MOTOGP: Round 15 – Sepang, Malaysia – Oct 10

Jorge Lorenzo clinched the 2010 MotoGP in the gruelling heat of Malaysia, while Valentino Rossi emphatically marked his return from the injury doldrums with a compelling win.

Such a win looked anything but likely at the start: while Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and the Ducatis of Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden got away at the front, Rossi struggled and found himself boxed in by the Suzukis of Loris Capirossi and Alvaro Bautista as bike after bike passed him on the outside of turn 1. By the time he was free, Rossi found himself in 11th position, one of his worst starts ever.

But Rossi wasn’t giving up: by the end of lap 1 he’d pulled one position back and was gifted another when Casey Stoner fell going through the final corner, caught out by cold tyres lacking grip despite the fact that he’s done his utmost to work them gently up to racing temperature.

Rossi was past the two Tech 3 riders, Colin Edwards and Ben Spies, within just a few corners of each other at the end of lap 2 and the beginning of lap 3; Nicky Hayden barely registered as Rossi swooped for fourth place. The most difficulty Rossi had was Marco Simoncelli for third, but it was always a matter of when not if and finally the pass came at turn 9 on lap 4. Rossi was in third, but the leaders were almost two seconds up the road – was this the most Rossi could hope for? Not with this sort of searing performance: Rossi was off and running

Up at the front, Lorenzo was in the lead but Dovizioso was right on his tail, seemingly content to hold station and wait for Jorge to present an opening. All that changed with the arrival of Rossi on the scene, however, and Andrea knew that he would have to get past Jorge or be the next target for Valentino’s overtaking prowess. He got the Repsol Honda into the slipstream of the Yamaha down the start/finish straight at the start of lap 9 and got down the inside of Lorenzo, forcing him wide and grabbing the lead for himself. Now Rossi would have to deal with his team mate before he dealt with Dovizioso.

But Jorge had no appetite for a pitched rematch of last week’s epic but heart-stopping battle, and a lap later Rossi breezed past his team mate with little resistance. Lorenzo didn’t fade away, but he retreated just a little so that if there were any problems for the front two, they wouldn’t become his problem as well. All he wanted right now was the title, which meant ninth place or better – but really he wanted to celebrate the title with a podium appearance too, which meant third place was pretty much ideal. With Marco Simoncelli some five seconds back, Lorenzo couldn’t have asked for a better set-up.

Meanwhile Dovizioso – having pulled away from Lorenzo in the preceding lap – found that there was no stopping the irresistible surge of the #46, who cut the lead in seconds and within a lap had the Honda lined up for an overtaking move at Rossi’s favourite place, turn 9. The crowd went berserk as the star power of the Doctor was proved undimmed, and Valentino was in the lead.

Dovizioso never let Rossi escape, which – given the fearsome pace Rossi had displayed during the first half of the race was quite a surprise. Instead he kept in touch with the leader, and when Rossi seemed to flag five laps before the end of the race – either because of the oppressive humidity or the effects of his lingering shoulder and leg injuries – Dovizioso was there to pounce and retake the lead. That seemed to refire Rossi’s adrenaline, and less than a lap later Rossi snatched back the lead and this time there would be no further arguments.

Further back, Marco Simoncelli’s form faded in the second half of the race leaving Marco easy prey for Ben Spies, and then having to contest fifth place in a feisty four-way battle with Nicky Hayden, Alvaro Bautista and a particularly impressive Hiroshi Aoyama. In the end it was Bautista who made the decisive break away from the highly fluid and dynamic battle, while Hayden dropped back and took a watching brief as the giant Simoncelli and the diminutive Aoyama had an increasingly aggressive battle for sixth: eventually, inevitably, there was contact between the little and large rivals and they ran wide, giving Hayden precisely the opportunity he had been waiting for to sweep past them both and claim the position. Aoyama had to settle for seventh – a MotoGP career best after coming out top in his battle over Simoncelli, who then had to fight a desperate rear-guard action against his own team mate Marco Melandri to cling on to eighth.

As well as Stoner, there were also crashes for Aleix Espargaro (on lap seven) and Colin Edwards (on lap ten), while Loris Capirossi exited on lap 5 with an electrical problem and was seen limping painfully away from his Suzuki, still in pain from his practice crash injury. Stoner’s crash blows the championship battle for third place between him, Rossi and Dovizioso, which should make for some extra spice in the closing three races of the year despite the main title having now been sown up.

And how happy was Lorenzo that the deed had finally been done and that he was Spain’s first premier motorcycling class world champion since Alex Criville in 1999? Words like “ecstatic” and phrases like “over the moon” or “a dream come true” don’t do the moment justice – Jorge was totally overwhelmed with the moment, almost breaking down at the same time as trying to whoop and holler and cheer. Upon his return to parc fermé the team gave him celebratory bumps that seemed to almost be the last straw, and Jorge had to be carefully manhandled back over the metal barriers because he no longer had the strength to manage it alone.

Rossi, too, was exhausted in the tropical heat, but after a few minutes on the ground imbibing fluids like they’d never been seen before, the Doctor was back in action. While Vale had been one of the first to congratulate Jorge on the title, Rossi was quick to celebrate a landmark of his own with a placard pointing out that this win was his 46th on the #46 for Yamaha.

A message to Jorge – not even a particularly subtle one – that while Lorenzo might be world champion, he had a long way to go before he matched Rossi’s peerless career. And that come next year, Rossi would be setting about attempting a new record of 46 wins on the #46, just this time for Ducati: battle will be well and truly joined in 2011, so Lorenzo had better enjoy his moment – and his title – while he can.

Race result

Pos Rider            Team                 Time/Gap
 1. Valentino Rossi  Yamaha            41:03.448s
 2. Andrea Dovizioso Honda             +   0.224s
 3. Jorge Lorenzo    Yamaha            +   6.035s
 4. Ben Spies        Tech 3 Yamaha     +  13.676s
 5. Alvaro Bautista  Suzuki            +  15.402s
 6. Nicky Hayden     Ducati            +  18.826s
 7. Hiroshi Aoyama   Interwetten Honda +  20.218s
 8. Marco Simoncelli Gresini Honda     +  23.574s
 9. Marco Melandri   Gresini Honda     +  23.964s
10. Randy de Puniet  LCR Honda         +  31.850s
11. Hector Barbera   Aspar Ducati      +  38.579s
12. Mika Kallio      Pramac Ducati     +  38.849s

Retirements:

Colin Edwards   Tech 3 Yamaha  9 laps
Aleix Espargaro Pramac Ducati  6 laps
Loris Capirossi Suzuki         4 laps
Casey Stoner    Ducati         0 laps

MotoGP championship standings

Pos Driver            Pts   Pos Constructor Pts 
1.  Jorge Lorenzo     313   1. Yamaha       334  
2.  Daniel Pedrosa    228   2. Honda        305  
3.  Valentino Rossi   181   3. Ducati       230  
4.  Casey Stoner      180   4. Suzuki        92  
5.  Andrea Dovizioso  179    
6.  Ben Spies         152    
7.  Nicky Hayden      139
8.  Randy de Puniet    94
9.  Marco Simoncelli   92
10. Marco Melandri     86
11. Colin Edwards      81
12. Hector Barbera     74
13. Alvaro Bautista    69
14. Aleix Espargaro    52
15. Hiroshi Aoyama     44
16. Loris Capirossi    41
17. Mika Kallio        38
18. Alex de Angelis    11
19. Roger Lee Hayden    5
20. Kousuke Akiyoshi    4
21. Wataru Yoshikawa    1
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