With 2006 title on the line
After a magnificent season and one of the most exciting races of all time at Estoril, the 2006 MotoGP World Championship will go right down to the wire. The final race of the year, the Gran Premio bwin.com de la Comunitat Valenciana, will welcome
what will surely be a sell-out crowd gathered to see either Valentino Rossi or Nicky Hayden take the ultimate accolade in motorcycle racing.
Rossi leads the championship for the first time this season, and could not have chosen a better race to enter with an 8 point advantage. The Italian has made an outstanding comeback against all odds after a series of DNFs gave him his worst ever start to a premier class season. Since his last mechanical failure at Laguna Seca, the reigning World Champion has been on a run of five consecutive podium finishes, his last victory coming in Malaysia at the start of the triple flyaway. If Rossi can make it six wins this season at Valencia, or finishes above rival Nicky Hayden in the race, then he will take a sixth consecutive premier class title and become the only champion of the 990cc era.
Having led the championship for nearly the entire season, Nicky Hayden suffered a crushing blow in Portugal when team- mate Dani Pedrosa took him out of the race on lap five. Hayden has offered the opinion that the Spaniard could make it up to him with a second place at the Cheste Circuit this weekend, which if combined with a Hayden win would send the crown to Kentucky. For the first time this year, the title is out of the American ' s hands, and the 51 point advantage that Hayden held after his last win at Laguna Seca has been slowly converted into the current 8 point deficit.
With nothing left to lose, the Repsol Honda rider will be going all-out in what may be his best chance of a premier class title.
Although a discreet result in Portugal ended Marco Melandri's title hopes, the Italian could still catch Hayden for second place. 19 points behind his American rival, the rider who recently renewed his contract with Fausto Gresini ' s team for 2007 will have last year ' s race in Valencia fresh in his mind, where he took glory and edged out Hayden to become the 2005 MotoGP World Championship runner up.
Loris Capirossi, one of the season's outstanding performers, also saw the mathematical possibility of a title slip away at Estoril. Rumours abound that the Italian, who is the only other rider apart from Hayden and Rossi to lead the championship this season, will give the Desmosedici GP07 800cc prototype a run-out in Spain for the final race.
As mentioned previously, Dani Pedrosa will want to make amends for the all-Repsol Honda crash in the last round by helping his team-mate win in the Spanish rookie's home country. His final race on a 990cc machine before the introduction of new rules which seem to favour Pedrosa's build and style more, he will be eager to show the kind of riding that left him with a possibility of maiden season glory until lap five in Portugal.
Kenny Roberts Jr's season has continued to improve alongside modified, the American has climbed up the standings to currently lie in sixth. Roberts Jr was even battling for the win until the very last lap at round 16, admitting later that he was expecting to see the chequered flag one lap earlier than it appeared. The aftermath of Estoril created much excitement in the premier class, with a number of developments on Sunday night.
Lucio Cecchinello confirmed on Monday that it would be all change in his LCR Honda team next season, with Casey Stoner leaving the team and veteran Carlos Checa moving to the Italian's one-rider outfit. Speculation abounds as to the future of Herve Poncharal's Tech 3 Yamaha team as a result of the switch, whilst Stoner later confirmed that he will race for Ducati in a one year deal with the option of an additional season.
Surprise victor on Portuguese soil Toni Elias is also said to be close to renewing his deal with Gresini Racing.
Sete Gibernau will miss his home race after breaking one of the plates inserted into his collarbone when he crashed with Stoner two weeks ago. The Spaniard has already been forced out of four races this season after the spectacular crash in Catalunya back in June, three of those times replaced by Alex Hofmann in the Ducati Marlboro team. This time round, Troy Bayliss will return for Ducati to close their 990cc era, having competed in their first race in the cylinder class.
In 250cc, Andrea Dovizioso will need a repeat of the kind of performance that took him to victory in Portugal if he wants to take the quarter litre title this season. He lies 13 points behind Jorge Lorenzo, who could have already been crowned 250cc champion if results had gone his way last time round. Both riders will continue their rivalry next year in the quarter litre category, Dovizioso becoming the latest rider to confirm that he is staying in 250cc for another year.
The battle for third place rages on too, with Alex de Angelis holding a ten point advantage over Hiroshi Aoyama. The Japanese rider confirmed this week that he will stay in 250cc despite receiving an offer from a MotoGP team, revealed by Harald Bartol and Harold Eckl to be Kawasaki Racing. De Angelis, yet to win a race in the class, could complete his best ever season in the category by taking the bronze in the overall classification.
2006's best privateer Roberto Locatelli and Yuki Takahashi complete the top six in MotoGP's second tier.
Alvaro Bautista, the dominant force in 125cc racing, has been breaking yet more records since his championship win in Australia. The Spaniard, on his debut ride on the latest version of the 125cc Aprilia, was the runaway leader in the bwin.com Grande Premio de Portugal as he took his seventh victory of 2006.
Bautista also overtook Valentino Rossi and Kazuto Sakata as the rider with the most podium finishes in the category in a single season, having taken a rostrum place on 14 occasions this year. The Italian and Japanese were both title winners in the year of their records, in 1997 and 1993 respectively. Bautista's 325 points earned this season also puts him above Rossi's 1997 total of 321 the previous record.
Mika Kallio's third place at Estoril, coupled with Mattia Pasini's crash at the same race, confirmed the Finn's second consecutive runner-up finish in the 125cc category. The KTM rider moves up to 250cc next season. Hector Faubel, Sergio Gadea and Lukas Pesek round off the lower cylinder class' top six.
The Circuito de la Comunitat Valenciana was completed in 1999 and held rounds of the MotoGP and Spanish Motorcycle Championships in the same year. The Cheste track has several layouts, running anticlockwise with varying lengths. MotoGP events are held on a 4km track comprising of five right handed corners, eight left handers and a 650m straight. The circuit layout which allows all parts of the circuit to be seen from any stand helps to create a unique atmosphere enjoyed by Spanish and international riders alike and as the last race of the season there is always a party feeling to the Grand Prix, which was voted best GP of 2005 by IRTA.
Practice for the Gran Premio bwin.com Gran Premio de la Comunitat Valenciana get underway on Thursday, with the main attraction of the crucial MotoGP race taking place on Sunday at 2pm local time.
DORNA / CAPSIS International