Marco Simoncelli has become Gilera's first ever 250cc world champion by finishing third in Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang, the penultimate round of the 2008 championship.

Simoncelli found himself in the midst of a four-rider lead group for the first half of the race, trading places with title rival Alvaro Bautista plus KTM riders Hiroshi Aoyama and Julian Simon.

However, when Simon retired with a technical problem shortly after the halfway stage, the pressure was effectively removed from Simoncelli's shoulders since the Italian could afford to finish third even if Bautista won the race - and fourth place was seven seconds behind him.

Simoncelli duly backed off and held a safe third for the remainder of the race en route to his first world title - becoming the first ever 250cc world champion to take the title despite languishing 49 points from the top earlier in the season - and was greeted on his return to the pits by mechanics sporting huge afro wigs, before receiving additional congratulations from friend Valentino Rossi.

The roasting hot temperatures at Sepang left Simoncelli too exhausted to say more than a few happy words after the race.

Meanwhile, Bautista took his fourth victory of the season by 2.586sec from an impressive Aoyama, now seeking 2009 employment following KTM's 250cc withdraw.

Aoyama's team-mate Mika Kallio, who came into the event with the slimmest of title chances, retired with a technical problem.

Race result - Sepang:

1. Bautista (Aprilia)
2. Aoyama (KTM) +2.586sec
3. Simoncelli (Gilera) +8.343sec
4. Takahashi (Honda) +11.032sec
5. Espargaro (Aprilia) +13.846sec
6. Debon (Aprilia) +14.274sec
7. Locatelli (Gilera) +15.101sec
8. Wilairot (Honda) +16.987sec
9. Luthi (Aprilia) +25.356sec
10. Pesek (Aprilia) +26.846sec



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