The tension was palpable as this all-or-nothing 30-lap contest got underway in front of a capacity 130,000 crowd in bright sunshine with a hotter than expected 43-degree track temperature and a 32-degree ambient temperature. The scene was set for an epic World Championship decider.
Bayliss led into turn one from the lights with his team-mate Capirossi tucked close behind him and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC211V) third. But further back Hayden, who’d sped away from slot five on the grid clouted Rossi who’d had made a sluggish getaway from pole. Hayden lay sixth at turn one on lap one.
Nicky, in the space of three turns was fourth, Marco Melandri (Fortuna Honda RC211V) deprived Rossi of sixth, and Dani was then in second after stealing past Capirossi. There was plenty of intent from Honda riders intent on maximizing their own chances of end of season glory. Melandri was vying for third in the World Championship with Capirossi.
The opening laps were a hard-fought demonstration of what makes MotoGP such a compelling sport. Nicky went to third on lap two, then almost snatched the lead from Bayliss at the end of the straight on lap four, with Melandri now third. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) was working on Rossi for sixth. Rossi was perhaps biding his time, waiting to establish a rhythm, before making progress up the field shadowing the flying Hayden.
Hayden, for what it was worth, had changed the design of his leathers for this all-or-nothing race. Gone was the Kentucky Kid logo across the seat of the suit in favour of a deck of cards with the facing card a question mark – and a stack of gambling chips, with the slogan ‘All In’ laid over the top. He was riding all out – no question.
On lap five, the lap that decided the direction of the 2006 World MotoGP Championship, Nicky lay 0.3 seconds behind the inspired Troy Bayliss. And as Rossi hit the mid-point of the left-hand turn one, his machine slid from under him. The Italian and his Yamaha ended in the dirt, his title chances effectively over. He remounted in 20th place with a mountain to climb.
The order was Bayliss, Capirossi, Hayden, Melandri, Pedrosa, Stoner and Vermeulen. Rossi had too much to do and as long as Hayden could maintain station in third while Rossi lay lower than eighth, he could, against all pre-race odds lay claim to the title in a series in which he had scored in every round and won two races.
As mid-race rolled by Rossi had climbed to 16th, but he was a full 28 seconds behind race leader Bayliss. Then Vermeulen crashed and the thought loomed that sheer attrition might gift Rossi the places he needed to eat into Hayden’s chances.
As the laps ran down to the flag Hayden hung close to Capirossi ready to steal a place on the Italian if he needed to, but then as it became clear Rossi had too much to do, Nicky merely reeled off the laps he needed to clinch the biggest prize on two wheels.
With three laps to go Rossi was nine seconds shy of Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V) in 12th and barring cruel luck the crown was Nicky’s. Sure enough Mister Consistency, the ‘All-in’ Kentucky Kid, was not going throw away a lifetime’s dream and the product of four hard years dedicated to this particular task. But Mister World Champion is who he now undoubtedly is.
Finishing with 252 points to Rossi’s 247, Nicky said, “I’m so blessed. When you dedicate your life to something and it comes true it means so much. I have to thank the people around me who never stopped believing: Honda, my team, Michelin, my friends and family. It just goes to show when you keep fighting to the end and never give up then good things happen to you. I can’t really say just how much this means to me right now.”
Dani, who finished fourth, said, “I’m very happy for this result – for myself, for Nicky and for the team. The team has won every title this year – the riders’ title, the constructors, the Team title and the Rookie of the year so this is very good for us. I think we did a good job today. I made a good start and I was waiting until Nicky was behind me. When they showed me that Nicky was third and I was second I let him past and showed him with my foot where he should pass me. Then I slowed down quite a lot to give Nicky some space in second place. I didn’t push for the last five laps and brought it home.”
Melandri in fifth, and fourth overall, said, “I’m disappointed to have lost third in the championship by a single point. I had a good feeling with the bike and I was sure I would have a good race. I was really fast over the first few laps but when the tyres heated up, it got tough. I was racing hard because I wanted third in the championship and I put a lot of stress on the left of the tyre. I couldn’t ride as I wanted to and just had to focus on finishing the race as high as possible. My compliments to Nicky, he was great, well done.”
His team-mate Toni Elias (Fortuna Honda RC211V), sixth, said, “I am happy because I made a good comeback from 13th to sixth. At the start I found it tough but as the laps went by I got a good rhythm together. I made a mistake on the 20th lap but other than that I am satisfied. I have to thank my team, Fausto Gresini, my chief mechanic Cecchini and all the guys. And my compliments too to Nicky Hayden for the title.”
Kenny Roberts (Roberts KR211V) was eighth. He said, “I’d like to congratulate Nicky, and I feel for Valentino. Nicky and I have the same language, and we talk, but I’m also close to Valentino – we’ve worked with the riders’ safety committee for five years. He’s a champion whether he wins or loses… we all know that. He’s going to come back strong next year.
Nicky rode well all year, and consistently, and he deserves to be up there to win the championship. So it was a fun year, and we look forward to improving.”
