One of the most entertaining Moto GP seasons in recent years ended in Valencia, Spain on Sunday November 8, with a couple of the most entertaining races of the season.
The Moto GP title had been settled at the last race at Sepang in Malaysia, with Valentino Rossi taking his ninth world title, but the 250 GP prize was still up for grabs. That meant potential for carnage in Moto GP as everyone just let loose to show what they had for next season, and potential carnage in 250 GP as two riders raced for the title against a hoard of Spanish nutcases desperate to do well in their local race.
The 250 race had the bitter-sweet fillip of its being the last one ever, as the two-stroke class is being replaced by a 600 cc four-stroke series in 2010. Bad move, FIA …
The 250 contest stole all the apples, for sure. Hiroshi Aoyama, one of two riders on the only official Honda team in the field, needed only to finish 11th to clinch the title, while ’08 champ Marco Simoncelli on a Gilera (rebadged Aprilia) had to win the race and hope Aoyama had problems.
Spaniards Hector Barbera, Alvara Bautista, and Alex Debon were of course all out there with their own agendas. The drama started at the end of qualifying, as Debon took pole, then crashed on the next lap and fractured some ribs, putting him out of the final.
As the race started, Simoncelli was mired back about eighth while Aoyama had apparently figured that the best way to get any points was to be up front. Unfortunately for him, while going for second he misjudged a passing manoeuvre on Barbera and had to take to the gravel trap on the fastest corner of the track; somehow he stayed upright and rejoined … in 11th …
Meanwhile, Simoncelli had carved his way to the front, but five laps from the end crashed while dicing with Barbera, ending his challenge for the title and giving Barbera the win and Aoyama his first world title. He is the first Japanese to take one since the late, lamented Daijiro Kato took the 250 crown in 2001.
It was a superb race, and with Simoncelli, Aoyama, and Barbera all heading for Moto GP next year it’s safe to expect some fireworks from the newcomers in the top class.
The Moto GP race was a bit of a snooze by comparison, at least up front. What drama for the lead there was happened on the warm-up lap, as Ducati’s Casey Stoner managed to high-side himself out of the race and nearly out of the park before even taking his grid position.
He later blamed insufficiently warmed tires. Uh huh … He’d been at least half a second a lap faster than anyone else all weekend, so at least with him gone you might have expected a race for the lead.
Except that Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa had other ideas, got the holeshot and left, building a lead that varied from two to four seconds and taking his second victory of the season, giving Honda the double on the day. The other two "aliens," Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, followed him home on their Fiat Yamahas; Lorenzo led Rossi early but had a huge near-crash and never looked threatening after that although he stayed close.
Nearly 30 seconds behind the leaders, there was actually some pretty decent racing. Colin Edwards managed a good fourth on his Tech 3 Yamaha, thereby sneaking fifth position for the year away from Pedrosa’s team-mate Andrea Dovizioso (whose recent performances must have made him very glad Honda renewed his contract for 2010 early this year).
Nicky Hayden had a good ride on the second factory Ducati to fifth ahead of Toni Elias on the San Carlo Gresini Honda (Elias making a point about not having a Moto GP ride for next year), while an excellent seventh was newly-crowned WSB champion Ben Spies, making a wild-card appearance on a fifth Yamaha before starting his new career with the Tech 3 team for 2010.
Not only was the result remarkable in itself, he passed Dovizioso’s factory Honda in the last few laps, which gave Edwards the points he needed for his fifth overall – not a bad way to impress your new team-mate for next year.
It was a horrible end of a horrible season for Suzuki, with Loris Capirossi and Chris Vermeulen finishing 14th and 15th out of 17, suffering grip problems in the cool, windy conditions. Team manager Paul Denning said, "I have nothing to say about today’s race! The 2010 season starts tomorrow!" (with a three-day test at Valencia – Ed.).
Vermeulen, who’s been dropped by the team for 2010, made a back-handed crack in his "thank-you-everybody" farewell message by adding, "Suzuki has got a lot of work to do to get this sorted, but I really hope they are able to do that, especially for all my crew who work so hard to get things right."
Top 10 standings in Moto GP for 2009 finished this way:
1. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Fiat Yamaha, 306 points; 2. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Fiat Yamaha, 261; 3. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 234; 4. Casey Stoner, Australia, Marlboro Ducati, 220; 5. Colin Edwards, U.S.A., Tech 3 Monster Yamaha, 161; 6. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Repsol Honda, 160; 7. Toni Elias, Spain, San Carlo Gresini Honda, 115; 8. Alex De Angelis, San Marino, San Carlo Gresini Honda, 111; 9. Loris Capirossi, Italy, Rizla Suzuki, 110; 10. Marco Melandri, Italy, Hayate Kawasaki, 108.