After prevailing in his epic battle with Marco Simoncelli at Sepang, Hiroshi Aoyama is within touching distance of being named the 2009 250cc World Champion in the final race of the season – and indeed the final 250cc contest in the 60-year history of Grand Prix racing before the introduction of the new Moto2 class next year.
Simoncelli had narrowed the gap at the top of the standings to just 12 points prior to Malaysia, but an enthralling ‘head-to-head’ was won by Aoyama who now heads to Spain with a 21-point cushion.
Should Simoncelli win his seventh race of the campaign at Valencia – thus surpassing his total from 2008 when he won the title – Aoyama would need to finish no lower than eleventh to still take the crown.
The Scot Honda rider has a chequered history at the circuit however, with last year’s fifth place being his best-ever finish.
Prior to that, Aoyama has placed sixth and tenth and registered two DNFs, whereas Simoncelli won last year’s race having already secured the title.
Héctor Barberá in third place could mathematically catch Simoncelli in second, but would need to finish second or higher at Valencia and hope for a poor result for the Metis Gilera man.
Barberá has a strong record at the track, having finished inside the top five on five occasions in the 250cc and 125cc classes.
Álvaro Bautista’s title hopes ended with his second crash in three races at Sepang, and Valencia is the only one of the three Spanish circuits on the calendar at which he has not tasted a GP victory.
Fourth in the championship is safe for the Mapfre Aspar man, who could take third with a good display if Barberá falters.
Mattia Pasini in fifth is 21 points ahead of Thomas Luthi, who leads a pack which also comprises Raffaele de Rosa, Mike di Meglio, Héctor Faubel and Álex Debón. Those five riders are separated by just six points in the battle for sixth spot.
Bancaja Aspar team-mates Julián Simón and Bradley Smith have already secured first and second places respectively in the 125cc World Championship, but the duo will still look to put on strong showings at Valencia in the final race of the season.
Clinching the title at Phillip Island did not stop Simón from producing another fine display at Sepang last time out, as he took his sixth race victory of the season, and the Spaniard will hope to improve on a best previous result of sixth at Valencia in the 250cc class in 2007.
A win at the final round would make Simón the first rider to take three successive victories in the 125cc class since Alvaro Bautista in 2006.
Smith finished fourth at Valencia last year and is currently on a run of five consecutive podiums.
A sixth consecutive rostrum finish would be the perfect way to round off the season for the Oxfordshire youngster, who has already achieved the best performance by a British rider since Barry Sheene was second to Kenny Roberts in the 1978 500cc title chase.
Local rider Nicolas Terol will attempt to secure a top-three finish for the season ahead of his compatriot Pol Espargaró, who is 15 points behind in fourth.
Terol finished second at Valencia last season, just one tenth of a second behind race-winner Simone Corsi, while Espargaró’s best placement at the track is sixth, in his debut season in 2006.