Tamada, 12th, said, “For this race I could not get a good qualifying time and had to start from the fifth row. It was a difficult race today. I didn’t get a good start and I didn’t have good grip from the front or rear tyres. This was my last race for the Konica Minolta Honda team and I wanted a good result, so 12th place is very disappointing. I just wish to thank all the people in the Konica Minolta team who have helped me during my stay with the team and also all our sponsors."
Casey Stoner (LCR Honda RC211V) crashed out on lap 25. He said, “Today I really I wanted to get a nice result for myself and the LCR team. But it’s strange, I don’t know what is happening – so many times recently we are fast in practice and have the perfect race set-up, the perfect tyre and then the bike feels nothing like it does in practice. Today it just wouldn’t turn like it did in practice. I’m really disappointed, after everything was so sweet at the start of the season. But I want give a big thanks to the whole LCR team who gave me this opportunity and stuck with me this year.”
Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda: 3rd: "When you dedicate your life to something and the dream comes true it feels so good. This is a proud day for me, the team and my family. I want to thank everybody back home and I hope they're partying back there in Owensboro. 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. I swear on the warm-up lap 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. 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."
"I got a good start and I was just fighting to get to the front in the first few laps. I saw some marks on the track and then I came round and my pitboard said "Rossi P19". Then it went to P17, P15 and P14 and it was a tough situation because I knew there was probably going to be a couple of riders pull over for him. And I knew that you can never count Valentino out - if his bike was ok then he can make up a lot of positions in a hurry. I didn't know if I was going to have to fight the guys ahead of me because if you get in a dogfight with Loris and Troy you know you're going to take some chances. But I stayed close enough that I felt like I was going to be able to go for it if I needed to. Then I saw "P3 OK" on my pitboard and I had faith in my team that they had figured it out that I was safe. Then I just tried to be smooth and ride safe. Honestly I didn't know it was over until the chequered flag. It feels really good to beat a guy like Rossi because he's a real competitor with seven world titles and that just makes it that much more rewarding."
"Dani didn't have team orders today but he let me by at the beginning of the race. We spoke last night and had a gentleman's agreement and I told him that if he helped me to win the world championship that we would be straight and I won't forget it. In two or three years from now if we're still team-mates and I can help him then I'll return the favour - he's a good man. I really want to thank everyone involved in the Repsol Honda Team, and Michelin because it's their fifth straight title in MotoGP so a big thanks to them too. I'm looking forward to getting that number-one plate on my RCV next year."
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda: 4th: "I'm very happy for this result - for myself, for Nicky and for the team. The team has won every title this year - the riders' title, the constructors, the Team title and the Rookie of the year so this is very good for us. I think we did a good job today. I made a good start and I was waiting until Nicky was behind me. When they showed me that Nicky was third and I was second I let him passed and showed him with my foot where he should pass me. Then I slowed down quite a lot to give Nicky some space in second place. Then Melandri and Capirossi got past me but only Capirossi was able to catch Nicky again. At this point I thought Rossi was behind me so I was slowing down, slowing down to give Nicky some gap. Then they showed me that Rossi had crashed so when I saw this I tried to push again. I tried to pass Melandri and Stoner but it was not so easy. I could make a bit of a gap but already the tyres were on the limit and I had a big gap between me and Melandri and I didn't push for the last five laps and brought it home."
Marco Melandri, Fortuna Honda: 5th: ”I’m disappointed to have lost third in the championship by a single point. I had a good feeling with the bike and I was sure I would have a good race. I was really fast over the first few laps but when the tyres heated up, it got tough. I was racing hard because I wanted third in the championship and I put a lot of stress on the left of the tyre.I couldn’t ride as I wanted to and just had to focus on finishing the race as high as possible. My compliments to Nicky”.
Toni Elias, Fortuna Honda: 6th: “I am happy because I made a good comeback from thirteenth to sixth. At the start I found it tough but as the laps went by I got a good rhythm together. I made a mistake on the 20th lap but other than that I am satisfied. I have to thank my team, Fausto Gresini, my chief mechanic Cecchini and all the guys. And my compliments too to Nicky Hayden for the title.”
The Valencia race also sees the end of the partnership between Honda Gresini and Fortuna, an Altadis Group brand, which has been the main sponsor of the team in 2006.
Kenny Roberts Jnr, KR211V Honda: 8th: "I think basically I performed below average all weekend - I never got going, never felt comfortable. Whether it was me or the setting, we never were in synch. So the race was I expected it would be, unless the bike started coming to me, or unless I started riding a little different … but I was trying all I could. I just didn't have grip and I didn't have any confidence, so … We're a new team, with a new machine - it's first time here. It's a real technical track and a rider's track, and if you're off synch a little bit you really look bad."
"I saw Casey fall down, and I knew he had a chance to get me for sixth overall. Stupid as it seemed, I was trying to just score as many points as I could and not risk too much. Sixth position for this team first year out, and with me coming back from the last five years when I was not riding very well, and didn't have a machine to ride very well, is a good start. If we can say okay let's better ourselves next year, then we'll be in the top five. That's our goal."
