Rossi takes title lead as Elias wins Portuguese GP

One of the most dramatic races in MotoGP took place today in Estoril circuit of Portugal, where Toni Elias took his maiden victory in a tight head-to-head finish with Valentino Rossi. Rossi now leads the championship thanks to Nicky Hayden's ...

One of the most dramatic races in MotoGP took place today in Estoril circuit of Portugal, where Toni Elias took his maiden victory in a tight head-to-head finish with Valentino Rossi. Rossi now leads the championship thanks to Nicky Hayden's retirement in the sixteenth round of the of the FIM Road Racing World Championship (MotoGP).

Dani Pedrosa made one of the biggest mistakes ever seen in modern motorcycle Grand Prix racing, smashing into teammate Hayden early in the race and destroying the American's world championship lead. The two were closely following race leader Rossi and his teammate Colin Edwards four laps into the race, when it all went wrong for the Repsol Honda team.

Hayden, who had come into the weekend with a 12-point championship lead over Rossi, passed Pedrosa on the inside, with the aim of attacking the leading Yamahas.

"I was a lot faster than Edwards," Hayden recounted afterwards. "I had just made up my mind that I'd pass him right there on the brakes and I felt I could go and see what Valentino had. I don't expect Dani to pull over and let me by but I definitely didn't expect him to do that."

"That" was a desperate attempt on Pedrosa's part to take back third place from his teammate on the following lap. He came too fast into turn six, tried to squeeze on the inside of Edwards, but there was no way for him to brake fast enough to make the corner. As it happened, he lost grip on the front wheel, and slid off the track, taking Hayden with him.

There certainly were no team orders at Repsol Honda, with Pedrosa still in with a mathematical chance at the title, coming into the race. But a suicidal team accident was surely not what Honda boss Makato Tanaka had in mind.

"We're professionals and Dani did come to my motorhome and talk to me afterwards and we shook hands," Hayden said. "I need Dani's help now because anything could happen in Valencia, so I hope his hand's OK. I told him there's a way to make it up to me and that's if we run one-two in Valencia then the championship's still possible."

With both the Repsol Honda boys out after Pedrosa's incredible mistake, Rossi seemed to be all set for a romp to victory. He led the race until the final laps, when Elias, coming from 11th in the grid, closed a fantastic performance by taking the lead to Rossi's amazement on the 22nd lap.

Rossi retook the lead on the next lap, but then Kenny Roberts Jr. also made his way past Elias, and slipped past the defending champion just before the end of the lap. The three riders crossed the start-finish line for the penultimate time nearly side by side, but Elias got the line right for the first corner and took the lead again.

Rossi got the lead back with but two corners left, and looked to be all set for a victory, but Elias tucked into Rossi's slipstream, and managed to squeeze just barely past Rossi at the line, taking the victory by two thousandths of a second.

"This is a dream I have dreamed many times," Elias exclaimed. "I had never led a MotoGP race before, so I was a little nervous in the last laps with two World Champions right behind me. When (Rossi) passed me at the chicane on the last lap I concentrated very hard on the last corner and I had good grip, so I could pass him on the way to the finish line."

Roberts matched his best result of the season with another third place for Team Roberts, 0.2 seconds behind Elias and Rossi. The team appear to have their KR211 machine well sorted now, and are able to fight for race wins.

"At the end, I mistook two laps to go for one, and when I crossed the line next time I thought I'd get the chequered flag," Roberts explained his passing move. "But there was one more lap. It took me off guard, or maybe I could have blocked them better in turn one."

Edwards was the fourth and last man in the leading pack, finishing seven tenths behind Roberts, but a comfortable 18 seconds ahead of Makoto Tamada on a Konica Minolta Honda.

For the other title hopeful, Ducati's Loris Capirossi, the race also turned into a big disappointment. The team never got their setup right, struggling throughout the weekend to get the combination of chassis and Bridgestone tires to work right. In the event Capirossi finished 45 seconds off the pace, in 12th place -- just behind Alex Hofmann on a Pramac d'Antin customer Ducati.

"It has been a difficult weekend," Capirossi said. "We never found a good solution for our tyres here, they just didn't work on the new tarmac. Bridgestone brought some different tyres overnight which we tried in warm-up and although we had some problems we decided to use this tyre for the race. But I started losing grip after a few laps, I had to fight to make the finish."

Capirossi's teammate, Sete Giberneau, fared worse yet. He was just a passenger on a Casey Stoner crash, as the young Australian capped a weekend to forget with a heavy accident.

"I don't know if I lost the rear in the middle of the corner," Stoner explained. "It seemed to slip a bit and as it came back it flicked out on me. All I remember is another bike hitting me pretty hard. I think Sete's bike smashed into the lower part of my right leg, but nothing's broken."

Giberneau, though, broke his finger and damaged one of the plates that had been screwed to his collarbone after his big shunt at the start of the Valencian GP in June.

"I passed a few guys on the first lap, then Stoner crashed just in front of me and I couldn't miss his bike," the Spaiard explained. "The fifth metacarpal in my right hand is broken and it seems I may have bent one of the plates that's screwed to the collarbone. But I'm lucky it's not more serious, it could have been worse."

Elias's victory took from Rossi five points that could be really important in the title's definition that will come in two weeks time in Valencia, Spain. Still, Rossi only needs a second-place finish in the final race to guarantee another MotoGP title for his extensive collection.

After Portugal, Rossi leads the standings for the first time this season with 244 points and is followed by Hayden, who stays at 236.

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Nicky Hayden , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Colin Edwards , Kenny Roberts Jr. , Toni Elias , Casey Stoner , Dani Pedrosa , Alex Hofmann