After Saturday’s power struggle, seen much of the world, that brings an Italian to Formula One and California to MotoGP, the two highest-level motor sports circuits in the world, the final chapter of the race unfolded on a second-half-of-the-night format in Spanish town Valencia.
The near-fatal crash of Valentino Rossi, seven times world champion, had turned this final race into a turning point. After finally out-qualifying his Finnish team-mate, Dani Pedrosa, the podium was Rossi’s to lose.
The 43-year-old fell early and hit the wall hard on the way down, and the crash seemed certain to end his MotoGP career, but Rossi managed to get back on his bike and face the final lap on his own. With the last lap 11 seconds short of completion, Rossi coasted across the line.
Fearing Rossi’s four-year run at No. 1 would end in the first year after Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo took the title, Yamaha team principal Michael Valiante confirmed that “the beginning of the end” had begun in Valencia. Rossi’s 48th podium was only his second of the season, and that only after six career races.
Longer than the final race of any race weekend, the last lap in Valencia ebbed and flowed through patches of sun and cloud. Jorge Lorenzo had been expected to enjoy a day of relative satisfaction, after leading the entire race for 68 laps, ahead of Dani Pedrosa of Honda and Dani Pedrosa’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo.
While he failed to stay in front, Lorenzo was in the role of champion-in-waiting all day as Rossi’s fate hung in the balance. The crowd, all 67,000 in sight, watched nervously in a city center plaza. When he finally started to slide out on the inside of the last lap in the number 15 Yamaha, Lorenzo had his task cut short.
By then Valentino Rossi was already writing his memoirs as he looked back on a 14-year career that saw him win 896 times in 1,557 Grand Prix races and 18 MotoGP World Championships. Under the blue lights, about 250 fans turned out to give him a lengthy standing ovation as the crowd waved two huge red flags.