"I'd like to congratulate Nicky, and I feel for Valentino. Nicky and I have the same language, and we talk, but I'm also close to Valentino - we've worked with the riders' safety committee for five years. He's the champion whether he wins or loses … we all know that. He's going to come back strong next year. Nicky rode well all year, and consistent, and he deserves to be up there to win the championship. So it was a fun year, and we look forward to improving."
Kenny Roberts - team owner: "It's been an extremely good year for us. We have a great group of guys now. It's the smallest we've been in quite some years, but they all kicked in this year and did a hell of a job, and it makes a difference. Also, Kenny came to the team and brought that competitive edge back. We haven't had that for a long time, and you cannot get it or keep it going without going for pole positions and podiums. We're tickled to death with the year. We beat a lot of people we weren't supposed to beat."
"Nicky did exactly what he had to do … to forget about what happened last weekend, ride his ass off, and try to win the race. Then whatever happens is going to happen … it's out of his control. It looked like what goes around, comes around. It's great for the sport to have an American champion is great for the sport."
Makoto Tamada, Konica Minolta Honda: 12th: "For this race I could not get a good qualifying time and had to start from the fifth row. It was a difficult race today. I didn't get a good start and I didn't have good grip from the front or rear tyre. This was my last race for the Konica Minolta Honda team and I wanted a god result so 12th place is very disappointing. I just wish to thank all the people in the Konica Minolta team who have helped me during my stay with the team and also all our sponsors."
Casey Stoner, LCR Honda: dnf – crash: “Today I really I wanted to get a nice result for myself and the LCR team. But it’s strange, Idon’t know what is happening -- so many times recently we are fast in practices and have the perfect race set-up, the perfect tyre and then the bike feels nothing like it does in practice. Today it just wouldn’t turn like it did in practice. I’m really disappointed, after everything was so sweet at the start of the season. But I want give a big thanks to the whole LCR team who gave me this opportunity and stuck with me this year.”
Race Classification MotoGP : (30 laps = 120.15 km)
1 - Troy BAYLISS - AUS - Ducati Marlboro Team - DUCATI - 46'55.415 - 153.632
2 - Loris CAPIROSSI - ITA - Ducati Marlboro Team - DUCATI - 46'56.734 - 153.56 - 1.319
3 - Nicky HAYDEN - USA - Repsol Honda Team - HONDA - 47'04.645 - 153.13 - 9.23
4 - Dani PEDROSA - SPA - Repsol Honda Team - HONDA - 47'07.480 - 152.977 - 12.065
5 - Marco MELANDRI - ITA - Fortuna Honda - HONDA - 47'11.721 - 152.748 - 16.306
6 - Toni ELIAS - SPA - Fortuna Honda - HONDA - 47'12.805 - 152.689 - 17.39
7 - Shinya NAKANO - JPN - Kawasaki Racing Team - KAWASAKI - 47'14.744 - 152.585 - 19.329
8 - Kenny ROBERTS JR - USA - Team Roberts - KR211V - 47'18.589 - 152.378 - 23.174
9 - Colin EDWARDS - USA - Camel Yamaha Team - YAMAHA - 47'21.487 - 152.223 - 26.072
10 - Carlos CHECA - SPA - Tech 3 Yamaha - YAMAHA - 47'23.609 - 152.109 - 28.194
11 - John HOPKINS - USA - Rizla Suzuki MotoGP - SUZUKI - 47'24.779 - 152.046 - 29.364
12 - Makoto TAMADA - JPN - Konica Minolta Honda - HONDA - 47'25.122 - 152.028 - 29.707
13 - Valentino ROSSI - ITA - Camel Yamaha Team - YAMAHA - 47'33.961 - 151.557 - 38.546
14 - James ELLISON - GBR - Tech 3 Yamaha - YAMAHA - 48'15.428 - 149.387 - 1'20.013
15 - Garry McCOY - AUS - Ilmor SRT - ILMOR X3 - 47'10.246 - 117.167 - 7 laps
Pole Position: Valentino ROSSI 1'31.002 158.436 Km/h
Fastest Lap (New record): Loris CAPIROSSI 1'32.924 155.159 Km/h Lap 5
Circuit Record Lap: Marco MELANDRI 1'33.043 154.960 Km/h 2005
Circuit Best Lap: 2006 - Valentino ROSSI 1'31.002 158.436 Km/h
World Championship Positions:
1 HAYDEN 252,
2 ROSSI 247,
3 CAPIROSSI 229,
4 MELANDRI 228,
5 PEDROSA 215,
6 ROBERTS 134,
7 EDWARDS 124,
8 STONER 119,
9 ELIAS 116,
10 HOPKINS 116,
11 VERMEULEN 98,
12 TAMADA 96,
13 GIBERNAU 95,
14 NAKANO 92,
15 CHECA 75.