Hayden Takes Title As Pressure Tells On Rossi
One of the closest MotoGP title fights ended in victory for Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) at Valencia as the American cruised home in third behind Ducati riders Troy Bayliss (winner) and second-placed Loris Capirossi. It was enough for the Kentucky Kid to end the reign of Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) who fell on lap five.
The tension was palpable as this all-or-nothing 30-lap contest got underway in front of a capacity 130,000 crowd in bright sunshine with a hotter than expected 43-degree track temperature and a 32-degree ambient temperature. The scene was set for an epic World Championship decider.
Bayliss led into turn one from the lights with his team-mate Capirossi tucked close behind him and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC211V) third. But further back Hayden, who’d sped away from slot five on the grid clouted Rossi who’d had made a sluggish getaway from pole. Hayden lay sixth at turn one on lap one.
Nicky, in the space of three turns was fourth, Marco Melandri (Fortuna Honda RC211V) deprived Rossi of sixth, and Dani was then in second after stealing past Capirossi. There was plenty of intent from Honda riders intent on maximizing their own chances of end of season glory. Melandri was vying for third in the World Championship with Capirossi.
The opening laps were a hard-fought demonstration of what makes MotoGP such a compelling sport. Nicky went to third on lap two, then almost snatched the lead from Bayliss at the end of the straight on lap four, with Melandri now third. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) was working on Rossi for sixth. Rossi was perhaps biding his time, waiting to establish a rhythm, before making progress up the field shadowing the flying Hayden.
Hayden, for what it was worth, had changed the design of his leathers for this all-or-nothing race. Gone was the Kentucky Kid logo across the seat of the suit in favour of a deck of cards with the facing card a question mark – and a stack of gambling chips, with the slogan ‘All In’ laid over the top. He was riding all out – no question.
On lap five, the lap that decided the direction of the 2006 World MotoGP Championship, Nicky lay 0.3 seconds behind the inspired Troy Bayliss. And as Rossi hit the mid-point of the left-hand turn one, his machine slid from under him. The Italian and his Yamaha ended in the dirt, his title chances effectively over. He remounted in 20th place with a mountain to climb.
The order was Bayliss, Capirossi, Hayden, Melandri, Pedrosa, Stoner and Vermeulen. Rossi had too much to do and as long as Hayden could maintain station in third while Rossi lay lower than eighth, he could, against all pre-race odds lay claim to the title in a series in which he had scored in every round and won two races.
As mid-race rolled by Rossi had climbed to 16th, but he was a full 28 seconds behind race leader Bayliss. Then Vermeulen crashed and the thought loomed that sheer attrition might gift Rossi the places he needed to eat into Hayden’s chances.
As the laps ran down to the flag Hayden hung close to Capirossi ready to steal a place on the Italian if he needed to, but then as it became clear Rossi had too much to do, Nicky merely reeled off the laps he needed to clinch the biggest prize on two wheels.
With three laps to go Rossi was nine seconds shy of Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V) in 12th and barring cruel luck the crown was Nicky’s. Sure enough Mister Consistency, the ‘All-in’ Kentucky Kid, was not going throw away a lifetime’s dream and the product of four hard years dedicated to this particular task. But Mister World Champion is who he now undoubtedly is.
Finishing with 252 points to Rossi’s 247, Nicky said, “I’m so blessed. When you dedicate your life to something and it comes true it means so much. I have to thank the people around me who never stopped believing: Honda, my team, Michelin, my friends and family. It just goes to show when you keep fighting to the end and never give up then good things happen to you. I can’t really say just how much this means to me right now.”
Dani, who finished fourth, said, “I’m very happy for this result – for myself, for Nicky and for the team. The team has won every title this year – the riders’ title, the constructors, the Team title and the Rookie of the year so this is very good for us. I think we did a good job today. I made a good start and I was waiting until Nicky was behind me. When they showed me that Nicky was third and I was second I let him past and showed him with my foot where he should pass me. Then I slowed down quite a lot to give Nicky some space in second place. I didn’t push for the last five laps and brought it home.”
Melandri in fifth, and fourth overall, said, “I’m disappointed to have lost third in the championship by a single point. I had a good feeling with the bike and I was sure I would have a good race. I was really fast over the first few laps but when the tyres heated up, it got tough. I was racing hard because I wanted third in the championship and I put a lot of stress on the left of the tyre. I couldn’t ride as I wanted to and just had to focus on finishing the race as high as possible. My compliments to Nicky, he was great, well done.”
