Honda enjoyed a great 2009 season finale at Valencia today with Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) winning the MotoGP race in dominant style and Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda) securing the last-ever 250 World Championship. It was a fitting climax to the season that marked Honda's 50th anniversary of Grand Prix racing.
Pedrosa was in awesome form. He led from start to finish, leaving his rivals struggling to match his pace during the 30 lap event run in cool, windy conditions. Starting from the front row of the grid the local hero took just three laps to open a 2.1 second gap over his pursuers, using the speed of his RC212V to maximum advantage (Pedrosa was fastest through the start/finish speed trap at 316.6km/h). At one stage he was 4.4 seconds in front of closest challenger Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), finally crossing the line 2.6 seconds ahead of the Italian who just bettered team-mate Jorge Lorenzo.
Pedrosa's second victory and 11th podium of the year gave him third in the 2009 MotoGP World Championship. The only man who could have beaten him to third overall was Casey Stoner (Ducati), but the Australian didn't even make the start after sliding off during the warm-up lap. Cool conditions made the track quite treacherous throughout the weekend.
Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) took a hard-fought sixth-place finish, just behind Nicky Hayden (Ducati). Elias made a lightning fast start from the third row of the grid to complete the first lap in second place. The Spaniard didn't quite have the pace to stay there, however, and gradually slipped back to spend much of the race battling with Hayden. Nevertheless Elias did enough to secure seventh place in the championship, just in front of team-mate Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini).
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) started from the fourth row after a difficult qualifying session but wasn't daunted by the task ahead of him. The Italian was 14th after one lap, and then he started working his way through the pack, even though Valencia isn't the kind of track that makes overtaking easy. During the mid-stages of the race he was in a five-man group fighting for seventh position. Eventually Dovizioso fought his way to the front of that group and spent the last third of the race battling back and forth with recently crowned World Superbike Ben Spies (Yamaha). Spies prevailed, crossing the finish line just sixth tenths ahead of Dovizioso who finished less than six seconds off fourth place.
De Angelis and Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) took 11th and 12th. De Puniet ran well during the early stages, holding sixth place between Colin Edwards (Yamaha) and Hayden, but began to have some rear-grip issues in left-handers; a real problem on an anti-clockwise racetrack. De Angelis also found the going quite slippery, but chased Mika Kallio (Ducati) all the way, finishing less than a second behind the Finn.
Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda) had a tough race, finishing 16th, less than three seconds off final points scorer Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki).
The 250 World Championship was the only 2009 title fight to go down to the wire, and today's 250 race was a real thriller. The race was also the last 250 GP, 60 years after the first 250 GP was staged in June 1949. Next year the class will be replaced by the new Moto2 category.
Aoyama needed to finish a minimum of 11th if title rival Marco Simoncelli (Gilera) won the race. At one-third distance Simoncelli was ahead when Aoyama ran off the track at the high-speed first corner while in the lead pack, rejoining in 11th place after a long excursion through the gravel trap! The title was finally decided when Simoncelli crashed out of the lead with seven laps to go, handing race victory to Hector Barbera (Aprilia). Aoyama finished in seventh spot to give Honda its 16th 250 riders' title. It was in this class that Honda won its first World Championship in 1961, with Mike Hailwood. And that 1961 world title success was also the first in motorsport by a Japanese manufacturer.
Aoyama's team-mate Raffaele De Rosa (Scot Honda) completed a wonderful day for the San Marino-based Scot team by finishing third to secure sixth overall and claim the coveted Rookie of the Year title. De Rosa rode another stunning race, storming through from 12th to claim his second podium of the year.
Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT-SAG) also enjoyed a great ride in the last 250 race, equalling his best result with fifth place, a fraction ahead of Kael Abraham (Aprilia). Wilairot's team-mate Hector Faubel (Valencia CF-Honda SAG) was less fortunate, the local star sliding off while in the group contesting sixth place.
Shoya Tomizawa (Team CIP Honda) equalled his best result of his rookie GP year with a determined ride to tenth place. He scored his first top-ten result at his home GP at Motegi. Team-mate Valentin Debise (Team CIP Honda) picked up the last point in 15th, a good result considering he had slid off twice during the weekend.
