MOTOGP: Round 18 – Valencia, Spain – November 7

Despite already being crowned 2010 MotoGP world champion, Jorge Lorenzo returned to his home country with a point to prove: to silence those critics who felt that he had been gifted the title only through a combination of circumstance and injuries to his leading rivals. And that’s just what he did at Valencia, although it took the mother of all lucky escapes for him to pull it off.

At the start, Lorenzo was briefly ahead before the superior grunt of Casey Stoner’s Ducati allowed the Australian to sweep past into turn 1. But the bigger problem was Dani Pedrosa, starting from the third row of the grid and getting only a modest flier off the starting line by his standards, but then through the two consecutive left handers of turn 1 and 2 he weaved through the field as if everyone else was standing still and managed to pop up into second, narrowly avoiding taking Stoner out as they turned into the second corner.

Having Pedrosa materialise down the inside out of nowhere forced Lorenzo to check out, and suddenly he was swamped by Nicky Hayden and Marco Simoncelli, putting him down in fifth place. Lorenzo clearly didn’t expect this to be a long term problem, and on lap 2 he put a smooth move on Simoncelli into the turn 4 right hander to reclaim fourth place: but Lorenzo was a little lax on the exit, didn’t cover the switchback line and allowed Simoncelli to sweep back past him into turn 5, leaving Lorenzo shaking his head (encased in the glinting jewel-encrusted special helmet for the day) in disgust at himself.

With his temper up, Jorge was determined to make Marco history as soon as possible, and made a move into the last turn of lap 2. It was a rash move indeed, Marco not expecting to be challenged and so the two made contact: with Simoncelli being by far the bigger of the two riders, it was always going to end up being worse for Lorenzo. The #99 was down.

And then the #99 popped back up again, the jolt flinging Lorenzo a foot into the air and off the bike. If the collision and first crash hadn’t done for him, then surely this would. But by some alchemy Lorenzo managed to stay attached to the Yamaha, settle himself and keep going in a forward direction: he lost positions to Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi, and only just held off Ben Spies, but he was still in the race. Okay, he might be now in 7th place, looking as though his chances of a podium finish were rather slender and at the cost of at least three of his racing lives, but it still ranked as one of the all-time most amazing saves in MotoGP history.

One of those six riders ahead of him exited just seconds later as Nicky Hayden lost the front end going into turn 1 of lap 3, the Ducati taking a violent tumble through the gravel. That left Casey Stoner fending off Dani Pedrosa for the lead, and rather against expectations Stoner wasn’t able to just pull away and hide: Pedrosa was clamped to his back wheel.

Lorenzo made short work of Dovizioso into turn 1 on lap 4, and closed up on his outgoing team mate, Valentino Rossi as they got to within striking distance of Simoncelli, the rider who had almost put Lorenzo out of the race for good: Rossi slipstreamed past him on the start/finish straight on lap 6 and outbraked him into turn 1, and Lorenzo proved a good student by pulling off the same move on Simoncelli next time around – this time without further contact between them.

Now the Yamaha duo were hunting down Stoner and Pedrosa. By third race distance, Pedrosa’s collarbone injuries were starting to tell and he lost touch of Stoner and finally was easy prey for Rossi on lap 10: and then Lorenzo was in no mood to wait and risk losing touch with his team mate and ruthlessly followed the 46 through and past Pedrosa into the next corner to cost Dani two places in a hundred yards. But Dani wasn’t in a position to fightback, and the rest of the race would fall him fall steadily back through the field to an eventual lonely 7th place.

Now Lorenzo had his two biggest rivals between him and a last race victory of the season: exactly the opportunity to show who was the best rider of 2010, and a chance to pay back earlier tussles with Rossi where Lorenzo, fighting for the championship, had needed to play safe and Rossi had come out top. No such considerations here at Valencia – they were all to fight for the win, pure and simple.

And at the start of lap 12, Rossi ran just a little wide out of turn 1 and onto the runoff area; a matter of inches, but it was all the opportunity Lorenzo needed, cutting down the inside of Rossi into turn 2 and forcing second position from him. Rossi tried to fight back but Lorenzo was simply too fast and already out of range. IN his last race after seven years at Yahama, the master has just been put firmly in his place by the new young champion.