His team-mate Toni Elias (Fortuna Honda RC211V), sixth, said, “I am happy because I made a good comeback from 13th to sixth. At the start I found it tough but as the laps went by I got a good rhythm together. I made a mistake on the 20th lap but other than that I am satisfied. I have to thank my team, Fausto Gresini, my chief mechanic Cecchini and all the guys. And my compliments too to Nicky Hayden for the title.”
Kenny Roberts (Roberts KR211V) was eighth. He said, “I’d like to congratulate Nicky, and I feel for Valentino. Nicky and I have the same language, and we talk, but I’m also close to Valentino – we’ve worked with the riders’ safety committee for five years. He’s a champion whether he wins or loses… we all know that. He’s going to come back strong next year. Nicky rode well all year, and consistently, and he deserves to be up there to win the championship. So it was a fun year, and we look forward to improving.”
Tamada, 12th, said, “For this race I could not get a good qualifying time and had to start from the fifth row. It was a difficult race today. I didn’t get a good start and I didn’t have good grip from the front or rear tyres. This was my last race for the Konica Minolta Honda team and I wanted a good result, so 12th place is very disappointing. I just wish to thank all the people in the Konica Minolta team who have helped me during my stay with the team and also all our sponsors."
Casey Stoner (LCR Honda RC211V) crashed out on lap 25. He said, “Today I really I wanted to get a nice result for myself and the LCR team. But it’s strange, I don’t know what is happening – so many times recently we are fast in practice and have the perfect race set-up, the perfect tyre and then the bike feels nothing like it does in practice. Today it just wouldn’t turn like it did in practice. I’m really disappointed, after everything was so sweet at the start of the season. But I want give a big thanks to the whole LCR team who gave me this opportunity and stuck with me this year.”
Alex de Angelis, at long last (after 113 Grands Prix), won a Grand Prix, taking the 250cc victory here ahead of Roberto Locatelli and Hector Barbera in third (all Aprilia). Jorge Lorenzo (also Aprilia) was fourth and took the 2006 World 250cc title with that placing.
Locatelli got the holeshot followed by Hiro Aoyama (KTM) and Lorenzo. Andrea Dovizioso (Humangest Racing Honda RS250RW) who had a slim chance of taking the title if he could secure a podium with Lorenzo scoring less than 13 points – but it was not to be. Dovi finished seventh behind best Honda finisher Shuhei Aoyama (Repsol Honda RS250RW) who was sixth. The final points tally was 289 to Lorenzo, 272 for Dovi.
Although Dovi moved past Lorenzo in the early stages, by the closing laps Lorenzo had moved back past his doughty Italian challenger to get on track to a title Dovi had really made him fight for. Hiro Aoyama had a chance to win but threw it away when he crashed out of the lead with six laps remaining.
David de Gea, standing in for the injured Martin Cardenas, (Repsol Honda RS250RW) finished a creditable ninth while Yuki Takahashi (Humangest Racing Honda RS250RW) did not race having fallen on Friday and broken a leg.
Dovi said, “The balance of the season is for sure positive but I can not be fully satisfied as we missed power since the first race and also on some occasions I could have gained some more points in order to arrive at this final event closer to Lorenzo. Anyway, it wouldn’t have changed a lot as I struggled too much here. Congratulations to Lorenzo. He has improved a lot and he was able to take full advantage of his bike. For 2007, we will be back, but we have to work hard because it is very difficult to clinch a title under these conditions. I want to thank the whole team as they did a great job during this season.”
Said Aoyama, “I’m not really happy. I made a mistake at the start and I lost several positions. Then I tried to pass them back but it was difficult because there were many riders going faster than me so I couldn’t follow them. I really did my best, but it wasn’t enough. I definitely need more training and more experience in the class. Looking back at my first season, I’m not really satisfied with the results. I expected much more, more podium finishes – not only one in France. I need to improve.”
Spanish star Hector Faubel (Aprilia) won the 125cc race comfortably from Mika Kallio (KTM) with Faubel’s team-mate Sergio Gadea (Aprilia) third. World Champion Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia) was fourth.
Kallio got the holeshot into turn one closely followed by Pol Espargaro (Derbi) but it wasn’t long before Bautista established his superiority over the field here. Bautista then led the race until encountering machine trouble and dropping back to fourth as the podium trio overhauled him.
What eighth-placed Gabor Talmacsi (Humangest Honda RS125R) predicted would be a close race proved anything but, however Talmacsi sneaked past Mattia Pasini (Aprilia) on the last lap for his eighth place and Kallio ‘mugged’ Gadea out of the penultimate turn to steal second.
