Italian ace Valentino Rossi clinched his sixth world premier-class title in perfect fashion when he edged out defending champion Casey Stoner in the Japanese Grand Prix.
Yamaha’s Rossi overtook the Australian Ducati rider on lap 14 of 24 and never looked back, taking the title and his eighth MotoGP win of the season in 43min 09.599sec with Stoner 1.943 sec behind.
Honda rider Dani Pedrosa of Spain finished third, 2.923 sec further back.
“I was confident with the bike and it is fantastic to win the championship with a race win,” the 29-year-old said.
“The battle this year was very tough especially with the guys like Stoner and Pedrosa,” he said.
“It was a long season with a lot of hard battles and I’m so happy.”
Rossi needed only to finish third at Motegi to win the title, but the Italian took the chequered flag to extend his lead to an unbeatable 92 points over Stoner with three races left in the season.
It was the fifth straight GP win for Rossi, nicknamed the Doctor for his meticulous planning and racing, and his first MotoGP title in three years.
“I think I have put more effort than in other years in trying to win the title,” said Rossi, who missed out on the title to American Honda rider Nicky Hayden in 2006 and Stoner last year.
“I’ve worked a lot, not only on the race weekend but also out of the race. I have always tried to stay concentrated and very strong.”
“The next year is another story. It will be more difficult in 2009,” said Rossi, who switched his tyres to Bridgestone at the start of the 2007 season, which has proven a technical edge over his longtime supplier Michelin.
Stoner jumped from second spot on the front row to go first around the bend on the 4.8-kilometre stop-and-go Twin Ring Motegi track under overcast skies.
But Pedrosa overtook him on the second lap, with Rossi trailing in their slipstream. Stoner then grabbed back the lead with Rossi in second on the sixth lap.
Rossi made the race his on lap 14, passing Stoner around the first corner and consistently building up his lead to take the chequered flag after a “wheelie” – a ride with a rising front wheel – on the final home straight.
“After two thirds of the race, I started to get tired. I couldn’t keep up with the pace,” said 22-year-old Stoner, who has won four GPs so far this year but missed the podium in the last three races in which he crashed out twice.
Stoner, who has been hampered by fresh damage to his left wrist, has a home advantage next week when the championship moves to Phillip Island.
“After the recent misfortune we’ve had, it was important to come back here with a strong performance and some solid points,” he said. “Now we can go to Australia with confidence and look to finish the season strongly.”
Rossi’s win stretched his world record for most premier-class victories to 70. He broke the previous mark of 68 set by fellow countryman Giacomo Agostini more than 30 years ago when he took a storm-shortened inaugural Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Speedway two weeks ago.
Rossi won his first premier-class title, then the 500cc, riding for Honda in 2001. He took the 125cc and 250cc world titles earlier in his 13 years of Grand Prix racing.
He successfully defended his crown four straight times after the category was changed to the four-stroke MotoGP in 2002. He moved to Yamaha in 2004.