Valentino Rossi lost his second successive world championship campaign for the first time in his career today after he failed to beat Casey Stoner in a dramatic flag-to-flag Japanese MotoGP.
Rossi knew he had to defeat the Australian to prolong the championship at least until the next race in Phillip Island, Australia, but rain and Michelin front tyre issues saw him finish way down in 13th.
With Casey Stoner coming home in sixth, the 21-year-old clinched the world title with three races remaining to leave Rossi deflated and reflective at the end of a tough 2007 campaign.
Starting on wet tyres from the front row of the grid, the Fiat Yamaha rider dropped down to seventh on the first lap, and it looked ominous with Ducati’s Casey Stoner surging from the third row to claim third behind Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa and Kawasaki’s Anthony West.
Valentino Rossi then showed that he was at least going to do down fighting and produced a brilliant charge through the field to seize the lead on lap 14.
He passed Dani Pedrosa on lap five to grab third and then relegated Casey Stoner to second place on lap 12. Just one lap later and he seized the lead from Marco Melandri, but with the racing line now completely dry, it was a gamble on when to come into the pits for his spare YZR-M1 machine.
Valentino Rossi had only led for a lap when he dived into the pit lane, and such was his advantage he rejoined the action in second place behind compatriot and eventual race winner Loris Capirossi.
With Casey Stoner languishing down in ninth place, it looked like Ducati would have to put the champagne on ice, but disaster struck Valentino Rossi when it was immediately obvious he was struggling with a cut slick front tyre.
He pitted again but with his frantic mechanics unable to detect a problem, he rejoined in 11th and eventually slipped down to 13th after once running off track such was the severity of temperature issues with his front tyre.
The 28-year-old said: “It’s a great pity for us how everything has turned out this weekend. In the dry we were faster than Stoner and we could have had a good chance.
“The first problem was the weather this morning, but we were able to find a good set-up for the bike and when the race started we were quite hopeful. I got a bad start but on the drying track I had the fastest pace and I was able to make up five seconds to the leaders.
“After I passed Melandri I came into the pits to change and maybe this was one lap too late. But the strategy wasn’t too bad because I came back on track just behind Loris. We had a cut slick, which is normal in those conditions, but the bike was almost impossible for me to ride and turn and it felt like there was something seriously wrong.
“I came back in but my mechanics couldn’t find anything so I went straight out again. But then it was too late; the race was over for me and the championship gone.
“Without this problem it would have been possible for me to fight for the podium and maybe even fight with Loris for the win. The conditions were very unfortunate but this is racing. I’m really sorry for my fans.”
Valentino Rossi was still as gracious as ever in defeat despite the crushing disappointment of being beaten by Casey Stoner.
He paid tribute to the Ducati rider and said: “Congratulations to Casey on becoming world champion. I am very flattered that he made a dedication to me on his victory T-shirt.
“If someone else has to win then its glad its one of my fans. He is a great rival and I hope we can continue that rivalry into the future.”