Rookie Bradley Smith (Repsol Honda RS125R), finished 12th and said, “After a tough weekend, tough qualifying and not so good grid result, the actual result in the end wasn’t too bad really. To be catching Luthi and Terol in the final laps, also catching the other Honda riders in the distance, is a positive thing but I just shows that if I got a better start position then maybe I could have been up there. Who knows, it could have been another Japan, you never know.”
Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda: 3rd.
"When you dedicate your life to something and the dream comes true it feels so good. 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 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. I've felt all year that this was my year - even at Estoril when Elias beat Rossi I believed it. I knew that, win or lose, I was going to sleep well tonight because I was gonna give it my all today."
"I got a good start and I was just fighting to get to the front in the first few laps. I saw some marks on the track and then I came round and my pitboard said "Rossi P19". Then it went to P17, P15 and P14 and it was a tough situation because I knew there was probably going to be a couple of riders pull over for him. And I knew that you can never count Valentino out - if his bike was ok then he can make up a lot of positions in a hurry. I didn't know if I was going to have to fight the guys ahead of me because if you get in a dogfight with Loris and Troy you know you're going to take some chances. But I stayed close enough that I felt like I was going to be able to go for it if I needed to. Then I saw "P3 OK" on my pitboard and I had faith in my team that they had figured it out that I was safe. Then I just tried to be smooth and ride safe. Honestly I didn't know it was over until the checkered flag. It feels really good to beat a guy like Rossi because he's a real competitor with seven world titles and that just makes it that much more rewarding."
"Dani didn't have team orders today but he let me by at the beginning of the race. We spoke last night and had a gentleman's agreement and I told him that if he helped me to win the world championship that we would be straight and I won't forget it. In two or three years from now if we're still team-mates and I can help him then I'll return the favor - he's a good man. I really want to thank everyone involved in the Repsol Honda Team, and Michelin because it's their fifth straight title in MotoGP so a big thanks to them too. I'm looking forward to getting that number-one plate on my RCV next year."
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda: 4th.
"I'm very happy for this result - for myself, for Nicky and for the team. The team has won every title this year - the riders' title, the constructors, the Team title and the Rookie of the year so this is very good for us. I think we did a good job today. I made a good start and I was waiting until Nicky was behind me. When they showed me that Nicky was third and I was second I let him passed and showed him with my foot where he should pass me. Then I slowed down quite a lot to give Nicky some space in second place. Then Melandri and Capirossi got past me but only Capirossi was able to catch Nicky again. At this point I thought Rossi was behind me so I was slowing down, slowing down to give Nicky some gap. Then they showed me that Rossi had crashed so when I saw this I tried to push again. I tried to pass Melandri and Stoner but it was not so easy. I could make a bit of a gap but already the tyres were on the limit and I had a big gap between me and Melandri and I didn't push for the last five laps and brought it home."
Marco Melandri, Fortuna Honda: 5th.
"I’m disappointed to have lost third in the championship by a single point. I had a good feeling with the bike and I was sure I would have a good race. I was really fast over the first few laps but when the tyres heated up, it got tough. I was racing hard because I wanted third in the championship and I put a lot of stress on the left of the tyre.I couldn’t ride as I wanted to and just had to focus on finishing the race as high as possible. My compliments to Nicky."
Toni Elias, Fortuna Honda: 6th.
"I am happy because I made a good comeback from thirteenth to sixth. At the start I found it tough but as the laps went by I got a good rhythm together. I made a mistake on the 20th lap but other than that I am satisfied. I have to thank my team, Fausto Gresini, my chief mechanic Cecchini and all the guys. And my compliments too to Nicky Hayden for the title."
The Valencia race also sees the end of the partnership between Honda Gresini and Fortuna, an Altadis Group brand, which has been the main sponsor of the team in 2006.
Kenny Roberts Jnr, KR211V Honda: 8th.
"I think basically I performed below average all weekend - I never got going, never felt comfortable. Whether it was me or the setting, we never were in synch. So the race was I expected it would be, unless the bike started coming to me, or unless I started riding a little different … but I was trying all I could. I just didn't have grip and I didn't have any confidence, so … We're a new team, with a new machine - it's first time here. It's a real technical track and a rider's track, and if you're off synch a little bit you really look bad."
"I saw Casey fall down, and I knew he had a chance to get me for sixth overall. Stupid as it seemed, I was trying to just score as many points as I could and not risk too much. Sixth position for this team first year out, and with me coming back from the last five years when I was not riding very well, and didn't have a machine to ride very well, is a good start. If we can say okay let's better ourselves next year, then we'll be in the top five. That's our goal."
