Rossi wins frantic Valencia finale
31 October 2004
Valentino Rossi has won the 16th and final round of the 2004 MotoGP season, the Valencia Grand Prix, after battling bar-to-bar with the likes of Troy Bayliss, Nicky Hayden, Makoto Tamada and finally Max Biaggi to take his ninth victory of the year - in front of 122,000 fanatical fans.
The recently crowned six-times world champion slipped to sixth at the start - behind Hayden, Gibernau, Bayliss, Biaggi and Tamada - but by the end of first lap the Italian had clawed his way up to fourth, having sliced past Hayden and Bayliss.
The Yamaha star then benefited from an increasing heated battle between Gibernau and Biaggi - the pair both running wide on lap two after swapping positions several times – handing Rossi second place... but Tamada had set off like a rocket and by then already held a 1.3secs lead.
But with a clear track ahead of him for the first time, Rossi quickly began reeling the Japanese in – and by lap four was locked on to the Camel Honda rider's rear Bridgestone. However, Hayden remained in touch, while the still battling Gibernau and Biaggi slipped further away.
Rossi outsmarted Tamada with a neat dive underneath the RCV rider in the short squirt between two right hand corner apexes shortly after – but Makoto couldn't be shaken and just two laps later outbraked the Italian into turn one to regain the lead.
Meanwhile, the second Camel machine of Biaggi was also making an impact – Max having finally broken clear of Gibernau and now closing fast on the leading trio ahead of him. The former 250cc world champion would catch the group on lap 8 of 30, and all four would remain nose-to-tail until Biaggi snatched third from Hayden at the halfway mark.
That proved the catalyst for Rossi's second attack on Tamada and - having been studying his opponent carefully ever since losing the lead - produced another neat pass through the twisty middle section of the lap, then crucially held off the Honda's rider's attack with a tight line down the home straight.
Rossi would ultimately never be headed, but the action was far from over with Bayliss - riding in his final race for Ducati - having passed Gibernau for fifth on lap 11 and within five laps had caught the lead group, with Hayden first in his sights.
But the American would be spared, for now, when second placed Tamada appeared to lose drive out of the final turn on lap 17 – allowing both Biaggi and Hayden ahead, and making the Japanese Troy's first victim among the lead quartet... The double GP winner would be passed by Bayliss within a lap.
With 10 to go Rossi had a slim but significant 1.5secs lead, while Biaggi was being forced to defend second from Hayden, until the American got frightening sideways under braking into turn one, forcing him to ride wide (after narrowly avoiding hitting the back of Biaggi's machine) - handing Bayliss third and Tamada fourth in the process.
Hayden's fortunes would get even worse a lap later when he lost the front of his RCV heading onto the back straight – did all he could to lift it – but then, inevitably, span out into retirement... much to the dismay of the watching Michael Jordan.
The #69's downfall provided Gibernau with fifth position, and the home hero would mount something of a revival in the closing stages, catching and then passing long time leader Tamada into the final turn, to claim fourth position with two laps to go.
Meanwhile, all attention was back up front as a charging Biaggi began to close Rossi's lead from 2secs to just 1 as the last lap began. The tension in the Yamaha pits increased further as the Roman dropped the gap to 0.8secs at the end of the first sector, and then 0.7secs at the next checkpoint, before taking the final chequered flag of the 2004 season just 0.4secs behind the victorious Rossi.
The win was Rossi's ninth of the year - matching his achievements with Repsol Honda in 2003 - and, despite Ducati bound team-mate Carlos Checa falling on his way to 14th, it was enough to hand the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha team the 2004 teams' world championship.
The man Checa has now been confirmed as replacing at Ducati, Troy Bayliss, took the flag 2.7secs back for his first podium of the season and his fourth and final top three on a Desmosedici.
The Australian also equalled the Marlboro team's best finish of the season and beat Loris Capirossi, who never featured at the front today, by six places and 25-seconds – doing his 2005 job prospects no harm.
Further back, a clearly disappointed Gibernau duly claimed fourth ahead of Tamada, while Alex Barros won the battle as best of the rest, after fighting back from a terrible start (he was 14th at the end of lap 1) to finish 9secs in front of Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano.
Nakano's result nets the Japanese tenth in the riders' championship since his rivals for the position, Ruben Xaus and Marco Melandri, both crashed out – Xaus in spectacular cart-wheeling fashion.
Behind Nakano, Colin Edwards had a disappointing final race for Telefonica Honda; the Texan was ninth on lap one and just one place higher 30 laps later.
Norick Abe finished what looks like being his final MotoGP race in 10th while Hofmann, Hopkins, McWilliams, Checa and Hodgson completed the points finishers.
Full times to follow...