Nicky Hayden has broken Valentino Rossi's five-year domination of the MotoGP World Championship by dramatically overturning the Italian's title lead in a Valencia showdown won by 2006 WSBK champion Troy Bayliss!
Having suffered the agony of losing the world championship lead when he was torpedoed by team-mate Dani Pedrosa
last time out at Estoril, Hayden entered the final round eight-points behind Rossi - who had overcome Hayden's 51 point advantage within just five races and needed only a second place finish on Sunday, even if Hayden won his third race of the season, to take a clean sweep of all five 990cc MotoGP titles. Rossi also won the last 500cc crown in 2001.
The Italian superstar had gained a further crucial advantage over the American by qualifying on pole position at Valencia, with the Marlboro Ducatis of Bayliss and Loris Capirossi, plus Shinya Nakano's Kawasaki, separating the title contenders on the grid. But Rossi's pole and eight-point advantage would count for little if he suffered a poor start - and Sunday's showdown was also new ground for even the experienced Italian, while Hayden was focussed on a simple 'win or bust' scenario.
For the majority of the season, Hayden has fought clutch problems with his RCV - resulting in poor starts and corner entry slides - but those were finally improved after Motegi and when the red lights disappeared it was Rossi who stumbled, leaving the red Ducatis to rocket past before the title contenders collided on the charge down to turn one!
The contact wasn't intentional, Rossi had plummeted backwards at such speed that Hayden didn't have time to avoid him, and was ultimately of no consequence as both kept control. Hayden was initially ahead after the clash, but Rossi was able to outbrake the Repsol Honda rider around the outside into turn one - although by now the pair were fifth and sixth.
Hayden was quickly on the attack, passing Rossi then aiming his Repsol Honda at the fellow RCVs of Casey Stoner
and Pedrosa directly ahead, while Rossi lost a further position to Fortuna Honda's Marco Melandri. Rossi's M1 had looked a race winner for most of the weekend, but the Italian was only eleventh fastest in morning warm-up and just couldn't make progress in the early stages of the most crucial race of his career.
By contrast, the Repsol Honda plan was working perfectly - Pedrosa had overtaken Capirossi for second behind Bayliss before the end of lap one, with Hayden also passing the Italian a lap later. Pedrosa, having glanced back to check on Hayden's location, then raised his left leg on the approach to turn two on lap three and let Hayden through to second. Pedrosa, a double 2006 race winner, had promised to do all he could to make amends for his disastrous Estoril error and, to his credit, was true to his word on Sunday.
But the championship deciding moment occurred on lap five of 30 when Rossi, who had been stuck in seventh from the end of the first lap and was coming under pressure from Rizla Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen, made a mistake that ultimately cost him the 2006 world title: As he applied the power at the apex of the slow turn two, Rossi - a winner of 58 premier-class grands prix - lost the front wheel of his M1 and spiralled, at agonisingly low speed, into the gravel.
The 27-year-old rushed to his feet and remounted his machine, but the fall had left him 20th and last. Valencia, and the MotoGP world, was stunned. Whether his M1 wasn't handing as he expected, or if the pressure of a title decider had proven his downfall, is open to speculation - but a human error, from the most superhuman of riders, had put the title back in Hayden's hands.