MotoGP's young guns Marco Melandri (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) and Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) fought out a tense duel in today's season-ending Valencia Grand Prix.
The pair made the 30-lap all their own, Melandri beating Hayden by just 0.097 seconds. World Champion Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) completed an all-Michelin podium in third spot, after starting from the fifth row. This was the third time in the last four races that the two Italians and the American have filled the top three finishing positions. "In fact, it's three young guys on the podium, it's just that everyone knows one of them a little better than the others!" smiled Michelin's chief of motorcycle competitions Nicolas Goubert. "Last year this race was the only GP that was slower than in 2003, even if the difference was just three seconds. This year we were 15 seconds faster than last year, a difference of half a second a lap. The top guys were fast and consistent, with Valentino especially quick during the later stages. It's interesting that Marco and Nicky have very different riding styles but both chose the same medium-casing rear slick today. We feel sorry for Sete (Gibernau, Telefonica Movistar
Honda RC211V-Michelin) who was again out of luck after starting from pole once more, I've never known a rider have such bad luck. "Overall this has been a great year for us, with 15 wins from 17 races despite strong competition and an exceptionally fast pace. Indeed it's been an exceptional year for Michelin in all disciplines, with World Championship victories in MotoGP, F1 and WRC, as well as the Le Mans 24 hours." Today's race was a two-way affair from the early laps, 23-year-old former 125 prodigy Melandri and 24- year-old former dirt tracker Hayden breaking away from the pack after half a dozen laps, after which they were never separated by more than half a second. Melandri led all the way, Hayden throwing everything into a last-lap attack that went awry. "The last two weeks have been unbelievable," said Melandri, who won his first MotoGP race in Turkey on October 23 and ends 2005 second overall, just ahead of Hayden. "The race was wonderful, I tried to ride some strong laps to go away from Nicky but he stayed with me. Then I thought about allowing him into the lead but it's so difficult to overtake here that I decided against it. Thanks to Honda and to Michelin, my tyres were perfect today."
Hayden, who won his first MotoGP race in July, wasn't happy at getting beaten but was happy with his fourth successive podium result. "I felt comfortable, the tyres were great," he said. "I was going to try going up the inside at the last turn but after he got sideways in the fast left before that he went to the inside to block me, so I had to abandon that plan."
Rossi, the oldest of the trio at 26 years old, was satisfied with his 16th podium from 17 races because he'd started from 15th on the grid, following a high-speed tumble during qualifying. This was his worst grid position since his second GP, way back in 1996. "I think it's impossible to win when you start from 15th," said Rossi, winner of 11 races this year. "We made a mistake with our settings, which we only understood this morning. I made a good recovery in the race, it was quite fun."
Alex Barros (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin) won a race-long battle for fifth with Max Biaggi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), Colin Edwards (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) finishing a further few seconds back in eighth position.