Alvaro Bautista paid a fitting tribute to fallen star Marco Simoncelli with an emotional ride to third place in today's San Marino MotoGP.
The Gresini Honda rider capped a special day for Simoncelli's team by joining Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi on the podium at Misano, which has been renamed the World Circuit Simoncelli in memory of the flamboyant Italian rider, who was tragically killed following an accident in Malaysia in 2011.
Bautista, who managed to repel a determined challenge by Andrea Dovizioso on the Yamaha Tech 3 machine on the final lap to hold onto third after a photo finish, said he “felt Marco's hand on his shoulder” as he stormed to his maiden podium in the elite series.
“It is always nice to finish on the podium but especially for me today with this being my first in MotoGP,” said Bautista.
“Above all this is a very special weekend for me and the team because our memories of Marco are so strong coming here to the circuit named in his honour.
“After a few tough races we have worked well here and managed to fight for the podium at last,” he added.
“I am so happy for the team and for Marco because I am sure that wherever he is right now he was pushing us along.
“I could feel his hand on my shoulder today and I realised at the end that my name had come loose from my leathers so you could say it was Marco that was with us today.”
Bautista's race almost ended in the opening stages when he saved a certain crash by preventing his RC213V Honda from sliding out beneath him on his right elbow.
“It has been an extraordinary day and I almost crashed at the start – I picked myself up on my right elbow,” he said.
“I am happy for everybody who has believed in me and I want to dedicate this very special podium also to them.”
Team boss Fausti Gresini said Bautista's result would “stay in our hearts forever.”
Reflecting on a satisfying day that also saw Michele Pirro finish among the leading CRT machines at Misano, Gresini said: “What a feeling! It has been an incredible day for us and I am sure that Marco has given us a huge push from up there.
“To be on the podium with Alvaro in MotoGP and with Michele second amongst the CRTs in our colours and at this circuit named in his honour is just unforgettable and it will stay in our hearts forever.
“We needed a day like this because it gives everybody the necessary enthusiasm to keep racing.
“Tomorrow we turn a new page in our history with Marco in our hearts every single day.”
Bautista's Gresini Honda ride is the only manufacturer seat yet to be decided for 2013.