Rossi wasn’t able to follow Lorenzo as he now gave chase to Stoner, finally catching the Ducati with seven laps to go. Stoner was clearly struggling with grip issues but doing a tremendous job wringing the next of the bike and pulling out every trick to thwart Lorenzo’s ambition of taking the lead. But Lorenzo was flying high on adrenalin after that near-disaster on lap 2 and would not be denied: when Stoner’s bike suddenly wobbled on the run-off from turn 2, Lorenzo seized his opportunity and roared past into the next left hander. Once in front, Lorenzo demonstrated his raw pace by pulling out a 4.5s lead over Stoner, who in turn was well clear of Rossi. Both former world champions, moving from their current teams after this race, were to be denied that emotional farewell win by the new champion, and he was delighting in proving the point to them and to all his critics.

Further back from the podium trio, Marco Simoncelli, Andrea Dovizioso and Ben Spies were engaged in a fierce battle for fourth place, which was briefly joined by Dani Pedrosa as he fell back through the positions. Simoncelli and Dovizioso traded the position several times in some close-fought racing, before Simoncelli finally came off the worst in the battle after making contact with Dovizioso on lap 27, an incident that allowed the wily Ben Spies the opportunity to pass them both and claim fourth place.

Loris Capirossi was the only other retirement other than Nicky Hayden, reporting a loss of power in the Suzuki and bringing it into the pits to retire on lap 14.

Valencia had offered a rousing finish to the 2010 season, and allowed Lorenzo to take on all of his rivals one-by-one and come out on top. Surely his critics will be silenced by this display – or by the season points haul (a record number for a MotoGP champion), the number of podium positions in a season (equalling Rossi’s record) and the number of top four finished with 18 eclipsing Rossi’s best of 16.) Lorenzo had shown that he had the consistency throughout the season, the sense to stay out of accidents that could injure him – and the fire in his belly to take the battle to his rival and come out victorious when he wasn’t having to juggle championship points.

And that incident on lap 2 showed that the Gods of Good Fortune were with him: save of the season, and then some. Quite a note to go out on.

Race result

Pos Rider            Team               Time/Gap
 1. Jorge Lorenzo    Yamaha           46:44.622s
 2. Casey Stoner     Ducati            +  4.576s
 3. Valentino Rossi  Yamaha            +  8.998s
 4. Ben Spies        Tech 3 Yamaha     + 17.643s
 5. Andrea Dovizioso Honda             + 19.160s
 6. Marco Simoncelli Gresini Honda     + 20.674s
 7. Dani Pedrosa     Honda             + 26.797s
 8. Hector Barbera   Aspar Ducati      + 29.288s
 9. Alvaro Bautista  Suzuki            + 29.451s
10. Randy de Puniet  LCR Honda         + 29.860s
11. Aleix Espargaro  Pramac Ducati     + 31.761s
12. Colin Edwards    Tech 3 Yamaha     + 33.604s
13. Marco Melandri   Gresini Honda     + 36.622s
14. Hiroshi Aoyama   Interwetten Honda + 38.968s
15. Carlos Checa     Pramac Ducati     + 56.169s

Retirements:

Loris Capirossi   Suzuki  13 laps
Nicky Hayden      Ducati  2 laps

MotoGP world championship standings

Pos Driver            Pts  Pos Constructor Pts   
1.  Jorge Lorenzo     383  1.  Yamaha      404   
2.  Daniel Pedrosa    245  2.  Honda       342   
3.  Valentino Rossi   233  3.  Ducati      286   
4.  Casey Stoner      225  4.  Suzuki      108   
5.  Andrea Dovizioso  206     
6.  Ben Spies         176     
7.  Nicky Hayden      163
8.  Marco Simoncelli  125
9.  Randy de Puniet   116
10. Colin Edwards     103
11. Marco Melandri    103
12. Hector Barbera     90
13. Alvaro Bautista    85
14. Aleix Espargaro    65
15. Hiroshi Aoyama     53
16. Loris Capirossi    44
17. Mika Kallio        43
18. Alex de Angelis    11
19. Roger Lee Hayden    5
20. Kousuke Akiyoshi    4
21. Carlos Checa        1
21. Wataru Yoshikawa    1
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