MOTOGP: Round 17 – Valencia, Spain – 8 November

A shock formation lap crash put an emphatic end to Casey Stoner’s previous-perfect Valencia MotoGP weekend, allowing Dani Pedrosa an almost completely free ride to a home win.

Stoner had dropped back to allow the field to stream past him as they got off the grid for their warm-up lap, but moments later the cameras cut back to the Ducati lying in the gravel and a shocked Stoner kneeling next to it. Replays showed the bike suddenly snap away from under him and throw him off into a nasty, violent high-side into the air before they slid into the gravel trap. The bike was too badly damaged for Stoner to pick it up and continue, and he became the race’s first – and ultimately only – retirement. The Ducati team would later blame cold tyres and issues with their warm-up lap tyre management strategy which would be reviewed before the next race in 2010.

Stoner’s exit eased the pressure on Jorge Lorenzo, who arguably could have been beaten to the MotoGP runners-up spot by Stoner but who was now unassailable. Unfortunately, when the race got underway, Lorenzo got a poor start and immediately dropped back behind Valentino Rossi and Toni Elias form the second row; Rossi had the undoubted advantage of starting behind the now-vacant pole position spot which allowed him a free run down the straight to turn 1.

But naturally it was Dani Pedrosa who got the best start as always, and while Lorenzo was fighting back to get past Elias for third, and Rossi settled into second, Pedrosa was building up a lead that no one came close to challenging for the rest of the afternoon. With Stoner sidelined, that meant the Spaniard would take third place in the MotoGP championship ahead of the Aussie.

Lorenzo briefly got past Rossi for second place again, but a few corners later had a nasty moment when he applied the throttle out of a orner and found the bike bucking like the proverbial donkey; Lorenzo did impressively well to hold on to it and not get thrown off completely, but the scare allowed Rossi back in front again and he needed no further invitations to stretch a safe lead over his team mate of up to 2.4s. This gap came down in the final laps, and whether that was a matter of tyre wear or simply canny race management by Rossi didn’t really matter – Lorenzo never really had a realistic chance to challenge for the second position before the chequered flag.

Elias’ pace fell off after his flying start and he succumbed to both Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden but managed to hold in for 6th place. Edwards was racing for fifth place in the championship (behind the untouchable four of Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Stoner of course) but even fourth place was not enough to get him the points to beat out Andrea Dovizioso: for that, Edwards needed the held of his incoming team mate Ben Spies, who pulled off a strikingly good pass on Dovizioso with six laps to go. That move – the icing on the cream of a great début weekend from Spies – put Edwards ahead of Dovizioso by a single point in the championship.

Marco Melandri survived a mid-race trip through the gravel but ended up demoted to last as a result; and outgoing James Toseland finished a distant 12th while his replacement Spied emphatically eclipsed him, and he made a sad, depressed sight as he arrived back in the pit lane at the end of his last MotoGP race before he returns to World Superbikes for 2010.

And thus with the chequered flag finished the 2009 season. The teams stay on at Valencia for some testing, but then the toys will be packed away until Qatar’s night race in April 2010, and we’ll see whether the usual suspects (Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Stoner) once again dominate the action – and whether Rossi can win it again, or if it’s finally time for one of the young pups to claim the master’s scalp.

Race result

Pos  Rider             Team             Time/Gap
 1.  Dani Pedrosa      Honda            46:47.553s
 2.  Valentino Rossi   Yamaha           +   2.630s
 3.  Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha           +   2.913s
 4.  Colin Edwards     Tech 3 Yamaha    +  32.515s
 5.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati           +  34.585s
 6.  Toni Elias        Gresini Honda    +  34.888s
 7.  Ben Spies         Yamaha           +  37.706s
 8.  Andrea Dovizioso  Honda            +  38.364s
 9.  Mika Kallio       Pramac Ducati    +  42.491s
10.  Alex de Angelis   Gresini Honda    +  43.689s
11.  Randy de Puniet   LCR Honda        +  46.018s
12.  James Toseland    Tech 3 Yamaha    +  50.226s
13.  Aleix Espargaro   Pramac Ducati    +  57.168s
14.  Loris Capirossi   Suzuki           +1:06.877s
15.  Chris Vermeulen   Suzuki           +1:11.701s
16.  Gabor Talmacsi    Scot Honda       +1:14.405s
17.  Marco Melandri    Hayate Kawasaki  +1:33.425s

Retirement:

     Casey Stoner      Ducati           0 laps

MotoGP championship – final 2009 standings

Pos Driver           Points
1   Valentino Rossi     306
2   Jorge Lorenzo       261
3   Daniel Pedrosa      234
4   Casey Stoner        220
5   Colin Edwards       161
6   Andrea Dovizioso    160
7   Toni Elías          115
8   Alex de Angelis     111
9   Loris Capirossi     110
10  Marco Melandri      108
11  Randy de Puniet     106
12  Chris Vermeulen     106
13  Nicky Hayden        104
14  James Toseland       92
15  Mika Kallio          71
16  Niccolò Canepa       38
17  Gábor Talmácsi       19
18  Aleix Espargaró      16
19  Sete Gibernau        12
20  Ben Spies             9
21  Yuki Takahashi        9
        
Pos Constructor Points
1   Yamaha         386
2   Honda          297
3   Ducati         272
4   Suzuki         133
5   Kawasaki       108
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