Unbelievable is a good word to summarize the events of the season-ending race at Valencia. The heavyweight title main event between reigning champion of five years, Valentino Rossi
, and the challenger, Nicky Hayden
, saw the Kentucky Kid get the better of his Italian rival, via The Doctor's crash on Lap 5 of the 30-lap race. Hayden motored on to a solid third-place podium finish and his first MotoGP title. Although not as big a center of attention as the obvious MotoGP
championship decision, the results of WSB champion, Troy Bayliss were astounding, as the Ducati-riding Aussie took the checkers in dominating flag-to-flag fashion. Ducati's regular ace, Loris Capirossi
, finished second to his one-race teammate. Meanwhile, Rossi, who continued racing after his crash, went on to finish 13th.
Nicky Hayden claimed the 2006 championship with his third-place finish at Valencia. The Repsol Honda ace benefited from the Lap 5 crash of his leading rival, the points-leading Valentino Rossi.
The excitement at Valencia started right off the green light, where Bayliss shot out to the lead ahead of his Ducati teammate, with the Repsol Hondas of Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden in tow. Rossi was mired further back in the latter top ten, not getting anything out of his pole position start. The leading group jockeyed for position in the beginning laps, with Hayden getting around his teammate, Pedrosa, and the Spaniard staying behind the title contender for the remainder of the race.
The battle looked underway between Hayden and Rossi, with the Repsol rider appearing to have to find a way to track down the Ducatis for the win and the precious 25 points, but then disaster struck The Doctor. On Lap 5 the venerable Rossi lost his grip and washed out into the gravel in an improbable wreck, changing the whole dynamic of the race. Now Hayden did not have to shoot for the win and settled in to a rhythm and shot for the podium instead. Rossi was not finished, however, and began a charge back up through the ranks from dead last.
With 25 laps remaining Rossi got his Camel Yamaha machine back on the pavement and was soon moving up positions as he overtook slower riders and was the beneficiary of other's DNFs. Randy de Puniet, Alex Hofmann, Jose Luis Cardoso, Chris Vermeulen, and Casey Stoner would all go on to eventual crashout DNFs, with Ilmor's Garry McCoy and Tech 3 Yamaha's James Ellison the only riders Rossi was able to pass in his desperate bid to catch Hayden.
Up front the possibility of anything other than a Ducati topping the podium was never a legitimate threat. Bayliss maintained the lead up until the sweet end, with Capirossi tailing the WSB champ. Nicky Hayden played it safe for the title and stayed in third, with Rossi having to finish eighth in order to best him in the points. Dani Pedrosa finished right behind his teammate, doing his best to atone for his incredible debacle at Estoril.
Marco Melandri rounded out the top 5, with his Fortuna Honda teammate, Toni Elias finishing sixth. Shinya Nakano concluded his Kawasaki MotoGP sojourn with a solid seventh. American riders Kenny Roberts Junior and Colin Edwards finished a respective eighth and ninth, with
The victory by Bayliss was a surprise and capped off what has already be a triumphant year for the Australian ace.
Carlos Checa laboring in 10th on the Dunlop-shod Tech 3 Yamaha. Once again, Garry McCoy scored another point on the 800cc Ilmor, by virtue of his competitors DNFs, but a MotoGP championship point all the same.
The results at Valencia were the perfect reversal for Hayden from the dramatic low of Estoril, which saw his title hopes teetering on the brink. The American's third-place finish claimed the final MotoGP championship of the 990cc era and was a fitting way for Hayden to earn the title, as it was his podium consistency, rather than flashy wins, which earned him the 2006 championship. One would assume now that the title is Hayden's for good, the boneheaded Estoril maneuver by Pedrosa will one day fade in memory.
"When you dedicate your life to something and the dream comes true it feels so good," said Hayden. "This is a proud day for me, the team and my family. I want to thank everybody back home and I hope they're partying back there in Owensboro. When I went down at the beginning of the Estoril race I thought the dream was over but I just didn't give up. Anything can happen in racing and you just keep fighting until the end. I just believe good things happen to good people and this is a great day for me. I swear on the warm-up lap this morning I was riding round in front of a full house here and I had tears in my eyes because I knew this was the chance of a lifetime and I had to go for it."
For his part, the longtime champion Rossi was gracious in defeat.
"Of course this is a big disappointment for me because to arrive at the final race with an eight-point advantage and then not win the title is a disaster," said The Doctor. "Basically I made two mistakes today - one was at the start and then the second one was the crash. It has been a very emotional season, with some great moments, some bad luck and now some mistakes. But this is racing. All I can say now is a big 'congratulations' to Nicky because he is a great guy, a great rider and he is the World Champion because he has been the best this year. I have known him a long time, I know his family well and even though I am disappointed I am also very happy for them. It has been a great fight with him this year - not like in the past with other riders when there have always been some polemics - and we have great respect for each other."
The dramatic events at Valencia, played out in much the same way as they did at Estoril: an early crash having irreparable championship consequences, coupled with an improbable race winner. Two weeks ago that improbable winner was Toni Elias, but today it was Ducati's Troy Bayliss.
"Honestly, it's been a fairytale weekend, I'm still pinching myself," said Bayliss. "I've had a great year, winning the World Superbike championship was a good start! Then just when I was kicking back I got a phone call asking if I was interested in doing this ride. It was something I couldn't knock back because I started the Desmosedici project with Loris at the end of 2002 and had some great times in 2003 and 2004, so to be able to come back and finish off the story at the last 990 race was incredible."
The Italian firm had better throw the Australian a sweet bonus because what an amazing season he has delivered in not one, but two, race series! The man annihilated the competition all season long in WSB and then, for a larf, does the same for one race in MotoGP. What was that word again? Oh yeah, unbelievable.
MotoGP Valencia Results:
1. Troy Bayliss (Ducati Marlboro)
2. Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro) +1.319
3. Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda) +9.230
4. Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) +12.065
5. Marco Melandri (Fortuna Honda) +16.306
6. Toni Elias (Fortuna Honda) +17.390
7. Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki) +19.329
8. Kenny Roberts Junior (Team Roberts) +23.174
9. Colin Edwards (Camel Yamaha) +26.072
10. Carlos Checa (Tech 3 Yamaha) +28.194
11. John Hopkins (Rizla Suzuki) +29.364
12. Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda) +29.707
13. Valentino Rossi (Camel Yamaha) +38.546
14. James Ellison (Tech 3 Yamaha) +1'20.013
15. Garry McCoy (Ilmor) +7 laps
DNF Casey Stoner (Honda LCR) +7 laps
DNF Chris Vermeulen (Rizla Suzuki) +17 laps
DNF Jose Luis Cardoso (Pramac d'Antin) +18 laps
DNF Alex Hofmann (Pramac d'Antin) +21 laps
DNF Randy de Puniet (Kawasaki) +25 laps