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Stoner wins Valencia finale

26 October 2008

Casey Stoner has won the 18th and final round of the 2008 MotoGP World Championship, in front of 118,000 fans in hot and sunny conditions at Valencia.

Dani Pedrosa produced his usual swift getaway to take the lead from Stoner into turn one, but the Ducati rider dived underneath Pedrosa's special white Repsol machine at turn two - and was never threatened thereafter.

Pedrosa did match Stoner during the early stages, the pair building a two-second lead over Nicky Hayden by lap five, but Pedrosa then began to fade and was 2.6sec behind Stoner by the halfway point of the 30 laps.

Dani's only hope was that the warm race day weather - after two days of showers - and/or Stoner's injured wrist might cause the Australian to stumble in the closing stages, but Stoner remained metronomic to the chequered flag - winning his sixth race of the season by 3.390sec and handing Ducati second place in the constructors' championship. Stoner, the 2007 world champion, had already secured second in the 2008 standings ahead of Pedrosa.

All three 2008 MotoGP World Championships - riders', teams' and constructors' - were claimed by Valentino Rossi, Fiat Yamaha and Yamaha long before Valencia, but Rossi hopes of concluding the season with a tenth victory were dealt a severe blow when he managed just tenth place in qualifying.

The Italian was up to seventh by the end of lap one, then overtook countryman Loris Capirossi for sixth on lap 3. Another Italian, Andrea Dovizioso, was Rossi's next target. The Doctor dived inside Dovi with his inside foot off the pegs into turn one, then overtook both Tech 3's Colin Edwards and Hayden to take third position on lap 6.

By that stage Pedrosa was 2.8sec in front of the #46, and any hopes of a victory challenge were soon over as Rossi lost ground to both Stoner and Pedrosa. Rossi finished 8.8sec from Pedrosa at the line, but 11.9sec in front of fourth. Rossi thus finished off the podium just twice this season and ends the year with a 93 point championship advantage.

With MotoGP moving to a single tyre brand in 2009, Valencia marked Michelin's last grand prix, but any hopes of a dream farewell victory were over when third-on-the-grid Hayden - riding in his last event for Honda before making his Ducati debut on Monday - began losing touch with the Bridgestone-shod race leaders.

Nicky put up a stubborn defence, but saw his podium hopes end when Rossi moved past and was soon fighting a losing battle with his 2009 replacement Dovizioso to finish as the top Michelin rider.

After being overtaken by Rossi, Dovizioso wisely clung to the Italian's rear wheel and followed in his wake past Edwards and then Hayden. The #69 initially repassed Dovizioso, but the former 125cc world champion made his second move permanent and kept fourth place by 2sec from Hayden at the chequered flag.

Dovizioso returned to find JiR Team Scot assembled outside their pit garage and with a sign saying 'Closed for a rider change. Please ask HRC next door' - in reference to Dovi's Repsol move - while Scot's 250cc rider Yuki Takahashi was standing waiting to collect his MotoGP ride from Andrea!

Edwards finished in sixth position, a result which helped Tech 3 to claim fourth in the teams' world championship by just one point over Rizla Suzuki, which had held a four-point advantage over Herve Poncharal's squad heading into the final race.

Rossi's team-mate Jorge Lorenzo confirmed fourth in the world championship and secured the 2008 Rookie of the Year title despite dropping from seventh on the grid to eleventh for the first half of the race.

The Estoril race winner, also riding in a special livery, then found form and overtook John Hopkins, de Angelis and Capirossi to take the chequered flag in eighth. Fellow rookie Alex de Angelis, who began the race 16th, finished tenth.

The top ten positions in the final world championship standings remained unchanged at Valencia with Rossi leading Stoner, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Edwards, Chris Vermeulen, Shinya Nakano and Capirossi.

James Toseland had been hoping to snare a top ten ranking at the end of his rookie grand prix season, and began the race alongside team-mate Edwards in fifth on the grid. But the Englishman suffered a poor opening lap - slipping to twelfth - and rarely looked comfortable on his Michelin-shod M1. The double WSBK champion crossed the finish line in eleventh, and finished the season in the same position, 13 points shy of Capirossi.

Hopkins produced an excellent start to leap from 14th on the grid to seventh on lap one. Rossi found a way past the Kawasaki rider soon after, but Hopkins continued to put up a firm resistance against faster opponents for the first half of the race - only to drop from tenth to 14th during the second half.

Marco Melandri, riding in his final Ducati race before joining Hopkins at Kawasaki, looked like he might be able to salvage some pride from the final round as he worked his way from 18th and last on the grid to tenth on lap 24. But it all went wrong with just three laps to go, when a mistake left the Italian 16th, where he finished.

Randy de Puniet also made an error, running down the escape road on lap one. The Frenchman finished one place in front of Melandri to claim the final point for Honda LCR.

Missing from the 2009 MotoGP grid will be Anthony West, Nakano and Sylvain Guintoli: West, who will move to WSS next year, finished where he'd started in 17th for Kawasaki, while by contrast Nakano - tipped to join Aprilia's new WSBK effort - charged from 15th on the grid to seventh for Honda Gresini. BSB-bound Guintoli brought his Alice Ducati home in 13th, one place higher than he'd qualified.

All 18 riders finished the race, with Toni Elias a very distant last on his final Alice ride. Elias will replace Nakano at Gresini next season.

Preparations for the 2009 season will start with a two-day test at Valencia on Monday and Tuesday.

Valencia Grand Prix:

1. Stoner
2. Pedrosa
3. Rossi
4. Dovizioso
5. Hayden
6. Edwards
7. Nakano
8. Lorenzo
9. Capirossi
10. de Angelis
11. Toseland
12. Guintoli
13. Vermeulen
14. Hopkins
15. de Puniet
16. Melandri
17. West
18. Elias


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