Valentino Rossi may have sealed the 2009 MotoGP World Championship at Sepang, but there’s plenty to play for in the final MotoGP round of the season at Valencia this weekend.
Probably the most tantalising head to head of the weekend for Brit fans is how James Toseland shapes up against American star Ben Spies, who takes to the track as a wildcard for Yamaha in preparation for his first full MotoGP season with Monster Yamaha Tech 3 in 2010 – replacing Toseland.
But there are still scores to be settled involving Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, and a host of other riders in the final round of the season.
A ninth world title was wrapped up by Rossi in Malaysia, leaving the remainder of the MotoGP class to decide the final standings beyond first place for the 2009 season at the Gran Premio Generali de la Comunitat Valenciana.
Rossi’s Fiat Yamaha team-mate Lorenzo pushed him the closest for the title this year, and now the 22 year-old looks primed to secure second spot in his second season in the premier class.
With a 25-point margin between him and Stoner in third, it would take a non-point scoring finish from the Spaniard and a race win for the Ducati Marlboro man to dislodge Lorenzo from the runner-up position.
Far likelier for Stoner, who comes into round 17 in a rich vein of form having won his last two races at Sepang and Phillip Island, is third place to round off a season interrupted by illness.
Speculation will linger as to how the final standings could have looked had the 2007 World Champion not missed Brno, Indianapolis and Misano due to fatigue, but the focus is now on preventing Pedrosa from regaining third place.
With victory last year and second the season before, the 24 year-old Australian has a strong pedigree at Valencia.
Repsol Honda’s Pedrosa is 11 points adrift in fourth, and needs a strong showing at a track where he won in 2007 and finished second last time out.
The competition for fifth place is still very much alive, with just six points the difference between Andrea Dovizioso and Colin Edwards.
The Italian’s crash at Sepang was not largely capitalised on by Edwards, whose 13th-placed classification means that the fight for fifth will now go down to the wire at Valencia.
Seventh place, meanwhile, is still to be decided upon between no less than six candidates. Marco Melandri (Hayate Racing), Loris Capirossi (Rizla Suzuki), Alex de Angelis and Toni Elías (both San Carlo Honda Gresini), Chris Vermeulen (Rizla Suzuki) and Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) are all separated by just seven points from positions seven to 12.
All have top-ten finishes at Valencia within the past two seasons, with Melandri’s fourth in 2007 the most notable recent result from the pack. Nicky Hayden, at a further eight points adrift of De Puniet, has an outside chance of challenging for seventh if he manages his second podium of the year and other results go his way.
In the Pramac Racing team another rider who is coming into MotoGP full-time next season will be making an additional guest appearance this weekend, as Aleix Espargaró again substitutes the injured Nicolò Canepa.