Dani Pedrosa beat the MotoGP title contenders to claim Honda's first race win for over a year at Laguna Seca on Sunday, but it was almost taken away from him at the very final turn.
Having blasted past Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner into turn one, Pedrosa unexpectedly found the pace to pull away from the championship leaders. The Repsol Honda rider was 3.3sec clear of pre-race favourite Rossi by the halfway stage of the 32 laps, before conceding ground gradually in the closing stages.
The last lap began with Pedrosa still an apparently safe 1.573sec in front of Rossi, but Pedrosa then backed off too much - dropping his lap time into the 1min 23sec for the first time since lap two. By contrast, Rossi's last lap was a low 1min 22sec, putting the Italian almost within striking distance with just a few corners to go.
The reigning six time MotoGP world champion attempted to outbrake Pedrosa into the final hairpin, but it was too much of stretch and Pedrosa held on to win by just 0.344sec.
Afterwards, Pedrosa admitted he had miscalculated his advantage.
“I got a good start, I was able to get into a good rhythm straight away and my pace was a little better than in practice. Perhaps my only mistake here was to slow down too much on the last lap because I didn't realise how close Valentino was,” he confessed. “Anyway, it was a great race, a great day and it's a great feeling.”
Pedrosa and Honda's last victory was in round seven of the 2008 championship, a gap of 18 races - during which he has suffered repeated injury.
“This is a fantastic win for us and it's a great feeling after such a long time without a victory,” said Dani. “The start to the season has been really difficult and actually it's been tough since Sachsenring last year because I've had a lot of injuries and I haven't been able to ride at 100 per cent for a long time, or train properly.
“But my team and Honda never gave up and I'd like to thank everyone who's been working really hard to help me get back to this position. I'd also like to thank the doctors who have treated me because there have been quite a few of them!”
Pedrosa is now back up to fourth in the world championship, but 43 behind third placed Casey Stoner and 59 behind title leader Rossi.