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MotoGP close finishes - Part 1: The top 10

16 December 2010

Crash.net takes a look back at the ten closest race finishes since the start of the four-stroke MotoGP era, in 2002, then (in part 2) reveals a breakdown of the close finishes by year, rider, circuit and engine size...

1. 2006 Portuguese Grand Prix - Estoril (990cc):
Toni Elias wins by 0.002sec over Valentino Rossi.
The race considered by many to be the finest of the four-stroke era ended with eleventh-on-the-grid Toni Elias snatching his first and so far only premier-class victory from world champion Valentino Rossi by 0.002sec on the run to the chequered flag.

Elias began the last lap in third place, then overtook both Rossi and Kenny Roberts Jr into turn one! Rossi then got back in front, but Elias shot past him out of the final turn.

“I pushed until I closed up on Valentino and then passed him to lead a MotoGP race for the very first time [on lap 22 of 28],” recalled Elias. “Then I made three errors all at once and decided to back off.

“I felt very comfortable at the first corner and did not want to let the opportunity go on the final lap. Then when Rossi got me back I never gave up. I can't believe I've won my first MotoGP race!”

Rossi admitted Elias 'rode like a devil' that day.

Elias' victory for Honda Gresini remains the last time that a satellite rider has won a MotoGP race and it wasn't until 2009 that another race was won by a last lap pass.

Estoril 2006 is also remembered for the shocking collision between Repsol Honda team-mates Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa misjudged an early-race overtake, bringing down both riders and removing Hayden from the world championship lead with one round to go.

But while Camel Yamaha rider Rossi took the title advantage for the first (and last) time, he went on to lose the championship to Hayden by five points at Valencia - the same number of points he lost by finishing second to Elias at Estoril.

Former world champion Roberts Jr was just 0.176sec from victory as he took the final podium of his grand prix career and the last by Team Roberts, which withdrew from MotoGP at the end of 2007.

Roberts Jr took the lead on the penultimate lap, having thought the race was over one lap early.


2. 2003 Czech Republic Grand Prix - Brno (990cc):
Valentino Rossi wins by 0.042sec over Sete Gibernau.
After simmering over his last turn Sachsenring defeat at the hands of Sete Gibernau during the summer break (see below) Valentino Rossi struck back in perfect style with an even closer last-lap victory over the Spaniard next time out at Brno.

Having shaken off the satellite Honda of Max Biaggi and factory Ducatis of Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi, Rossi and Gibernau slugged it out for victory over the closing stages of the Czech race.

Gibernau passed Rossi for the lead on the penultimate lap, but the Repsol rider then made a gutsy outbraking move at the bottom of the hill on the final lap.

Gresini Honda rider Gibernau managed to draw alongside Rossi's factory RCV through the final corner, but Rossi got the better drive and just held on - punching the air fiercely as he laid his Sachsenring ghosts to rest, while a dejected Gibernau slammed his head into the fuel tank.

The victory marked the end of a four-race losing streak for Rossi and saw one of his most memorable celebrations.

The Italian joined members of his fan club - dressed as chain-gang prisoners, in black and white stripped clothes - who attached a ball and chain to Rossi's leg and gave him a pick axe to hit a large rock.

Rossi later explained: “The media said I was in crisis because I'd been beaten at the last four races. Leading the championship and finishing on the podium obviously isn't enough, so I must work on the chain gang!”

MotoGP rookie Bayliss joined Rossi and Gibernau on the podium to give Ducati some consolation after Capirossi retired with a technical problem.


3. 2003 German Grand Prix - Sachsenring (990cc):
Sete Gibernau wins by 0.060sec over Valentino Rossi.
Sete Gibernau claimed perhaps his most impressive MotoGP victory when he out-foxed Valentino Rossi at the final turn of the 2003 German Grand Prix.

Rossi led the majority of the race, but was reeled in by Gibernau, who had spent the early stages battling with Loris Capirossi and Marco Melandri. Rossi then let Gibernau take the lead on lap 21 of 30, in order to size up his opponent.

Gibernau couldn't break clear and the pair began the last lap just 0.23secs apart.