Shuhei Aoyama (Racing Team Germany Honda) took 11th place, nine seconds down on Aoyama. This was the younger Aoyama brother's fourth race since returning to GP duties at last month's Portuguese GP.
Off-season commences at Valencia tomorrow, then continues at Sepang, Malaysia, in February. The 18-round 2010 MotoGP World Championship gets underway at Losail, Qatar, on April 9/10/11.
HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda: race winner. "It's really great to finish off the season with a win, especially here in front of my home fans. I was waiting on the grid with my visor up and I was looking to the side for Casey to arrive, but the marshal in front of me was walking to the side and I was thinking: 'Where is he going!' So I assumed something had happened to Casey on the warm-up lap. In the first few laps I had to be careful because you have to warm up the tyres here, especially on the right hand side. But once that was done, we maintained a good pace and kept focused. In the last laps, the wind was strong and it would have been easy to make a mistake, but I was able to control the gap to Valentino and take this win. I was thinking back to Laguna Seca where Valentino closed the gap a lot, and I also knew that Jorge was catching Valentino too, so I just kept pushing. I'm very happy for the team because we struggled quite a lot in practice here, and yet we were able to win in front of all the Spanish fans. I'd like to thank the fans too. To get third in the championship is not what I was expecting but it's a nice surprise, even though Casey wasn't in the race. This season has not been easy and tomorrow's testing will be important so that we can start 2010 in the best possible shape. This gives us a good start towards that."
Toni Elias, San Carlo Honda Gresini: sixth. "I started the weekend with a bit of a cold, which hasn't helped, and we had a few technical issues to resolve too. The team have done a great job though to give me a bike that I was able to ride to the maximum in qualifying yesterday and in the race today, which gave me the opportunity to take seventh place in the championship, which six riders were going for. I was calm going into the race because I know I usually start well and after that it was a case of pushing as hard as I could to stay with the front guys, who were on another planet again here. I managed to stick it out with Nicky and Colin for the whole race although they were slightly faster than me and it was an effort to stay with them. In the end I knew seventh place in the championship was ours if I could finish sixth so I gritted my teeth to the end. There are so many people I want to thank. My MotoGP adventure is over for now but I hope to be back as soon as possible after taking on the new challenge that awaits me, starting tomorrow, in Moto2."
Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda: eighth. "We overtook a lot of riders in the race, but I cannot be happy with this result because we lost fifth place in the championship, and keeping that position was our target today. I had a bad start and lost a lot of time overtaking riders with a slower pace than mine, and this caused me to lose contact with Edwards and Elias. If I had started from further up the grid, I had the rhythm and pace to fight with them, but starting from the fourth row everything is more difficult. In the end Spies overtook me and I couldn't re-pass him, and with eighth position at the finish I lost my fifth position in the championship. I don't want to make any excuse for this result. I'm just looking forward to the future. We have worked a lot this season and, although it hasn't been easy, we have learned a lot. I'd like to thank my team for their hard work, and from tomorrow the 2010 season starts. Honda has brought a new chassis and I'm really looking forward to testing it."
Alex De Angelis, San Carlo Honda Gresini: tenth. "I'm happy because we've finished the season with a good position in the championship, virtually the first satellite rider if you consider that Edwards is a test rider on pretty much factory machinery and Elias was on the factory Honda. We're also ahead of the two factory Suzukis. It was a difficult race today because the rear was sliding around a lot but I think I held my own and did pretty well with what we had. I want to thank all the sponsors and everybody in the team for helping me make this position in the championship possible. "
Randy de Puniet, LCR Honda: 11th. "Honestly, I would have preferred to finish the last race of the season in the top six, so I am a bit disappointed about today's result. I made a good start from the third row, but after 12 laps I started to lose some grip on the left side of the rear tyre; that's why the other guys caught me! However I want to thank Lucio [Cecchinello] and the rest of the team for their efforts. We have had a positive season together and I am pretty sure we could have had a better result if I hadn't broken my left ankle in the middle of the season. I am happy to continue with LCR for next year because we have got the potential to be the most competitive private Honda team."