"I'd like to congratulate Nicky, and I feel for Valentino. Nicky and I have the same language, and we talk, but I'm also close to Valentino - we've worked with the riders' safety committee for five years. He's the champion whether he wins or loses … we all know that. He's going to come back strong next year. Nicky rode well all year, and consistent, and he deserves to be up there to win the championship. So it was a fun year, and we look forward to improving."
Kenny Roberts - team owner:
"It's been an extremely good year for us. We have a great group of guys now. It's the smallest we've been in quite some years, but they all kicked in this year and did a hell of a job, and it makes a difference. Also, Kenny came to the team and brought that competitive edge back. We haven't had that for a long time, and you cannot get it or keep it going without going for pole positions and podiums. We're tickled to death with the year. We beat a lot of people we weren't supposed to beat."
"Nicky did exactly what he had to do … to forget about what happened last weekend, ride his ass off, and try to win the race. Then whatever happens is going to happen … it's out of his control. It looked like what goes around, comes around. It's great for the sport to have an American champion is great for the sport."
Makoto Tamada, Konica Minolta Honda: 12th.
"For this race I could not get a good qualifying time and had to start from the fifth row. It was a difficult race today. I didn't get a good start and I didn't have good grip from the front or rear tyre. This was my last race for the Konica Minolta Honda team and I wanted a god result so 12th place is very disappointing. I just wish to thank all the people in the Konica Minolta team who have helped me during my stay with the team and also all our sponsors."
Casey Stoner, LCR Honda: dnf – crash.
"Today I really I wanted to get a nice result for myself and the LCR team. But it’s strange, Idon’t know what is happening -- so many times recently we are fast in practices and have the perfect race set-up, the perfect tyre and then the bike feels nothing like it does in practice. Today it just wouldn’t turn like it did in practice. I’m really disappointed, after everything was so sweet at the start of the season. But I want give a big thanks to the whole LCR team who gave me this opportunity and stuck with me this year."
Shuhei Aoyama, Repsol Honda: 6th.
"I'm not really happy. I made a mistake at the start and I lost several positions. Then I tried to pass them back but it was difficult because there were many riders going faster than me so I couldn't follow them. I really did my best, but it wasn't enough. I definitely need more training and more experience in the class. Looking back at my first season, I'm not really satisfied with the results. I expected much more, more podium finishes not only one in France. My potential is not enough, I still need to improve."
Andrea Dovizioso, Humangest Honda: 7th.
"In the first lap when I changed gear and put on fourth the engine died as it happened in Australia and it took the all straight for the engine to work 100% again. I tried to catch the top group but my pace wasn't good enough and I couldn't go any faster. I went close to Lorenzo but I couldn't do anything more as he was riding calm without taking any risks. The balance of the season is for sure positive but I can not be fully satisfied as we missed power since the first race and also in some occasions I could have gain some more points in order to arrive at this final event closer to Lorenzo. Anyway, it wouldn't have changed a lot as here I struggle too much. Congratulations to Lorenzo. He has improved a lot and he was able to take full advantage of his bike. For 2007, we will be back, but we have to work hard because it is very difficult to clinch the title in these conditions. I want to thank the whole team as they did a great job during this season."
David De Gea, replacement rider for Martin Cardenas, Repsol Honda: 9th.
"I'm happy because the whole weekend has been good; I've clocked really good times. I made quite a good start but there was a moment when I lost the pace, I don't know why, but I lost the race pace when De Angelis and Aoyama passed me. Later I felt strong again and I've had Poggiali at + 0 in all laps. I did what Alberto told me, to make my race and enjoy. I expected more at the beginning but I was starting from the third row and that makes everything more difficult, but well, I made my race and made it until the finish, and that's the most important. I want to thank the team of mechanics, especially Gilles, because he has done a great job. He made a special system for the tank, hand-made by him, in order to help my riding style with this bike, because I usually lay down a lot. And he made it, because with the changes we've managed to get a better line with the bike and I think that it helped me a lot. Therefore I want to say thank you to the whole team, to the mechanics, to Dunlop and especially to Alberto and Repsol who have put their trust in me in these three races."
Aleix Espargaro, Wurth Honda BQR: 13th.
"I am really disappointed with my race. I started from a very good position but I had problems almost immediately. The quick shifter gave me problems and it was difficult to select gears. Then after a few laps the rear tyre was sliding and it was impossible for me to go forward. Not the best way to end the season."
Fabrizio Perren, Stop and Go Racing: 14th.
