Alvaro Bautista finished at the front of a four-rider battle for eighth place that went right to the flag in Sunday's Aragon MotoGP round.
The Spanish rookie, Rizla Suzuki's only rider at the inaugural Aragon event due to Loris Capirossi's hand injury, began the race in twelfth position and took the chequered flag just 0.139sec ahead of former MotoGP championship runner-up Marco Melandri (Honda Gresini).
Pramac Ducati's Aleix Espargaro and Aspar Ducati's Hector Barbera were in turn just a fraction behind, with all four riders covered by 0.268sec!
“I had some great battles out there with de Puniet [who crashed], Barbera and some other riders and I really had fun during the race," said Bautista. "It was getting very difficult to follow Barbera on the fast back straight. This made it very difficult to overtake him and if I did manage he immediately came back past on that straight, so that made me lose more time on the guys in front and the riders behind started to catch us.
"I had to fight right until the last corner on the last lap to keep eighth place once I'd got past Barbera, I was forced to close every line and in the very last turn Melandri tried to come past but I was able to block him. Today the bike was probably not perfect because the tyres started to slide from the middle of the race onwards. I fought as hard as I could and eighth is not a bad result, but I certainly think we can do better," he added.
For Melandri, heading to World Superbike with Yamaha next season, it was another deeply disappointing race.
"It has been a bad weekend for us and the race didn't go any better," he said. "Unfortunately over the first few laps the bike was unpredictable and the front kept pushing. Even when I put together a pace that was faster than the guys in front of me there was no way I could pass them."
Espargaro, who caught the group late in the race, admitted it had been quite a contest.
"What a [battle] with Bautista and Melandri, and for just a few tenths of second I was not able to gain a better position," said the Spaniard. "After the 14th lap where I overtook de Puniet, I had a gap to recover to Melandri and the group fighting for ninth. Last lap I was getting close to the group and I managed to pass Barberà in the last few corners. In the final sprint, Bautista and Melandri finished the race in front of me with a gap of less than two tenths of second. I am still happy for the result. "
Barbera dropped from ninth to eleventh over the last two laps after struggling with power delivery for much of the race.
"At the beginning of lap three I found that I was unable to open the throttle, so my bike slid out. Then I adjusted things and I ended up with too much power. I was a little too close to the limit and was losing the bike on every turn, which led to my tyre degrading and me sliding more," he said. "I switched back to the first setting because of this.
"It worked right up until the final five or six laps, but I was clinging on by the time I crossed the line. The temperature change today perhaps threw us off a bit, but we really need to address the power delivery issue."