Danny Kent has described ending Britain's 38-year wait for a grand prix world title as “the best day of my life” after a ninth place finish was enough to claim the 2015 Moto3 world championship by six points.
In a nervy affair at Valencia, in which Miguel Oliveira ensured Kent needed a point-scoring finish by winning the race, the Englishman stayed out of trouble to become the first British grand prix champion since Barry Sheene.
Speaking in the post race press conference, Kent oozed relief a day after a disastrous qualifying performance on Saturday saw him starting his final race in the class from 18th on the grid.
“To be called world champion gives me goose bumps. It's a dream come true for any rider and being British, it's been 38 years, so it means even more than it might for the Spanish riders as there's a Spanish champion every year! You don't get that in England so it's a great feeling.
The 18th and final race of the year was Kent's fourth opportunity to secure a title that had seemed inevitable when he splashed to a commanding win in front of home fans in Silverstone in August.
Leaving the Northamptonshire track, the 21-year old's lead over Enea Bastianini stood at 70 points, with Oliveira a further 40 back of the Italian.
Yet an assortment of nerves, bad luck and mistakes ensured Kent and his Leopard Racing Honda squad were made to sweat as Oliveira whittled down his advantage to 24 coming to the Circuito Ricardo Tormo.
Kent admitted managing his title advantage during the three flyaway races, where he scored just 19 points from a possible 75, was a trying experience but should not overshadow his stunning first half of the year.
“It's been a difficult few races. Luckily we were able to get that big points lead in the beginning of the year. A lot of people seem to be forgetting what we did earlier in the year, we have 18 races and after those races we had the most points. I'm happy for me, my family, the team and everybody.
“A lot of people have been asking about the pressure and I've had to say 'no, no pressure' as Oliveira is reading all of these interviews! It's normal to have pressure and I put a lot of pressure on myself as I want to go out there and do my best. Because we had such a great start to the year, doing what we did, we had a big target on our back and in Moto3 it's not easy to pull away 10 seconds.”
On the race itself, Kent re-stated that if he knew he couldn't win the race then steering clear of trouble was his first priority. Ending the first lap 15th, he negotiated his way towards the edge of the top ten.
However, as the chequered flag slowly edged closer, Kent's team-mate Hiroki Ono rode in close proximity to the champion-to-be as Philip Oettl closed in from behind.
In the end, Niccolo Antonelli's wild lunge, that took out Romano Fenati and Efren Vazquez, meant Kent secured a top ten finish.
“The whole race I was just thinking 'stay on the bike'. I made it clear on Thursday that unless we could win the race easily, we'd be trying to stay out of the mix and do what we needed to do to win the championship.
“For the first few laps I was looking at my pit board and thinking 'I don't feel safe here', if I lost one place the championship would be over. I tried to get into a rhythm, warm the tyres up and step-by-step I started to move forwards one place at a time.
“We got to one point in the race where I looked behind and there was a two and a half second gap behind us so I thought I should just stay there, out of trouble and in a safe position to take the title.”
Kent's achievement is the result of a remarkable turnaround that became apparent as early as the second race of 2015. An 8.5 second win in Texas was soon followed by a similar performance in Argentina.
In total, the Englishman won five times in the first nine races, a period when he finished off the podium just once. Even then, in Le Mans, that was through a freak qualifying session which forced him to start from 31st.
Pointing to a good feeling with the bike and team, along with an improved training programme through the winter months, Kent's newly found self confidence worked wonders and ultimately won him the title.
“We worked hard in the winter testing on our race pace rather than just lap times and in the first half of the year it paid off. Big thanks to my crew chief as it was his idea to work on base settings and race feeling rather than lap times.
“For confidence this year in a whole has changed me. I believe in myself a lot more than what I did in the past. I've always sort of doubted myself but in the first part of this year when we were winning races by 10 seconds I realised I could do this.
“All six victories were special but of course the best for me has to be Silverstone. It was very difficult conditions and going around seeing all the English flags out there gave me goose bumps.”
His final race in the junior category, Kent now graduates to the Moto2 category with Kiefer Racing as, rather ironically, Oliveira will sit on the other side of his garage as team-mate. Looking at the year Alex Rins has enjoyed, Kent is going there with aims of being instantly competitive.
“I believe we can be strong in Moto2 next year, Rins has shown what he can do in a rookie year and that's just down to hard work and a great team behind him. After such a great year this year, motivation going into the winter is going to be high. We have a two-day test next week and it'll be good to have those two days as I can start my preparations on my body ready for next year to see where we're struggling.
“In the test I'm just going to try and do as many laps as possible to get a feeling with the bike. I told the team it was very important for us to do a test before the winter break as I didn't want to go through those months thinking 'How does a Moto2 feel again?'. At least we get two days on the bike and I can start seeing where I need to improve.”