Rossi had been rehearsing a re-pass and eventually put his plan into action by calmly outbraking Gibernau into the downhill left hander, then took a defensive line into the final corner. Race over? Not this time…

Gibernau, realising Rossi had gone tight, stayed wide on the way in, then cut back under the Italian on the exit. The pair raced side-by-side to the flag, but with momentum on his side the Spaniard beat a shell-shocked Rossi by just 0.06secs.

"The last corner was incredible," beamed Gibernau. "Valentino ran a tight line so I had to use a dirt track manoeuvre I'd learnt at the Kenny Roberts ranch - square off the turn and run up the inside on the way out. Valentino went wide on the exit and I gassed it past him. We both wheelied off the corner, but I got to the line first.”

While Gibernau couldn't contain his delight, Rossi was left shaking his head in disbelief. Gibernau had now won four races in 2003, compared with three for factory Honda star Rossi. It was probably the most angry Rossi has looked on a MotoGP podium.

"I made a big mistake in the last corner - a stupid mistake. I went off line and it was impossible to open the throttle,” said Rossi, who also faced criticism for not pushing harder and settling the race early on, while Gibernau was stuck in traffic.

Rossi's response to the defeat, and criticism, came next time out at Brno (see above).

13 seconds behind Gibernau, Troy Bayliss took third place ahead of Ducati Marlboro team-mate Loris Capirossi.


4. 2007 Catalan Grand Prix – Catalunya (800cc):
Casey Stoner wins by 0.069sec over Valentino Rossi.
Casey Stoner's first three MotoGP race wins were dominant affairs, but the Australian underlined his title credentials by emerging victorious from his first head-to-head showdown with reigning champion Valentino Rossi at round seven in Catalunya.

The new Ducati star showed no sign of nerves, matching Rossi blow-for-blow to lead the Italian across the line by just 0.069sec at the end of the 25 laps, with Honda's Dani Pedrosa 0.390sec from victory in third.

Whilst Pedrosa was close, he wasn't able to actively participate in the thrilling victory fight, which saw Rossi and Stoner exchange the lead six times from laps 17 to 24.

Rossi crawled all over the Australian for the last two laps, rarely more than a tenth behind, but Stoner proved unshakeable in the face of such pressure and Rossi - also on the limit - had no answer.

"There were some nice passing manoeuvres going on everywhere," said Stoner. "All three of us had our strong points and our weak points around the circuit. It was such a close race, no one could go away and it was very, very enjoyable. Our bike was set up quite well for the braking points, so for Valentino to pass he usually had to run wide and we were able to pass him back immediately a lot of times.”

Rossi was magnanimous in defeat.

"Even if I'm disappointed not to win, it's a great emotion to be part of a race like that and fantastic fun,” he said. “It was an amazing battle to the end with many wonderful overtaking manoeuvres by both of us in all different parts of the track!

"Of course I'm sad because I've won a lot of times here and I wanted to win again, but I don't think I could have done anymore today. We know that we can beat Stoner, but today he rode like a god and he's a fantastic rival, so congratulations to him.”


5. 2009 Catalan Grand Prix - Circuit de Catalunya (800cc):
Valentino Rossi wins by 0.095sec over Jorge Lorenzo.
Valentino Rossi inflicted a huge psychological blow on team-mate and title rival Jorge Lorenzo with a daring last turn victory pass at Catalunya in 2009.

Rossi and Lorenzo had won two of the previous five rounds, but Rossi was trailing both Lorenzo and Casey Stoner in the world championship. The pair had also beaten Rossi at the previous Italian GP, marking Valentino's first home defeat in seven years.

Against that backdrop, Rossi was determined to strike back and deny Lorenzo in particular the huge boost of a home victory in Catalunya.

The Fiat Yamaha stars dominated the race from the first turn to the last, swapping positions four times before the last lap began - and then another four times before they reached the finish!

“I think I can honestly say that this was one of the best and hardest wins of my career,” smiled Rossi. “The two greatest battles in recent years have been with Casey at Laguna and Jorge here. At Laguna unfortunately Casey didn't make it to the end so I could relax, but here it was to the last breath.”

MotoGP had not seen a last lap victory pass since the 2006 Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril, when Elias had overtaken Rossi.

“This was a great, great victory because it went to the very last corner and it's a long time since that has happened,” confirmed Valentino. “I have dreamed about that move for the last two weeks and today it worked.”