"The start was really good but the water temperature had built up on the start line and when I shifted into fourth gear I felt as if I had a problem. I lost two - three places. During the race I slowly gained positions and was riding in 1.38s. Late in the race I had a rear tyre problem, it was even spinning up in fifth gear. When I got to 15th I was chasing Espargaro but I could not catch him. When Aoyama crashed out I got another two points in the championship."
Arturo Tizon, Wurth Honda BQR: 18th.
"I got a good start but when Cluzel crashed he hit West and West hit me. West stayed on his bike but I crashed. I was last when I picked the bike up so I just raced to try and catch as many riders as possible. I enjoyed it and got up to 18th. Pity about the incident because the bike was really good and I could have done better."
Santiago Barragan, Molenaar Honda: 23rd.
"The setting of the bike was very good but after about six laps the rear tyre started to slide and that made it difficult for me to push harder. I enjoyed the race but naturally I would have hoped for a better finishing position."
Yuki Takahashi, Humangest Honda:
Takahashi will not race to a broken leg sustained in Friday's free practice session
Gabor Talmacsi, Humangest Honda: 8th.
"It has been a very difficult but beautiful race! The battle with Pasini has been very thrilling as I was fast in some turns while in other points he was faster; so I decided to attack at the last curve and I’m very happy that I passed him. I’m the best Honda rider in the general standing and I am satisfied for this; I want to thank the team as they worked very well throughout the season, even in the difficult moment."
Thomas Luthi, Elit Honda: 10th.
"Well that was my last 125cc grand prix, now we move on to the 250's. I had wanted to finish the season as top Honda rider but couldn't quite manage that but I fought for every meter of track. I just did not have the acceleration I needed to get off the corners. Sure I could out-brake riders but not enough. Apart from the acceleration the bike was good top sped, handling and the brakes. I have to thank the team for all their hard work for me this year they have done their best for me at every race."
Bradley Smith, Repsol Honda: 12th.
"After a tough weekend, tough qualifying and not so good grid result, the actual result in the end wasn't too bad really. To be catching Luthi and Terol in the final laps, also catching the other Honda riders in the distance, is a positive thing but I just shows that if I got a better start position then maybe I could have been up there. Who knows, it could have been another Japan, you never know. Giving yourself the opportunity with a good qualifying makes things definitely a lot easier, but I don't know, I keep on saying that and here I am. I can't change it, but if there is one thing that I got to take from this year is that I've to keep on trying to sort out the bike and to sort out my head to qualify well, because I know I can be up there. It's been an enjoyable year, I've enjoyed everything, difficult times and good times. It's been overall a great year!!"
Tito Rabat, Wurth Honda BQR: 13th.
"That was my best race I am so happy. I got a good start and a great first lap and was in the points positions immediately. It was a hard race but I really enjoyed it. The bike was very good today, engine, chassis, all. Bradley Smith caught me at about the middle of the race and pulled away a little. I was chasing him but on the last laps my engine was not revving maximum and rather than risk a crash I stayed behind him. I have two more Spanish Championship races left this year - the first one here in two weeks so this race has helped me prepare for that."
Sandro Cortese, Elit Honda: 18th.
"I have no idea what happened or why. The engine was detonating and I also had a shifter problem. I was scared the engine was going to seize so I just nursed the bike home. This was the last race of he season and I am very disappointed."
Joey Litjens, Molenaar Honda: 25th.
"My start was really good and I got to the group quickly. The bike was really fast and the handling perfect. Racing in the group I was with was really fun. It was a super race for me and it was great to race I front of such a fantastic crowd. I'm so happy to end the season riding so good."
Kazuma Watanabe, Humangest Honda: 30th.
"Incredible, I have never seen so many people at a motorcycle race! My Honda machine was okay but, in the middle of the race, the rear tyre starting to wear out and I had to slow down. Anyway, I’m very happy to have crossed the checkered flag as far as in the Portugal GP. Thanks again to Humangest Racing Team for the great opportunity."
Clement Dunikowski, FFM Honda Team: 37th.
"This morning, for the warm up everything was ok and the bike worked very well. I took a decent start but during the third lap, I broke stronger to overtake a rider with whom I was fighting but I went out of the track. I lost 20 seconds and it was quite difficult to find back a good rhythm because I was on my own. I did not drop until the end of the race and I won 8 seconds back on the group just in front of me. Finally I end in 37th place of my first Grand Prix."
Fabrizio Lai, Seedorf Racing World: dnf.
"In all races this season I have made a good start but not today. I had a clutch problem off the start and lost many, many places. I must have passed ten riders to get into the points zone I selected a neutral in the gearbox and ran straight on. As my injured hand was hurting me I decided to stop."