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Dani Pedrosa emerged victorious in an exciting and incident packed Motorcycle Grand Prix of Valencia at the Ricardo Tormo circuit Sunday evening. Mixed conditions on a drying track produced much action in a race that witnessed a bizarre start with Pedrosa electing to swap tyres and begin from the pits.
Yamaha replacement rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga scored a shock second place in only his second Grand Prix this year, albeit a long way down the road from the winner.
Casey Stoner secured a third place to bow out of the premier class on a high, the two-time champion retiring from the category at only 27 years of age. The Australian rode a cautious race before pouncing towards the closing stages to make the podium.
Champion Jorge Lorenzo was a victim of the conditions, the Spaniard crashing out massively from the lead while trying to overtake a back-marker. The Yamaha man was fortunately unhurt in the accident.
Qualifying on the Saturday was the first all-dry session of the weekend at the newly-resurfaced track. Spaniard Pedrosa stole pole position in the last minutes of the session to break the circuit lap record in the process. Lorenzo and Stoner completed the front row.
As it happened on the Sunday, however, the grid looked very different at the start from the qualifying order. The track was damp enough for the officials to declare a wet start. Yet after the first sighting lap Lorenzo, Nakasuga and Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda elected to swap to the softer option slick tyres while the rest of the field stayed on the hard wets.
The track improved further in time for the warm-up lap, so much so that it convinced four riders to start from the pit lane on the slick rubber. Pedrosa, Ducati's Nicky Hayden, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow and Alvaro Bautista on the San Carlo Gresini Honda all swapped bikes in the pits.
The start was thus a bit hustled and it was Aleix Espargaro on the Power Electronics Aspar CRT machine that took the lead after the first few corners ahead of Andrea Dovizioso on the other Tech 3 Yamaha. Espargaro became the first CRT to lead a MotoGP race, and he managed to hang on to it for two laps before Dovizioso jumped him in the third tour.
Further back, the order was a mass of confusion as most of the field pitted to go onto the slick tyres, clearly the right choice as a clear dry line had emerged on track. The earliest to make the switch, Lorenzo and Nakasuga capitalized on their advantage and emerged in the lead at the end of lap 5, trailed by Pedrosa, Bradl and Crutchlow.
Pedrosa was soon past Nakasuga on the next lap, and as has happened on multiple occasions this season, the duo of Lorenzo and Pedrosa began to pull away from the rest of the field in the battle for the lead.
The Honda rider then turned on the pressure as he started narrowing the gap which had stood at over two seconds, to a tenth by lap 12. His bid to close in proved over-eager as he ran wide off track hitting a false-neutral and losing all the ground he had made up, and then some.
Lorenzo on his part was not easing up and on the very next lap came up to lap James Ellison on the Paul Bird Motorsport bike. The Briton did not notice the Yamaha close in and rounded Turn 9 on the racing line. Lorenzo who was carrying the momentum behind was forced off the dry line onto a damp patch, whence he was a passenger as the YZR-M1 pitched left and right and the rider suffered a massive highside to crash out of the race.
Pedrosa was to bring the Honda safely home fairly untroubled, the margin at the end to second place a mammoth 37 seconds.
The fight for second place then seemed settled behind him as Cal Crutchlow had passed Nakasuga on Lap 13 and increased his lead over the Japanese, who was standing in for an injured Ben Spies. The Briton though crashed out with 8 laps to go, yet another retirement from a potential podium finish this year. The Yamaha inherited the place and retained it comfortably till the end.
The fight for third was to fall between Bautista and Stoner in the final few laps. Stoner had made his way up through the race, picking out the CRT bikes whilst not pushing too hard. He was 7s behind Bautista with 8 laps to go, at which point the Australian stepped it up and reined him in, passing him on the penultimate lap to gain a memorable final podium.
Bautista had to settle for fourth, 24s ahead of Michele Pirro in the highest ever CRT finish on his San Carlo Gresini FTR. Dovizioso was 6th, leading Karel Abraham on the Cardion racing Ducati in 7th. Danilo Petrucci for IODA racing and Ellison made it three CRT riders in the top 10, with Valentino Rossi ending his time at Ducati with a lackluster 10th place.
The win was the 7th top-step for Pedrosa who had a brilliant latter half of the season. Lorenzo, who had 6 wins, edged out his countryman in the championship stakes on consistency with 10 second place finishes, his lowest classified position all year!
Espargaro sealed the CRT title, finishing 12 points ahead of teammate Randy de Puniet at 74 points.
In the constructors' championship, Honda were crowned champions, finishing the season with 412 points as opposed to Yamaha's 386.
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