Gabor Talmacsi, Scot Honda: 16th. "I'm not satisfied with the race. While I got a good feeling from the bike in the qualifying session, the race was a different story. I had to fight the bike all the way. About the season in general, it has been very tough. They say what does not kill you makes you stronger. Well, I collected a lot of experience in my first MotoGP races. I'll make good use of it next season, in Moto2. I want to thank the team for all they did for me."
HONDA 250cc RIDER QUOTES
Raffaele De Rosa, Scot Honda: third. "I enjoyed the race. It has been a fantastic weekend -- great on the track, great in the garage. At the beginning of the race there were so many riders in front of me, so I realised it was going to be tough. Then, I started to make up positions, improving lap by lap. The tyres begin to get to the limit, but I went on recovering positions. The wind was strong, but I could manage the conditions. I'm happy for myself and for the team. Thanks to everybody. And I want to congratulate Aoyama: he has been brave to get the title in such tricky conditions. Well done, Hiro!"
Ratthapark Wilairot, Thai Honda PTT-SAG: fifth. "The start was not so bad but at the first corner I was on the outside line and a lot of riders overtook me. After that I had a good pace but the engine was lacking a few rpm. At that moment I was behind Cluzel but it was difficult passing him. At the end I had a good battle with Abraham. I want to thank all the team for their great work during all the year. We had problems that we solved perfectly and if I hadn't had some bad luck with injuries I'm sure I would have finished higher in the overall standings."
Hiroshi Aoyama, Scot Honda: seventh. "I have been racing for 23 years, so I have been waiting for this moment for 23 years. It's incredible! I am very proud to win this title, and it makes it extra special that it's the last 250 title. Today I wanted to win the race, so I was pushing, pushing, pushing, but finally I pushed too much and went outside of the track. I was riding in the gravel, like riding motocross and I kept telling myself 'Don't crash! Don't crash!' I came back on track, but I was so far back and it was so difficult to think about my position. Finally I saw Simoncelli had crashed, so I knew then that my position was okay to win the title. Today's race was not the best for me but to win the championship is fantastic. This has been a difficult season, but my team staff gave me great support, we had a great team, they cheered me up and gave me extra motivation when I needed it. I want to say a big, big thank you to everyone -- Scot, Honda, Dunlop, everyone who helped me. It was not so easy, but I could push hard with all this help."
Shoya Tomizawa, Team CIP Honda: tenth. "I made some mistakes on the first lap, I wanted to pass some people but I found it impossible with a full fuel load. I came back little by little and finally I could get tenth place, same as I got at Motegi. Now I am looking forward to Moto2, I start testing in January with our Suter bike."
Shuhei Aoyama, Racing Team Germany Honda: 11th. "Yesterday we had a issues with the suspension and engine. This morning we changed the suspension back to our Friday setting and it was better. For the race I was very concentrated to make a good start. After that I pushed behind Pesek, Passini and Locatelli. I wanted to try to pass in the corners because on the straight the gap was too big. Finally, I'm happy with the result because the weekend was so difficult compared to Portugal, Australia and Malaysia."
Valentin Debise, Team CIP Honda: 15th. "It has been a difficult weekend, so I am happy to get another point. I crashed again this morning. I had slowed down looking for a slipstream, so the tyre cooled down and I fell. We changed the settings and fitted a softer front tyre for the race and the bike was better."
Hector Faubel, Valencia CF-Honda SAG: DNF. "Today I made an incredible start, from ninth position to fourth! It was really good because I found a good lap pace, but then the front suspension problem I'd had all weekend appeared again, the front suspension rebounding. I knew I had to push hard to move up the overall points standing. Finally, I crashed because I was at the limit and that was difficult with the front rebounding. Anyway, we worked hard for a good result today and all the riders in front of me in the overall standing were behind me, so I finished ninth overall. Crashes are part of racing and we should not be sad for these things. I want to thank all the people who have helped me this year."