Hayden is 2006 champion as Rossi falls in Valencia

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Hayden is 2006 champion as Rossi falls in Valencia

In a dramatic fashion, Nicky Hayden today became the new world champion, finishing in third place on his Repsol Honda, helped by Valentino Rossi's thirteenth place -- due to a fall in the fourth lap of the "Gran Premio de la Comunitat Valenciana".

In a dramatic fashion, Nicky Hayden today became the new world champion, finishing in third place on his Repsol Honda, helped by Valentino Rossi's thirteenth place -- due to a fall in the fourth lap of the "Gran Premio de la Comunitat Valenciana". This was the season finale of the FIM Road Racing World Championship (MotoGP), and took place on the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia, Spain.

Nicky Hayden.
Photo by Repsol YPF Media.
"When you dedicate your life to something and the dream comes true it feels so good!" Hayden said after the champagne shower. This is a proud day for me, the team and my family. When I went down at the beginning of the Estoril race I thought the dream was over but I just didn't give up. Anything can happen in racing and you just keep fighting until the end. I just believe good things happen to good people and this is a great day for me."

The race was won in convincing fashion by Troy Bayliss on a Marlboro Ducati, who took the lead at the first corner of the race and never looked back. He was followed by his teammate, Loris Capirossi, giving the Italian squad its first-ever one-two MotoGP finish.

It was a triumphant return, with the maiden MotoGP victory, for the Australian, who was racing in Valencia as a replacement for the injured Sete Gibernau. Bayliss, a veteran of three MotoGP campaigns with Ducati and Honda, had switched back to World Superbikes for the 2006 season, and clinched the WSBK title for Xerox Ducati earlier this month.

Marco Melandri and Loris Capirossi.
Photo by Team Gresini.
It's been a fairytale weekend, I'm still pinching myself," said the happy Bayliss. I've had a great year, winning the World Superbike championship was a good start! Then just when I was kicking back I got a phone call asking if I was interested in doing this ride. It was something I couldn't knock back because I started the Desmosedici project with Loris at the end of 2002 and had some great times in 2003 and 2004, so to be able to come back and finish off the story at the last 990 race was incredible."

Bayliss took the chequered flag 1.3 seconds ahead of his teammate, and Capirossi, who also set the fastest lap of the race, was in turn 7.9 seconds ahead of Hayden, who was riding very conservatively by the end to ensure his third place and the championship.

My start wasn't so great, some guys overtook me," Capirossi recounted. "Anyway, I got past them and tried to follow Troy, but he rode really, really well today. My pit board told me that second was good enough for third in the championship but it would have been difficult to beat him. I am really happy with third overall and we are only 23 points behind the champion."

Valentino Rossi falls.
Photo by Yamaha Racing Communications.
When it seemed that Rossi had a fairly easy task to retain his world champion condition, the Italian's problems began with the start itself, as he dropped from the pole position to seventh place on the opening lap, while Hayden jumped from fifth to third, behind Bayliss and Capirossi.

In his need to recover places, Rossi lost his Yamaha on the fifth lap as his front wheel lost traction, taking him to the floor. The seven-time world champion was able to pick up the bike from the gravel trap and continue on the race, but 20th in the classification.

"Basically I made two mistakes today - one was at the start and then the second one was the crash," the MotoGP legend admitted. "It has been a very emotional season, with some great moments, some bad luck and now some mistakes. But this is racing."

Quickly, the pitboard showed Hayden the good news: "Rossi P20". From that point on, the American, who was fighting with Bayliss for the lead, started to regulate the situation on board his Honda RC211V. Rossi charged through the field, but was not able to do better than 13th by the finish, falling five points short of Hayden's total.

Race winner Troy Bayliss celebrates with Loris Capirossi.
Photo by Ducati Corse.
"All I can say now is a big 'congratulations' to Nicky because he is a great guy, a great rider and he is the World Champion because he has been the best this year," Rossi conceded. "It has been a great fight with him this year - not like in the past with other riders when there have always been some polemics - and we have great respect for each other."

Hayden held the third place until the chequered flag fell, as the Kentucky Kid crossed the finish line after what surely were the longest laps of his life riding a bike.

"I swear on the warm-up lap this morning I was riding round in front of a full house here and I had tears in my eyes because I knew this was the chance of a lifetime and I had to go for it," Hayden recalled. "I've felt all year that this was my year -- even at Estoril when Elias beat Rossi I believed it. I knew that, win or lose, I was going to sleep well tonight because I was gonna give it my all today."

He indeed gave it his all, and snatched the championship from the grasp of one of the greatest riders of all time, ending the season with 252 points, five more than Rossi, who finished with 247. Capirossi's second place today secured him top third in the standings with 229.

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