Despite the epic nature of his Laguna Seca victory, Valentino Rossi had only gained five points over Stoner. But when MotoGP returned to action after the summer break, at Brno, Rossi was able to instantly double his advantage to 50 points when Stoner fell from the lead, gifting victory to the Italian.

Whether or not the mistake was a direct result of what happened at Laguna playing on Stoner's mind, or simply the kind of thing that can happen when riding at the limit, was open to debate, but few doubted that the thought of battling Rossi at close quarters was starting to have an effect.

When Stoner disastrously repeated the mistake next time out at Misano, it effectively marked the end of his 2008 title hopes, although Casey was keen to point out that the points lost at the start of the season were just as important.

This time, Stoner's early exit handed Rossi his 68th premier-class victory, matching countryman Giacomo Agostini's all time record.

"Today is a truly fantastic day and I can't believe that I have matched Agostini's record! He was one of my heroes so it's quite incredible to have made it to 68 wins," said Rossi, now 75 points clear of Stoner with five rounds and 125 points remaining. "Once I was past Dani I could see Casey, although I wasn't as confident as I was in Brno that I could win. Anyway I kept pushing and I think it still could have been a battle. Then I saw Casey slide out. I'm sorry for him once again but this is very good for our championship."

Joining Rossi on the Misano podium was Toni Elias, who took his second podium in succession for the satellite Alice Ducati team, and Rossi's Fiat Yamaha team-mate Lorenzo - who claimed his first rostrum since round five at Le Mans.

After the French Grand Prix, Lorenzo's confidence had been shattered by further accidents and injuries to add to his Shanghai ankle fractures, culminating in his withdraw from Catalunya and then another huge highside on lap one of the US GP at Laguna Seca.

The summer break had finally provided Lorenzo's battered body with a chance to heal and, once Michelin's mid-season tyre woes had passed, the exciting young Spaniard began to feature at the front once again.

Rossi beat Agostini's win record next time out, during MotoGP's debut at the world famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in a storm-shortened race that saw Nicky Hayden return to the head of a MotoGP race and Lorenzo take his first wet podium - ever!

Hayden led Rossi until lap 14 of 20, and his runner-up finish marked his first podium of the year and the first ever for the pneumatic-valve Honda. Problems with the pneumatic during testing meant that it couldn't be used from the start of the season but Hayden, desperate to revive his 990cc form, took a calculated gamble and race-developed the pneumatic as soon as HRC would allow him; from round eight at Donington (two rounds after test rider Tady Okada took the machine to 14th at Mugello).

Hayden's team-mate Pedrosa decided to remain on the spring-valve powerplant until Indy, six rounds after Donington, but a new engine wasn't his only novelty at The Brickyard - Pedrosa was also making his debut on Bridgestone tyres.

Despite eight podiums from the first nine rounds, Pedrosa had lost faith in Michelin by round 13 at Misano - fuelled by ill-suited rubber supplied by the once dominant French manufacturer at the previous Laguna Seca and Brno events.

Those mistakes - which resulted in cut slicks being seen in dry morning practice at Laguna Seca, and world champions Lorenzo and Toseland unable to lap inside the 107% qualifying time at a wet Brno - left many Michelin riders furious and ultimately contributed to the new single tyre rule for 2009.

Nevertheless, most of the paddock was stunned when Repsol and Honda announced on Sunday evening at Misano that Pedrosa - who had just finished fourth in the San Marino GP - would change to Bridgestone tyres with immediate effect. Hayden, heading for Ducati in 2009, was not given the chance to change.

Despite the poor weather at Indianapolis, Pedrosa qualified and finished eighth on his pneumatic/Bridgestone debut, then reassured HRC by claiming his first Bridgestone podium next time out at Motegi.

But the Japanese Grand Prix belonged to Rossi and Yamaha, as The Doctor became only the second rider in history (alongside Agostini) to recapture the premier-class title after two successive defeats, by wrapping up the 2008 world championship in perfect style, with victory in Yamaha's home race at Motegi.

"It's a great victory and a great achievement; I think it's at the same level as the first title in 2004 with Yamaha, maybe even better!" said Rossi. "We have lost for two years and I don't think I was the favourite this season, but we have shown that we are a great team and that we never give up," added Rossi, who celebrated with a t-shirt saying 'sorry for the delay'. "I am so happy that I have now won three titles with Yamaha because this is how many I won with [Honda]. I hope we will have more together! Now I have to get used to being world champion again!"

Stoner, by now diagnosed with a wrist injury that would require a post-season bone graft to fix, may have lost the title, but the young Australian reminded MotoGP of his talents with a home victory at Phillip Island, before Rossi - who had charged from 12th on the grid to second in Australia - claimed his ninth and final victory of the season at the penultimate round in Malaysia.

Sepang was a landmark race for rookie Andrea Dovizioso, who absorbed intense pressure from Hayden - the rider he will replace next season - to claim his very first MotoGP podium.

With Rossi, Yamaha and Fiat Yamaha having already secured the three 2008 MotoGP titles, there was little at stake by the Valencia season finale - although the battle between Ducati and Honda for second in the constructors' championship provided a notable sideshow to what was ultimately one of the dullest races of the year.

Ducati arrived at Valencia just one point ahead of Honda, effectively meaning whichever machine finished ahead of the other would claim the runner-up position. Stoner, the cornerstone of Ducati's extraordinary success since 2007, delivered for the Italian factory once again by winning the final round by a comfortable 3.4sec from Pedrosa with Rossi, who had qualified just ninth, a further 8.8sec back in third.

Rossi's 16th podium from 18 races gave him a final victory margin of 93 points over Stoner, who had secured second position over Pedrosa before the final round.

Dani, although unable to achieve his goal of a debut Bridgestone victory during the tail end of 2008, did claim three podiums and one pole on the Japanese rubber and remains the only Honda rider to have won an 800cc grand prix. Pedrosa finished 31 points behind Stoner and 59 in front of Lorenzo, who - despite his accidents and injuries - still claimed the rookie of the year title and was also the highest placed (full time) Michelin rider.

Lorenzo's 2008 performance was the best by a rookie since Rossi in 2000 and the Spaniard will have high expectations under equal tyre conditions in 2009, as will Dovizioso - who will ride alongside Pedrosa at Repsol Honda next season. Dovizioso was the highest ranked satellite rider in the 2008 world championship.

Outgoing Repsol rider Hayden scored 28 points more than last year - even though he missed both Misano and Brno due to a foot injury sustained at the X Games - and was ranked sixth in the championship, two places better than his 2007 ranking. However, the #69 was only the third highest Honda, 19 points behind Dovizioso and 94 from Pedrosa.

Despite his early season heroics, which yielded two podiums and five front row starts from the first ten rounds, Edwards suffered a disappointing second half of the season, with a best race finish of sixth. Nevertheless, seventh place in the final standings was two places higher than he'd managed as a full factory Yamaha rider in 2007.

2008 was a disappointing season for Rizla Suzuki, which lost ground relative to its 2007 results in terms of wins, poles, podiums and points. Chris Vermeulen finished the year in eighth position, 16 points from Edwards, with the highlight of his season being consecutive third places at Sachsenring and Laguna Seca.

New team-mate Loris Capirossi qualified second on the grid at Mugello and took a solitary rostrum at Brno, but also missed two rounds due to injury and his eventual tenth place in the championship was three places (and three podiums) less than he'd achieved at Ducati in 2007.

Shinya Nakano bowed out of grand prix racing at the end of 2008. The Japanese made a quiet, if consistent, start to the season with points at each of the first eleven rounds - and was suddenly handed a (spring-valve) factory-spec RCV from Brno onwards. The Gresini rider claimed a season's best fourth on his factory debut, then took fifth place at both Phillip Island and Sepang on his way to ninth in the championship. Nakano will ride for Aprilia in WSBK next year.

Of the four 2008 MotoGP rookies, Toseland was the only one not to have raced in either 125 or 250GP, but the reigning double World Superbike champion had instantly raised expectations by qualifying his Tech 3 Yamaha second on the grid at Qatar.

Toseland finished the race in sixth, a position he repeated five further times in 2008, with his highlight of the year a thrilling ride at the Australian Grand Prix, when he became one of the few riders to fight back and re-pass Valentino Rossi this season.

A turn one accident at his home British GP marked the start of a difficult run of races and Toseland finished the year eleventh in the championship. Toseland, aware of the need for results to stay in MotoGP, will expect to be a podium contender in 2009.

Elias was the only rider other than Stoner to take the Ducati Desmosedici to a podium finish this season and, although his next best race result was only seventh place, the Spaniard finished the season with almost double the points of Stoner's factory team-mate Marco Melandri.

The combination of Melandri and the Desmosedici was like mixing oil and water. A fifth place at round four in China proved a false dawn and the former MotoGP World Championship runner-up was left just 17th in the championship, one place behind John Hopkins, whom he will join at Kawasaki next season.

With Elias heading back to Gresini Honda, with factory support, next season, team-mate Sylvain Guintoli is the only 2008 Desmosedici rider not returning to MotoGP next year. The amiable Frenchman also faced a tough challenge in attempting to tame the Desmosedici, but finished every single race - scoring points in all but one event - with his highlight of the year a sixth place in the wet at Sachsenring without the aid of traction control!

Guintoli, who claimed 13th in the championship, moves to BSB in 2009, when Pramac will field an all-rookie line-up of Mika Kallio and Niccolo Canepa. A new fifth Ducati will also be present next year, ridden by former MotoGP World Championship runner-up Sete Gibernau, raising the MotoGP grid to 19.

Nakano's team-mate Alex de Angelis was the lowest ranked of the four 2008 MotoGP rookies, in 14th position, but could point towards an impressive charge from last to fourth at Mugello - and a repeat of that position on his wet MotoGP race debut in Germany - as proof of his future potential.

Having taken his first MotoGP podium with Kawasaki in 2007, and impressed in pre-season testing for Honda LCR, 2008 turned out to be a major disappointment for Randy de Puniet, who was the lowest ranked Honda rider in the championship (15th) with a best race finish of sixth and six non-scores.

The manufacturer that suffered the most in 2008 was undoubtedly Kawasaki, which scored less than half the points of the next lowest MotoGP manufacturer (Suzuki) and failed to finish higher than fifth in a race.

What seemed like a safe decision to evolve the promising 2007 ZX-RR somehow resulted in a machine with fundamental performances flaws that were never cured, while injuries for new star-signing Hopkins inflicted a further body blow.

Anthony West, starting his first - and ultimately last - full MotoGP season with Kawasaki, battled chronic rear traction problems and has since suggested that he wasn't listened to by the team until it was too late. West will switch to World Supersport in 2009, where he is a former race winner.

The top four riders in the 2008 world championship have all remained with the same factory teams for the 2009 season, which Valentino Rossi - who now needs just three more wins to reach a landmark 100 grand prix victories - will start as the undisputed favourite.

However, the new single tyre rule could produce some surprises, while much is expected of Dovizioso's Repsol Honda move and Nicky Hayden's switch to Ducati Marlboro.

MotoGP 2008 - final standings:

1. Valentino Rossi - 373
2. Casey Stoner - 280
3. Dani Pedrosa - 249
4. Jorge Lorenzo - 190*
5. Andrea Dovizioso - 174*
6. Nicky Hayden - 155
7. Colin Edwards - 144
8. Chris Vermeulen - 128
9. Shinya Nakano - 126
10. Loris Capirossi - 118
11. James Toseland - 105 *
12. Toni Elias - 92
13. Sylvain Guintoli - 67
14. Alex de Angelis - 63 *
15. Randy de Puniet - 61
16. John Hopkins - 57
17. Marco Melandri - 51
18. Anthony West - 50
19. Ben Spies - 20 **
20. Jamie Hacking - 5 **
21. Tadayuki Okada - 2 **
* Rookie
** Wild-card