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GP Week : Issue 194
MOTOGP >>> FEATUrE This has been a rich season of racing by all sorts of measures. especially records. especially Marquez’s records. even should he not win the title next sunday in Valencia to become only the third rookie in GP history to take the premier crown, the 20-year-old smiler from the countryside outside Barcelona has already taken a fistful of records, including youngest-ever pole, race win, two-, three- and then four-in-a-row wins, most wins in his first season ... And even if (as we can easily surmise) he doesn’t become champion at Valencia, he still has another year to do it, and still be youngest-ever champion. Fittingly, it comes with another piece of history. For the first time since 2006 and the second in the past 20 years, the title is going to go down to the final race. A nail-biter. And all thanks to one inexplicable blunder that got the rookie disqualified at Phillip Island. His other wise blameless team couldn’t count the laps right. Thus the final GP of the year adds another page to a history of last-gasp deciders, among them some of racing’s most memorable moments. Races where the championship had a sting in its tail. To an extent, having a championship that spins out to the last depends on how the points are structured. Back at the 1949 dawn of the World Championship title- winning margins were frequently one or two points, but it was all so different that it doesn’t really bear comparison. There were so few points on the table, for one thing. And in any case each rider counted from sometimes only just over half the already small number of races each year. In this way, you might secure the title only at the last race, without even having to attend it. Only from 1977 did every race count, making a coherent series. In almost 37 years of racing, the decision has gone to the last race nine times. It was not always as tense as it sounds. For example, in 1993 Kevin Schwantz only definitely defeated Wayne Rainey at the 14th of 14 rounds at Jarama, but it was a damp squib. Triple-champion Rainey had crashed out with three races to go, leading on points. Severely injured, and wheelchair-bound ever since, his abrupt departure left racing in a state of shock. It was something of a formality for Schwantz to gather enough points over the remaining races to win his own first title. “I’d much rather not be champion and Wayne hadn’t got hurt,” he said. There was a sense of anti-climax also the last time Valencia crowned a new king. That was in 2006, when Rossi arrived having taken over a long-standing lead from Nicky Hayden. It should have been a shoo-in. Even Hayden thought so. But instead it was Rossi who blinked, crashing in the early laps, and scrambling back on board too late to stop the American securing it by just five points (below), the second-narrowest margin in our period of almost four decades. Not that Nicky didn’t deserve it: his chances had been scuppered and Rossi’s reawakened only at the previous round, when team-mate Dani Pedrosa knocked him flying in Portugal in a quite unprovoked green-on-green attack. But among the other seven are some real epics. Although in a couple of cases (notably that of John Surtees) the edges are quite blurred, there have been only two maiden- season champions. The first was Umberto Masetti in year two, who triumphed the same year he ran his first 500cc GP. The dashing Italian did have 125 and 250 experience, however. The next was Kenny Roberts, and he was the real thing, coming into the World Championships from serial success in the USA, facing not only new tracks and new rivals, but also new countries and an unfamiliar class of racing. In Kenny’s first year, 1978, he also ran a 250 campaign in the earlier races ... to help him learn his way round places like Jarama and so on, that he’d never seen before. (The modern equivalent would have to be a rider learning tracks on the PlayStation.) His rival was defending double champion Barry Sheene, and the last round was the West German round at the old Nürburgring. Riders all thought it too dangerous, and there would be only one more race there; reluctant Roberts finished third and a downbeat Sheene fourth. Sheene would have needed to win and for Roberts to be sixth or lower (down to a no-score if Sheene were third). All of King Kenny’s three in a row went to the last round, but the real cliff-hanger came in 1983, the year he lost to the (so-far) youngest-ever champion Freddie Spencer. The young and old American battled for every lap of the last round at Imola, Kenny getting ahead to slow the pace, then Freddie taking a turn at speeding it up again. Kenny won, but it was enough for Freddie to be second. His tactics had left Kenny’s Yamaha team-mate Eddie Lawson too far behind to prevent it. The Honda rider lost the race by just over a second, but secured his first title by the closest ever margin in the modern era. Just two points. Marco Lucchinelli tied up his single 1981 crown in Sweden by finishing ninth; no great shakes with last remaining rival Randy Mamola taking zero points. Eddie Lawson’s fourth of four (after turning his coat from Yamaha to Honda) was secured when he beat Rainey to second, but in fact he didn’t even need to do that. Rainey’s third of three was a last- rounder at Kyalami, in somewhat unique circumstances. Mick Doohan had been running away with it until he broke his leg mid-season at Assen, suffering horrendous medical complications. He missed four races, came back for the second-last in Brazil looking like a feeble spectre and failed to score points, but left still leading by two points. Two weeks later, still semi-maimed, he could manage no better than sixth in South Africa. Third was enough for Rainey to triumph by four points. 28 GPWEEK.com // 28 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: