|After a magnificent season and one
of the most exciting races of all time in the last race at Estoril,
the breathtaking 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 a sell-out crowd into the
Ricardo Tormo circuit ready to see either Valentino Rossi or Nicky
Hayden take the ultimate accolade in motorcycle racing.
The five-time MotoGP World Champion 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. In its simplest form, 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 MotoGP era. There are also possibilities based on Hayden finishing ahead of the Camel Yamaha rider.
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 combined with a Hayden win would send the crown to Kentucky. For the first time this year, the title is out of the Americanís 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 ever chance of a premier class title.
Although a discreet result in Portugal ended Marco Melandriís 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 Gresiniís team for 2007 will have last yearís 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 seasonís outstanding performers, also saw the mathematical possibility of a title slip away at Estoril. Capirossi is the only other rider apart from Hayden and Rossi to lead the championship this season, and will hope to cement Ducatiís best ever finish in the series by sneaking third from Melandri.
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 rookieís home country. His final race on a 990cc machine before the introduction of new rules which could favour Pedrosaís 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 Jrís season has continued to improve alongside his KR211V bike. As new parts have been added and chassis modified, the American has climbed up the standings to currently lie in sixth. Roberts 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 last 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 Italianís one-rider outfit.
Speculation abounds as to the future of Herve Poncharalís 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 has also renewed his contract with Fausto Gresini, once again accompanying Marco Melandri next season.
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. However, it is Troy Bayliss, the rider who lined up for Ducatiís first MotoGP outing in 2003, who will give the 990cc Desmosedici its final run-out.
Practice for the Gran Premio bwin.com de la Comunitat Valenciana get underway on Friday, with the crucial MotoGP race taking place on Sunday at 2pm local time (GMT+1 after clocks go back on Sunday morning).
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 grand prix in any class, could complete his best ever season in the category by taking the bronze in the overall classification.
2006ís best privateer Roberto Locatelli and Yuki Takahashi complete the top six in MotoGPís 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. Bautistaís 325 points earned this season also puts him above Rossiís 1997 total of 321, the previous record.
Mika Kallioís third place at Estoril, coupled with Mattia Pasiniís crash at the same race, confirmed the Finnís 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 classí top six.
The Circuito de la Comunitat Valenciana - Ricardo Tormo 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.
Although the track is regarded as quite small, the pit complex contains 48 garages whilst the stadium style grandstands can seat up to 125,000 spectators. 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, to be presented to the circuit this weekend.