Lorenzo did his best to shrug off the defeat.

“Of course I am sad because I put my heart on my bike and in my career I am more used to winning these last-lap fights, but today Valentino was maybe a little bit cleverer or a little bit braver than me at the very end,” he said. “I just didn't close the line enough on the final corner and that was it.”


=6. 2005 Valencia Grand Prix - Cheste (990cc):
Marco Melandri wins by 0.097sec over Nicky Hayden.
Marco Melandri was the surprise of the 2005 season and Italian followed up his debut MotoGP win in Turkey with a close victory over fellow Honda rider Nicky Hayden in the following Valencia finale.

Melandri and Hayden were left to dispute victory after the Italian's Gresini Honda team-mate, and pole sitter, Sete Gibernau suffered an engine failure early in the race.

Melandri led from start to finish, but Hayden was with him every step of the way and was right on Melandri's rear Michelin as the Italian headed for the fast left hander that leads into the final turn, for the final time.

As the pair slid their rear wheels over the crest, Melandri bobbled slightly - a mistake that looked like it could hand Nicky the race. Certainly Melandri seemed to think so and he responded with a tight defensive line into the last turn.

Hayden stayed wide and cut back in on the exit to try and out-drag his rival to the chequered flag, but Melandri kept his composure and a tidy exit allowed the young Italian to keep his Movistar machine clear of the Kentuckian by just 0.097secs.

Melandri's biggest mistake of the day came when he dropped his RCV while celebrating with the fans - while Hayden, who had been left punching the fuel tank with frustration as he crossed the line, took a few corners to regain his usual friendly demeanour.

Melandri's second win also confirmed second in the 2005 riders' world championship, marking an amazing jump in form for a rider who was just 15th overall in 2003 and 12th in 2004.

"I just can't explain how I feel at the moment. For the last two years I've ended the season injured. This year is so different," said Melandri. “When I saw Nicky was behind I tried to escape but he was too strong. I thought about letting him pass, but I know how hard it is to overtake at this circuit. It was a very tough and Nicky pushed me very hard. On the last bend, I got the bike sideways but I managed to get to the line in front.”

Valentino Rossi suffered a high-speed fall in qualifying, leaving him 15th on the grid, but worked his way through the field to end another title-winning season alongside Melandri and Hayden on the podium.


=6. 2004 Australian Grand Prix - Phillip Island (990cc):
Valentino Rossi wins by 0.097sec over Sete Gibernau.
At times the 2004 MotoGP season, Valentino Rossi's first with Yamaha, looked like it was straight from a Hollywood script - no more so than when Rossi clinched the world title with a dramatic victory at Phillip Island.

The Australian Grand Prix was the penultimate round of the year and Rossi won Yamaha's first premier-class championship since 1992 with a heart-stopping last lap victory over title rival Sete Gibernau.

Rossi - who could afford to settle for second to clinch the title - proved he had no intention of doing so by squeezing past Gibernau's Telefonica Honda at the start of the last lap.

Sete stuck to Rossi's rear wheel and pulled alongside on the high-speed approach to the Honda hairpin - both then hit the brakes as hard as they dared, with Rossi's rear wheel skipping across the asphalt, forcing him to run slightly wide.

That allowed Gibernau to dive back into the lead, before Rossi pulled off a breathtaking inside move as they accelerated up and over Lukey Heights, putting the Italian ahead with just the fast left handers to go. Rossi held on to win by just 0.097secs at the line.

“Sete made a fabulous fight of it and the last lap was fantastic and I forget how many times we overtook each other. It was a lot of fun for everybody watching,” said Rossi. "Today was a fantastic finish to a fantastic championship.”

Ten-seconds from victory, Loris Capirossi took Ducati Marlboro's first podium finish of the season after winning a tense fight with Colin Edwards, Alex Barros, Nicky Hayden, Max Biaggi and Makoto Tamada.


8. 2009 German Grand Prix - Sachsenring (800cc):
Valentino Rossi wins by 0.099sec over Jorge Lorenzo.
After stunting Jorge Lorenzo's momentum with a last turn victory pass at Catalunya (see above), Valentino Rossi claimed another close victory over the Spaniard three rounds later in Germany.

