MotoGP wild-cards that finished on the podium: Bayliss, Ryo, Nakasuga...

Ahead of double World Superbike champion’s Alvaro Bautista much anticipated return to MotoGP as a wild-card at Sepang this weekend, here are the occasions when a one-off ride has resulted in a surprise podium finish.
Capirossi and Bayliss, Valencia MotoGP,
Capirossi and Bayliss, Valencia MotoGP,

Although Bautista is entering as a (factory Ducati) wild-card in Malaysia, we’ve also included podiums by riders that stepped in as replacements during the MotoGP era (2002 onwards) - starting with the most famous of them all...

Troy Bayliss, 1st place, Valencia 2006

The natural comparison being made with Bautista - which the Spaniard will be keen to play down - is the fairytale victory by another reigning Ducati WorldSBK champion, Troy Bayliss, on his one-off MotoGP return at Valencia 2006.

Bayliss, like Bautista, did not win a race during his full-time MotoGP career but took a stunning win for Ducati after being called up to replace the injured Sete Gibernau for the final round of the season.

WorldSBK champion in 2001 then runner-up in 2002, Bayliss had taken four rostrums while riding for Ducati and Honda in MotoGP from 2003-2005. The Australian then returned to WorldSBK and instantly won a second title, before completing a dream year with the Valencia MotoGP victory.

"Honestly, it's been a fairytale weekend, I'm still pinching myself," admitted Bayliss. "I've had a great year, winning the World Superbike championship was a good start! Then just when I was kicking back I got a phone call asking if I was interested in doing this ride.

“It was something I couldn't knock back because I started the Desmosedici project with Loris at the end of 2002 and had some great times in 2003 and 2004, so to be able to come back and finish off the story at the last 990 race was incredible.

“I brought a few guys with me- Paolo Ciabatti, Davide Tardozzi and Ernesto Marinelli - and together with my old squad from 2004 we took it step by step and really enjoyed the weekend.

“Thanks to everybody because this will be my last ride in MotoGP, I've had some great times but I'm really comfortable where I am and this is probably best left to the young guys. To take a win is incredible - I've showed I can still ride around in circles pretty fast!"

Bayliss went on to win a third and final WorldSBK title in 2008.

Meanwhile, 2006 was the same year that Bautista won the 125GP crown. The Spaniard later raced full time in the MotoGP class from 2010-2018, riding for Suzuki, Honda, Aprilia and Ducati. Bautista claimed three MotoGP podiums before switching to WorldSBK in 2019, winning the title in 2022 and 2023.

Akira Ryo, 2nd at 2002 Japanese MotoGP
Akira Ryo, 2nd at 2002 Japanese MotoGP

Akira Ryo, 2nd place, Suzuka 2002

Valentino Rossi’s nearest rival for victory in the first ever race of the new four-stroke ‘MotoGP’ era wasn’t one of the regular stars, but local Suzuki wild-card Akira Ryo.

The Japanese, a best of tenth from a pair of previous appearances as a 500cc rider, had qualified seventh and top Suzuki in the dry, then led for the opening 15 laps of the wet race.

Rossi, riding the new RC211V, finally made it past in the closing stages but Ryo was still only 1.5s behind the reigning champion at the finish.

Factory Yamaha’s Carlos Checa completed the podium some seven seconds further back, while full time Suzuki riders Sete Gibernau and Kenny Roberts failed to finish.

Nakasuga, Valencia MotoGP Race
Nakasuga, Valencia MotoGP Race

Katsuyuki Nakasuga, 2nd place, Valencia 2012

Yamaha stand-in Katsuyuki Nakasuga caused the surprise of the day at the 2012 Valencia finale when he finished second, from 16th on the grid.

The Japanese test rider, appearing in place of the injured Ben Spies, was one of the few who gambled on starting with slick tyres on a damp but drying track.

As for illustrious team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, the decision paid off and Nakasuga jumped up to fourth by lap 4, as other riders came in to change rubber.

After moving up to third, Nakasuga looked set to miss out on a rostrum when he was overtaken by Cal Crutchlow - but Lorenzo and later Crutchlow both crashed out, promoting Nakasuga to second.

Although 37s behind winner Dani Pedrosa, the 31-year-old was in turn over 20s clear of Casey Stoner.

"I'm so very happy with this result, the conditions were very difficult today," he said. "It was a tough race but the team were amazing and I have to thank them for making the best choice for my set up for the race.

"It is like a dream or a miracle for me to be on the podium as the qualifying was not so good. I want to thank Yamaha for giving me this special opportunity to race here in MotoGP, it has been amazing."

The four-time All Japan Superbike Champion had further cause for celebration with his second son, Haruto, having been born on the Saturday evening.

Jacque and Rossi, Chinese MotoGP Race
Jacque and Rossi, Chinese MotoGP Race

Olivier Jacque, 2nd place, Shanghai 2005

After three years without a podium in the premier-class, former 250cc champion Olivier Jacque had lost his full-time seat and made only two appearances, for Moriwaki, during the 2004 campaign.

But Jacque was then called up by Kawasaki to replace the injured Alex Hofmann for the 2005 Chinese round when, as for Ryo and Nakasuga, wet weather gave the Frenchman his chance to shine.

Despite little prior knowledge of the ZX-RR and its Bridgestone tyres, Jacque used the soaking conditions to his advantage as he carved forwards from 15th on the grid.

After overtaking Sete Gibernau at three-quarter distance, 'OJ' set off after race leader Valentino Rossi - and would finish just 1.7secs behind the Italian superstar.

Jacque's result was Kawasaki's best in the premier class and a personal best for the 31-year-old, who had previously recorded a fourth in the 2003 French GP with Yamaha.

"For sure Valentino's crew didn't have my name ready to put on his pit board over the final laps!" smiled Olivier, referring to an improvised 'O' which appeared on Rossi's pit board to warn The Doctor of the chasing rider.

"I still don't really understand myself how it all happened. It's magic, better than winning the [250cc] world title… When I arrived as a replacement rider on Thursday, I said I felt like 'a hair on the soup' but today I felt like a ‘fish in water!’"

Dani Pedrosa, MotoGP race, San Marino MotoGP, 10 September
Dani Pedrosa, MotoGP race, San Marino MotoGP, 10 September

Honourable mention: Dani Pedrosa, 4th place, Misano 2023

Damp or wet conditions aside, the challenge of jumping into MotoGP and instantly fighting at the front has proven almost impossible since Bayliss in 2006.

But Dani Pedrosa’s performances in a pair of 2023 wild-cards, at Jerez and especially Misano, proved it can still be done.

After sixth (Sprint) and seventh (GP) at Jerez, the KTM test rider came away with a pair of fourth places with the factory’s new carbon fibre chassis at Misano.

Pedrosa missed out on his first MotoGP podium since 2017 by just 0.7s in the full-length Sunday race, crossing the finish in the wheeltracks of Ducati’s reigning champion Francesco Bagnaia.

“I'm happy. I really enjoyed this race,” said Pedrosa, a 31 time MotoGP winner during his full time career at Repsol Honda.

“In the last laps, Pecco was struggling a bit more. I said ‘one last push and maybe plan an attack in the last two laps’. I was right behind him. Then he put in some last energy and was able to hold me back.

“So, very close to the podium, again. But a really cool weekend. Thanks to my team and all my mechanics.”

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