The final Moto GP race of the 2008 season was a bit of a snoozefest, as the race for the lead was effectively over at the second corner. 2007 champion Casey Stoner pushed his Marlboro Ducati past fast-starting Dani Pedrosa and his Repsol Honda and serenely motored off into the distance, damaged left wrist and all.
Pedrosa had a similar lonely ride to second.
Last podium spot went to world champion-elect Valentino Rossi. He’d qualified far back, in 10th place on the fourth row, and had a long way to go to catch the leaders. "We made a mess of the only dry practice session," he said frankly. "As always though [in the race] we found a way and my team gave me a good bike, which meant I was able to get a great start and then have some fun passing people. Once I got to third there was no way to catch Dani and so it wasn’t such an exciting race from then on."
Things strung out pretty quickly, although fourth through seventh provided some entertainment with Andrea Dovizioso, Nicky Hayden, Colin Edwards, and Shinya Nakano all fighting hard.
The Dovizioso/Hayden scrap was particularly entertaining, as Dovi is taking the second factory Honda ride from Hayden, and Hayden obviously wanted to do well in his last race for Honda.
Ever the class act, Nicky had a new set of leathers with "9 great years" (referring to his Honda time) across the back. He’d been fastest in all the wet practice sessions and qualified on the front row, but had a big crash in the morning warm-up on race day. "I had to swap bikes for the race and my crew had to change a lot of stuff: calipers, swing arm and so on. My other bike didn’t feel so smooth. It wasn’t too bad but I definitely liked my first bike better, but that was my fault.
"I have to [say] thanks to my team, to Honda, to Michelin and to everybody here. They made me a world champ; I’m grateful to them all."
As I say, a class act to the end, particularly after being savaged recently in the Spanish press by Alberto Puig, the guy who effectively runs the HRC Honda team on behalf of his protege Dani Pedrosa — Hayden’s so-called team-mate for the last three seasons. Hayden did make one silent comment about that; on the windscreen of his bike where his name is usually placed, the decal this weekend said, "No hypocrite." No question he’s looking forward to his first tests — today — on the Ducati Desmosedici he’ll be racing next year alongside Casey Stoner.
Farther back, Marco Melandri rode his Ducati perhaps the best he has all year, making a point of getting past Kawasaki’s John Hopkins — who he’ll be partnering with in 2009 — until he missed a gear and ran off briefly. Still, it was an encouraging run for the Italian, no doubt doing his confidence some good after a horrible season on a bike he simply couldn’t ride.
He’s taking Anthony West’s place, who has been dumped from the squad and from Moto GP and will be returning to a good ride in World Supersport 600s next year. Another loss to the field is Shinya Nakano; despite a ninth-place finish in the series this year he also has no ride and has reportedly signed with Aprilia to ride their new World Superbike contender alongside Max Biaggi.
Today (Monday, Oct. 27) most of the teams are testing at the Valencia track so everyone gets a chance to ride with their new teams on the new spec Bridgestone tires. That should be at least as interesting as the last race was.