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GP Week : Issue 36
New goalposts, same m I It doesn’t seem to matter what changes in the world of MotoGP, there is still one name that finds itself to the top of the table – Valentino Rossi.MICHAEL SCOTT looks at how the Italian won his eighth title T started in the floodlights at Qatar, and finished in the doldrums in Valencia. In between, MotoGP 2008 served up a year of surprises, variety, tension – and even on a good day some really classic racing. It was the second time out for the new-generation 800cc MotoGP safety bikes, brought in at the behest of the Japanese manufacturers on the grounds that the 990cc predecessors were becoming too fast for human life to be sustained. The 800s immediately started breaking lap records, but the nature of the racing had changed. 2007 seemed to herald an era where overtaking was so difficult that it became a rarity. The last round at Valencia brought more of the same, but in fact there had been quite a lot of relief during the season before. A new breed of rookies proved that passing is possible, if you believe in it enough. Ex-250 stars Lorenzo and Dovizioso were two of them, and even on occasion double Superbike champion James Toseland – flashes in an otherwise difficult debut GP year. Lorenzo took pole in the first three races and won the third, inadvertently supporting the argument that the new 800s are just too easy to ride. Then he started tumbling, usually in the most ostentatious manner, and the establishment took over for the punishing weekend-on/weekend-off routine of the European season. Defending champion Stoner had won the first race at Qatar with familiar ease, but then he ran into hard times, on the rostrum only three times in the next six races. Instead it was his old 250 rival in a purple patch: Pedrosa on the tailor-made factory Honda. Although machine development was lagging somewhat – the Honda was the only bike apart from the uniquely desmodromic Ducati not to use pneumatic valve springs – Dani won two of the first nine races (both in his native Spain), and was off the rostrum only once. It gave him a handy points lead when they went to round eight in Germany. There, in streaming rain and with a massive on-track lead, he went flying into the barrier. Stoner won the race, but Rossi took over the points lead. He was 20 ahead of the Australian. And the drama was still building. Stoner had come back fighting after a radical settings improvement to the fast but feisty factory Duke, and Germany was his third win in a row. He’d also been on pole for the last four races. Keep going like this and he’d soon be in a position to turn the season his way. Now it was Rossi’s time to show his true depth. The next race at Laguna Seca was the turning 46