Ahead of this weekend’s Valencian Grand Prix, The Checkered Flag delves through the archives to revisit a classic GP to have taken place at the Ricardo Tormo circuit. And while this particular race may not share the drama of 2006 where Troy Bayliss took a fairytale win and Valentino Rossi surrendered the title to Nicky Hayden, it is a fitting event to look back on given the events of the previous two weeks.
The date was October 26th 2008 and just seven days earlier, Marco Simoncelli had clinched the 250cc World Championship with third place in Malaysia. The Italian had enjoyed many a battle with Alvaro Bautista and Mika Kallio during the season but with one more race to go, the title was his.
The season finale in Valencia was an opportunity to demonstrate precisely why he was the class of the field and Simoncelli started on the right foot by snatching pole position from Alex Debon on Saturday afternoon. The 32 year old would start alongside with Julian Simon and Kallio completing the front row.
This race would mark the end of the penultimate 250cc championship but the paddock would also say goodbye to KTM, with the Austrian manufacturer bowing out of the intermediate class and their hopes of a farewell victory rested on Simon and Kallio. Their motivation was evident as the stormed past the polesitter into turn one. Despite the pressure of defending a championship lead being lifted from his shoulders, Simoncelli was cautious into the first corner, dropping to fifth behind Debon and Gilera teammate Roberto Locatelli.
Bautista was hot on the heels of his great rival in sixth but Debon didn’t have the pace to stick with the leading group and the top six sped away, joined by a charging Yuki Takahashi. As they had been all year, Bautista and Simoncelli found themselves swapping positions on circuit with fourth the prize up for grabs in the early stages here. The Spaniard slipped through at the start of lap two and resisted a typically feisty overtaking attempt on lap five as Simoncelli dived up the inside into turn four, only to retake him into the next corner.
The front two were also trading places with regularity with Kallio and Simon taking turns to draft past each other down the start/finish straight. Simoncelli, having finally shaken off Bautista, had now disposed of his teammate to take third while Takahashi was also making rapid progress, rising up to fourth.
Despite his bubbly, cheerful demeanour, Simoncelli concealed a ruthless streak which had taken him to the 2008 title and it was on full display again on lap nine as he disposed of Simon and Kallio in quick succession, moving into the lead and throwing down the gauntlet to his pursuers.
Simon’s challenge began to fade, leaving Kallio to uphold KTM honours in second with Takahashi clinging on to the back of the leading duo. For such an aggressive rider, Kallio must have been sure that an error was coming, but in the style of a true champion, ‘Sic’ didn’t put a wheel wrong and instead it was the Finn who slipped up, sliding into the gravel on the last lap in a desperate attempt to keep his victory hopes alive.
For the final couple of miles, Simoncelli rode alone, soaking the applause from the capacity crowd before cruising to his sixth victory of a triumphant season. Takahashi took second and fittingly, Bautista joined his rival on the podium, a spot they shared throughout the year.
Speaking after the race, ‘Super Sic’ was ecstatic to round off his greatest season in Grand Prix racing with a victory.
“This year was perfect, a great season and this race was the perfect way to finish the season! Today was a fantastic race. My start wasn’t so good and the first six or seven laps were very difficult but after that, lap by lap, I kept my rhythm and tried to push more. I then went to the front of the race and tried to stay there until the end. I’m very very happy, it’s wonderful. Thanks to everybody!”
Marco would fall just short in his attempt to retain the title, finishing third overall despite another six wins. The title would go to Hiroshi Aoyama with both graduating to MotoGP together in 2010, partnering each other at San Carlo Honda Gresini a year later.
In some ways, given the amount of time they spent going wheel to wheel, there is something fitting about the fact that Simoncelli’s final moments where spent battling with Alvaro Bautista, with both driving each other to the kind of performances that made them both world class Grand Prix racers.
Of course, none of this is ideal as the motorsport world has lost one its most charming personalities, but ahead of the first race since Simoncelli’s tragic death, we can all look back and admire one his finest hours on the very same piece of tarmac his friends will race on this weekend.
Ciao Super Sic
250cc GP Parts Europe de la Comunitat Valenciana 2008
Race Result: 27 Laps
|1||Marco Simoncelli||ITA||Gilera||Metis Gilera||43:29.003|
|2||Yuki Takahashi||JPN||Honda||JiR Team Scot 250||+5.164|
|3||Alvaro Bautista||SPA||Aprilia||Mapfre Aspar Team||+8.648|
|4||Roberto Locatelli||ITA||Gilera||Metis Gilera||+15.605|
|5||Hiroshi Aoyama||JAP||KTM||Red Bull KTM 250||+20.991|
|6||Hector Faubel||SPA||Aprilia||Mapfre Aspar Team||+22.212|
|7||Aleix Espargaro||SPA||Aprilia||Lotus Aprilia||+23.199|
|8||Ratthapark Wilairot||THA||Honda||Thai Honda PTT SAG||+23.321|
|9||Mattia Pasini||ITA||Aprilia||Polaris World||+37.424|
|10||Thomas Luthi||SWI||Aprilia||Emmi – Cafe Latte||+38.887|
|11||Mika Kallio||FIN||KTM||Red Bull KTM 250||+44.065|
|12||Alex Baldolini||ITA||Aprilia||Matteoni Racing||+1:10.999|
|13||Imre Toth||HUN||Aprilia||Team Toth Aprilia||+1:31.950|
|14||Daniel Arcas||SPA||Aprilia||Blusens Aprilia||+1:39.110|
|15||Simone Grotzkyj||ITA||Gilera||Campetella Racing||+1:41.209|
|16||Manuel Hernandez||SPA||Aprilia||Blusens Aprilia||+1 Lap|
|17||Karel Abraham||CZE||Aprilia||Cardion AB Motoracing||+1 Lap|
|18||Federico Sandi||ITA||Aprilia||Zongshen AOS Racing||+1 Lap|
|19||Doni Tata Pradita||INA||Yamaha||Yamaha Pertamina Indonesia||+1 Lap|
|Alen Gyorfi||HUN||Aprilia||Team Toth Aprilia||+3 Laps|
|Alex Debon||SPA||Aprilia||Lotus Aprilia||+6 Laps|
|Julian Simon||SPA||KTM||Repsol KTM 250cc||+8 Laps|
|Fabrizio Lai||ITA||Gilera||Campetella Racing||+15 Laps|
|Lukas Pasek||CZE||Aprilia||Auto Kelly – CP||+16 Laps|
|Toni Wirsing||GER||Honda||Racing Team Germany||+16 Laps|
|Lap Leaders: Kallio (1-2, 4, 6, 8), Simon (3, 5, 7), Simoncelli (9-27)|