Japanese rider Hiroshi Aoyama survived a massive scare in Valencia today to claim a historic final 250GP world championship success.
Holding a commanding 21-point lead going into the title decider this afternoon, Aoyama ran off track at high-speed at the first corner while he was locked in a fight with the leading group on lap 10.
As the Scot Honda team looked in with hearts in mouths, Aoyama fought frantically to keep his machine upright as he careered through the gravel trap.
Amazingly he prevented himself from crashing and was able to return to the action down in 11th place.
That was still good enough to secure the former KTM rider the world title, even though rival and reigning world champion Marco Simoncelli was looking strong in the lead.
Aoyama knew that if Simoncelli went onto win the race that 11th place would give him the title.
But any lingering doubts and nerves were gone when Simoncelli blew his hopes of a shock success when he crashed out at the second corner on lap 21.
Just seconds before, Simoncelli had wrestled with his factory Gilera machine after losing the front-end at the first corner.
And as he tipped into the tight left-hand turn two, he lost the front. It was at the same corner in 2006 that Simoncelli’s close pal Valentino Rossi surrendered the MotoGP title to Nicky Hayden.
Simoncelli’s crash, his latest in a series of costly mistakes in 2009, meant Aoyama didn’t even need to finish to clinch the last ever two-stroke 250GP title for Honda.
He did eventually finish seventh to spark jubilant scenes inside his Scot pitbox and also at HRC, who had defeated hot pre-season favourites Gilera and Aprilia to the last 250GP crown.
He was the first Honda rider to win a world title since Daijiro Kato won the 2001 crown and the first rider to win a world title for HRC since Hayden’s MotoGP success at Valencia in 2006.
In front of an ecstatic Aoyama, Spaniard Hector Barbera, who is moving to the Aspar Ducati squad in MotoGP next season, won the final race.
A fifth successive podium moved Barbera into second place in the final standings with Simoncelli being made to pay for five races in which he scored no points.
He comfortably defeated Alvaro Bautista by 3.6s with Aoyama’s team-mate Raffaele de Rosa claiming his second podium in the last three races.
• Aoyama is the third Japanese rider to win the 250cc world title joining Tetsuya Harada in 1993 and Daijiro Kato in 2001.
• He is the first Honda rider to win a world championship in any class since Nicky Hayden took the MotoGP title in 2006.
• He is the first Japanese rider to win a world title in any class since Daijiro Kato took the 250cc championship in 2001.
• Aoyama finished in the top eight at every race in 2009.
• He has not missed starting a Grand Prix since making his debut as a full-time GP rider at the first race of 2004.
• At the San Marino Grand Prix this year Aoyama became the first Japanese rider to pass the milestone of 100 Grand Prix starts in the 250cc class.