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GP Week : Issue 36
point. Stoner was on pole again, by a big margin … but Rossi simply wouldn’t let him get ahead for long enough to make a break. Eventually, frustrated beyond endurance, Stoner made a mistake – into the gravel and over the bars. He remounted for second, but his rhythm was broken. In the next two races at Brno and Misano he took off in the lead, only to fall again. He did have another problem – a troublesome left wrist injury: a broken scaphoid from 2003 had begun to fall to pieces again. It required surgery directly after the last race, and definitely hampered his performance for the rest of the year. But Rossi didn’t need much help. A run of five wins in a row took him to a clear and magnificent sixth premier-class World Championship with three races to spare. It was a master class. The top three had risen far above – except for rookies Lorenzo and Dovizioso, fourth and fifth overall. But what of the rest? Honda had another poor season, in general, not helped when favoured rider Pedrosa lost all his faith in Michelin tyres, after the French manufacturer had a couple of bad races. With the help of influential manager Alberto Puig, he persuaded the factory team to an embarrassing mid-season switch to Bridgestone. Team-mate Hayden (who stayed on Michelin) was already struggling, having opted to switch to the pneumatic-valve-spring engine early, before the factory felt it was race ready. Nicky only made the rostrum twice. The satellite-team Hondas, Dovizioso apart, were somewhat average, though generally enlivening what was often a good battle for the middle places. Class rookie Alex de Angelis fell off a lot, but on his day could spring a surprise, including a couple of fourths. Kawasaki and Suzuki were again the strugglers among the factory teams. Both were saddled with bikes that weren’t quite fast enough – lacking in one or another area. Maybe not even 48 by that much, but the margins are very crucial with the super- accurate 800s, and their riders paid the price. Capirossi did better than expected on the Suzuki, but was pushing very hard and suffered several injuries. Same for Hopkins in his first year on Kawasaki. Second Suzuki man Vermeulen actually made the rostrum twice, but was more often stricken with a twin lack of grip and urge. One extraordinary feature was just how badly all the other Ducati riders did. Stoner could make the bike win, but factory team-mate Melandri (a former 250 champion and not infrequent MotoGP winner) was struggling right at the back, along with satellite Duke riders Guintoli and Elias. And second Kawasaki rider West. Rain was a keynote of the year. Only two races were completely unaffected by the weather – Qatar and Laguna Secas; while Hurricane Ike disrupted the inaugural Indianapolis meeting so badly that both 125 and MotoGP races were curtailed and the 250 round cancelled altogether. The most significant development came amid a general movement towards more restrictive rules and greater technical control – the shift to a single tyre rule for 2009. The story went on all year after Rossi had switched from Michelin to Bridgestone at the end of last season, after seeing how the Japanese challengers to French dominance had improved. From there it went rapidly, especially after Michelin got the tyre equation all wrong at consecutive races in the USA and the Czech Republic. By year’s end the politicking was over and the die was cast. For 2009, Bridgestone will be the sole supplier, and already restricted tyre numbers will be halved. Racing is going through a spell of change. And once again – as when the two-strokes were dumped for four-strokes, and the 990s replaced by 800s – it is overseen by the same great champion, Valentino Rossi.