However this time Rossi was on the defensive in the closing stages, successfully containing a charging Lorenzo.

Rossi had led the field into turn one and remained at the head of a four-man group, consisting of the top four riders in the championship, until being overtaken by Ducati's Casey Stoner.

Rossi returned to the front just after mid-race distance, but now faced pressure from Lorenzo, who took the lead with five laps to go. Rossi waited until the penultimate lap to respond, diving under his fellow Fiat Yamaha rider into turn one.

The Italian then took a tight line into that same corner at the start of the last lap, denying Lorenzo of a chance to re-pass, and perfectly balanced defence and speed to claim victory by a whisker.

“This was a great race because all four leading riders in the championship were fighting very closely,” said Rossi. “It came down to another incredible battle with Lorenzo and I really had to be on top form, especially because he passed me when I wasn't expecting it. Luckily I was able to take him back and then I rode a perfect final lap with no mistakes.”

Lorenzo, who was nursing shoulder and foot injuries from the previous Laguna Seca round, said: “Passing Valentino was very difficult because he braked hard and late every time. I hoped to overtake him and then try to pull away. Of course I'm disappointed to lose another very close race.”

Joining the M1 riders on the podium was Pedrosa, who had overtaken Stoner with five laps to go but was just out of reach of the victory fight.


9. 2006 German Grand Prix - Sachsenring (990cc):
Valentino Rossi wins by 0.145sec over Marco Melandri.
Germany 2006 is the first race in the list with a victory margin of over one tenth of a second, but that's nothing to be ashamed of since the top four riders were covered by just 0.307secs at the flag!

It was an immense victory for Valentino Rossi, who began the race just eleventh on the grid and was the lone Yamaha rider battling a trio of Hondas.

Rossi moved into fourth behind the RCVs of Nicky Hayden, Marco Melandri and Dani Pedrosa on lap 9 of 30, then cut swiftly through the pack to take the lead on lap 13.

Rossi tried break away, pushing hard for the next ten laps - but the Honda trio stuck with him, despite being locked in their own battles, and the closing stages began with Rossi, Melandri, Pedrosa and Hayden nose-to-tail once again.

Melandri finally toppled fellow Italian Rossi from the lead with three laps to go, but Rossi soon retaliated, then held off simultaneous attacks during a thrilling final lap.

Rossi won by 0.145secs from Melandri, with Hayden 0.266secs from victory and fourth placed Pedrosa 0.307secs behind. It was the closest premier-class top four finish of all time.

"Last night I didn't think I could win this race, but we made a change in the morning warm-up and then again before the race and today my M1 flew,” he said.

"Once I got to the front I knew I was probably two or three tenths faster than the other guys but it wasn't enough to escape and I had to battle with Dani, Nicky and Marco – each one was a great fight.

“Marco was so strong at the end of the race and I have to give my big congratulations to him, but thankfully I got the right line in the last corner and I was able to win."


10. 2004 Catalan Grand Prix - Circuit de Catalunya (990cc):
Valentino Rossi wins by 0.159sec over Sete Gibernau.
Sete Gibernau stepped up to lead the Honda challenge against the factory's former star Valentino Rossi in 2004, but soul-destroying close defeats such as Catalunya helped send the title in Rossi and Yamaha's direction.

Gibernau, born and raised just down the road in Barcelona, did all he could to win his third victory of the year in front of a record crowd of 102,301 at Catalunya, but was powerless to prevent a late charge from Rossi.

The Italian made the final pass of an enthralling duel with two laps to go, then squeezed out a slight advantage to take the flag 0.159sec in front of Gibernau's Gresini Honda.

"To win at Mugello [the previous weekend] and Catalunya is like a dream because we knew they would be two difficult tracks for us with the long straights and the extra top speed of the Honda," said Rossi, “but our bike is really good in the turns, which meant I could go with Sete today. The race probably wasn't as much fun as Mugello, it was definitely more intense, but the points are just as important.”

Behind them, Marco Melandri clinched his first premier-class podium in a lonely third place after shaking off the attentions of Camel Honda's Max Biaggi in the first half of the race, then maintaining a comfortable advantage over Carlos Checa in the second.


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