win at Eastern Creek, making him the second youngest rider after Mike Hailwood to win on 125, 250 and 500cc machinery.

But he was only tenth in the championship and switched back to the 250cc class to ride a factory Aprilia in 1997.

The move paid dividends in 1998 when he secured his first and only 250cc title. However the win came under controversial circumstances after Capirossi rammed title contestant and team-mate Harada off the track during the final race of the year in Argentina.

Aprilia released Capirossi from his contract following the incident resulting in him returning to ride for Honda in the middleweight class the following year, before again finding himself atop a 500cc Honda in 2000.

That year saw Capirex become the first Italian to win at Mugello on a 500cc machine, which was to be his last 500cc win - although he took nine podiums on the way to third in the 2001 championship.

Still at Honda Pons, Capirossi claimed another milestone by becoming the last rider ever to podium a two-stroke - riding against the new breed of 990cc four-strokes - in the 2002 Pacific Grand Prix.

The Italian signed with Ducati for the next five seasons, taking his first win aboard the Desmosedici in round six in Catalunya - the first premier-class victory for the Italian factory.

2004 proved tougher for Ducati, but Capirossi gave the factory its first back-to-back race wins in late 2005, his first victories with Bridgestone tyres.

2006 will remain Capirossi's last serious title fight. He arrived at the Catalan round leading the championship, but was involved in a collision with team-mate Sete Gibernau heading into turn one.

The race was restarted but Capirossi had been knocked unconscious in the crash rendering him unfit to continue. A wounded Capirossi scored only a single point in the following two rounds, but rallied to win a further two races and claim two second places finishes.

Capirossi finished third, 23 points behind eventual champion Nicky Hayden.

The change to 800cc halted Capirossi's upward curve and, for the first time, he was beaten by a Ducati team-mate in the form of Casey Stoner, who won the title.

Capirossi took a single 800cc victory in 2007, which proved to be his last in grand prix (and the only non-Stoner 800cc win for Ducati).

The remainder of the 800cc era was completed on Suzuki and non-factory Ducati rides neither of which helped the veteran produce the results he previously enjoyed.

Capirossi leaves GP racing with an impressive record of placing 10th or better in 19 out of the 22 championships he contested, an achievement of such longevity and consistency that is unlikely to be repeated in the near future.