There’s still one world championship race left (Moto GP at Valencia in two weeks) but the premier titles are settled. Yamaha is on top of the world, as Valentino Rossi in Moto GP and Ben Spies in World Superbike have both gathered in championships for the tuning fork company (as a bonus, it’s Yamaha’s first WSB title, as well).
The Moto GP race was a mess from start to finish, as two days of dry practice and qualifying went out the window when a tropical cloudburst flooded the Malaysian Sepang circuit just as the Moto GP bikes were being gridded. Everyone had to start on wet settings that were a mere guess, and choosing rain tires likewise. Rossi, with a stranglehold on the title chase over his Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, had dominated practice and qualifying, but that was out the window in the conditions.
At the lights, Rossi got an uncharacteristically good start, but got out of shape in the first turn and ended up being shuffled back to 10th before he could get back in line. To add insult to injury, within a lap his team-mate Lorenzo was on his tail, and Lorenzo had started dead last after being late and missing the warm-up lap. The two traded places a couple of times, then Rossi seemed to settle in and let Lorenzo pick a way for the both of them through the riders ahead of them.
Meanwhile, up front, Marlboro Ducati’s Casey Stoner had grabbed the lead from Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa on the second lap and simply disappeared. Stoner was in his own zone, taking two seconds or more out of the rest of the field on every lap. Once he got up to about 20 seconds, he relaxed, but still finished with a 17-second lead.
Behind him, the two factory Hondas of Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso were pretty much on their own, by about half-distance finding the Yamahas of Lorenzo and Rossi closing on them. At this point Rossi passed Lorenzo again and made it stick (getting himself into fourth, all he needed for the title) and headed out after a podium finish. He got that when Dovizioso lost the back end and crashed, and while he took some time out of Pedrosa for a few laps, he eventually settled for third and his seventh Moto GP title (making nine overall with his 250 and 125 championships).
Behind the so-called four aliens (so-named by Marco Melandri earlier this season), Nicky Hayden rode the wayward Ducati to an excellent fifth, while Chris Vermeulen, in his second-last Moto GP appearance, got an equally notable sixth after starting near the back of the grid. Vermeulen is something of a wet-weather specialist, and no doubt enjoyed the result as he’s been dropped by Suzuki for 2010 and will be joining the Kawasaki WSB team.
The race was also noteworthy for Rossi’s return to his famous post-race antics. This time his fan club mobbed the track on the cool-off lap, presenting him with a live chicken dressed up like Rossi’s race suit, plus a giant egg numbered "9" for his nine titles, and a T-shirt with a cartoon face of a chicken and the title "gallina vecchia" (the old chicken). He said, "My celebration was because in Italy we say an old chicken makes good soup but can no longer lay eggs! I am like the old chicken – 30 years now – but I have made another egg (championship)! That’s nine!"
Next and final race: Valencia, Spain, November 8.
Title standings after 16 of 17 races:
1. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Fiat Yamaha, 286 points; 2. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Fiat Yamaha, 245; 3. Casey Stoner, Australia, Marlboro Ducati, 220; 4. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 209; 5. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Repsol Honda, 152; 6. Colin Edwards, USA, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 148; 7. TIE, Marco Melandri, Italy, Kawasaki/Hayate, Loris Capirossi, Italy, Rizla Suzuki, 108; 9. TIE, Alex De Angelis, San Marino, San Carlo Gresini Honda, Toni Elias, Spain, San Carlo Gresini Honda, 105.