Bayliss wins, Rossi falls, Hayden world champion!
29 October 2006
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.
Nevertheless, the Kentuckian was far from assured championship glory, since he soon came back under attack from Capirossi - who retook second on lap eight - meaning that Rossi now only needed eighth place. Retirements ahead had raised 'Vale' to 14th by lap 12, but it was already clear that, for whatever reason, the Italian didn't posses the speed needed to reclaim the title.
Rossi's fastest lap of the race, set before his fall, was only seventh best and by the halfway stage the #46 still had over 13 seconds of open asphalt between himself and 13th placed Makoto Tamada. It was a gap he simply couldn't bridge and Rossi's only chance was a Hayden mistake.
Nicky's pit board had immediately informed him of Rossi's downfall and as the race entered its closing stages he was reminded that third position was 'ok' since, combined with Rossi's 13th place, he would take his first world title by five points. The faultless former AMA Superbike champion thus settled into a safe pace that left him equidistant between second placed Capirossi and fourth placed Pedrosa right to the chequered flag, which he crossed slumped on the tank as the shock, emotion and excitement of achieving a lifelong dream was released. It was also Honda's first title since Rossi left the team at the end of 2003.
To put Hayden's amazing achievement into perspective, he had become only the second rider ever to come from behind and win the title at the final race - and on the only previous occasion, in 1992, Wayne Rainey had been just two points behind Mick Doohan, who was also still recovering from serious injury.
Among those to congratulate Hayden was Rossi, who sportingly reached out to shake his former team-mate's hand as he rode slowly past. Hayden then removed his helmet, as he has done in his three previous race victories, and carried an American flag before stopping and lighting the traditional end-of-race fireworks.
By that time Rossi had returned to the Camel Yamaha pits, where he was greeted by a round of applause. There was nothing either Rossi or his team could really say; he had simply made a mistake and could only offer a quick hug for each team member.
Meanwhile, Bayliss had sensationally led the race from start-to-finish - responding to late pressure from Capirossi to take his first ever MotoGP victory by 1.3secs as Ducati celebrated its first ever MotoGP one-two.
It was an incredible ride for the 2006 World Superbike champion, who spent two seasons with Ducati in MotoGP before being sacked at the end of 2004. The Australian veteran had then moved to Camel Honda, where his season was prematurely ended by injury, before moving back to Ducati and WSBK for 2006 with immediate title success.
Bayliss had never ridden a 2006 Desmosedici, or Bridgestone tyres, before this weekend - when he stepped in to replace the injured Sete Gibernau - but the Australian immediately adapted to the new machinery, underlining just how talented he is. MotoGP probably never saw the best of Bayliss during his full time career and, having signed to spend another two seasons in WSBK, the 37-year-old may never line-up on the grand prix grid again, but he can be immensely satisfied at having joined an exclusive list of MotoGP and WSBK race winners.
Meanwhile, second for Capirossi gave the Italian third in the championship by a single point over Melandri, fifth on Sunday, whose team-mate Toni Elias completed the top six.
Shinya Nakano took seventh place on his final ride for Kawasaki, ahead of a poor qualifying Kenny Roberts Jr, with Rossi's team-mate Colin Edwards crossing the line one place higher than he had started, in ninth. Carlos Checa, in his final ride for Tech 3 Yamaha, finished tenth with John Hopkins the only Suzuki finisher after Vermeulen fell on 'unlucky' lap 13.
Joining the Australian on the DNF list were Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet, Honda LCR's Casey Stoner - who will ride alongside Capirossi at Ducati next season - plus d'Antin riders Alex Hofmann and Jose Luis Cardoso.
Those retirements helped Garry McCoy and the new Ilmor team to bring its 800cc machine home in fifteenth place, replicating their debut result at Estoril, and claim another world championship point despite again suffering late race technical problems.
From the 2007 season, all teams will field 800cc machines.
Valencian Grand Prix: