Marco Melandri claimed a heroic third place in today’s American MotoGP race to clinch a contract with Ducati’s factory squad for 2008.
Just over 24 hours after he dislocated his left ankle in a sickening practice crash following a near collision with Kurtis Roberts, the Gresini Honda rider fought through from 10th on the grid to claim only his second podium of a nightmare season.
And it was confirmed after the 32-lap race that his result secured him a factory Ducati ride. He went into the race knowing a result sufficient to place him in the top six in the championship standings would ensure he got a Ducati deal with Casey Stoner.
The former world 250 champion made up four places on the first lap and claimed fourth on lap 10 when he passed a struggling Valentino Rossi. He then swept by Dani Pedrosa to claim third on lap 16 but was too far back to mount an assault on second placed Chris Vermeulen.
Melandri, who missed the morning warm-up session to rest his ankle injury, said: “It’s unbelievable for me to be here. I just tried to go out this morning to make the start, but I couldn’t actually change gear without any injection for the pain. So I just tried to take a rest in the race. To ride actually wasn’t too bad. I just was very stiff in the beginning but after a few laps I felt a little bit more comfortable on the bike and I start making all the movements with the ankle. So I started to be a bit faster and when I saw I was a bit faster than some guys in front of me, I just tried to pass them.
"But it wasn’t so easy for me, because I wasn’t 100 per cent in the hard braking, so it wasn’t easy to make the passes. “When I was third I just tried to control Valentino behind. When he tried to push a bit more, I did the same also. Then about seven laps to go, I couldn’t’ actually downshift so good, so I had to use all the leg because I couldn’t move the ankle. But I still didn’t feel so much pain.”