Valentino Rossi will take an eight-point lead over Nicky Hayden into the final round of the 2006 season after one of the most dramatic races in history ended with a debut victory for Toni Elias.
Hayden began the penultimate race of the season with a 12 point lead over Rossi and, whilst he must have been braced for the on-form Italian to reduce that advantage, only the Kentuckian's worst nightmare could have warned him of what was to come on lap five of the Portuguese Grand Prix.
Rossi had converted his pole into a turn one lead, with Camel Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards riding shotgun in second ahead of Hayden's Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa, with Nicky himself in fourth.
Rookie of the year Pedrosa soon began hassling Edwards for second, and exchanged the position several times, while Hayden remained in touch and then squeezed past Pedrosa for third at the end of the back straight on lap four. At this point it's worth noting that Edwards was opening riding for his team today, in other words protecting Rossi, but Pedrosa appeared exceptionally keen to re-pass his own team-mate - perhaps believing that he could help Hayden and Honda best by beating Rossi and winning the race...
But exactly one lap after Hayden has passed Pedrosa, the young Spaniard launched his RCV back up the inside of the #69 - aiming for a non-existent space - in a desperate attempt to retake third into the long left hander. Considering what was at stake, and the distance he was behind his team-mate approaching the turn, the move was nothing less than sheer lunacy. As Hayden turned in to the corner, the out of control Pedrosa lost the front of RCV, fell to the floor, then slammed straight into the side of the American - sending them both cartwheeling into the gravel.
A moment of stunned silence descended on the paddock as it tried to absorb what had just happened - Hayden, who has finished every other race this season, immediately rushed back to his broken bike to try and rejoin, but the damage was too great and all the apoplectic American could do was remove his helmet and scream in frustration while punching the ground with his fist. It must have taken every inch of Nicky's restraint to avoid inflicting similar blows on the young Spaniard, who appears to have broken a finger in the fall. It is no exaggeration to state that Pedrosa's moment of madness was one of the greatest mistakes ever seen in modern motorcycle grand prix racing.
The Hayden/Pedrosa clash marked the last of several early race incidents - which began with a heavy first lap highside for Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano, that left the Japanese on a stretcher, and was followed by a fall from fifth placed Casey Stoner, whose bike was then hit by Sete Gibernau, taking out the unlucky Ducati rider and possibly re-injuring his collarbone.
After the dust had literally settled, Rossi was left up front with Edwards still second - but the Italian was unable to pull away and attention soon turned to Elias and Kenny Roberts, who had qualified just 11th and 13th but were now charging towards the factory M1s.
Fortuna Honda rider Elias, who looked
to be out of a job at the end of the season, made a strong start to take eighth at the first lap, was up to fifth by lap two - then handed third and a potential first ever MotoGP podium after the double Repsol destruction ahead of him. Roberts meanwhile had mirrored Toni's progress, taking fourth after passing Loris Capirossi on lap nine.