Weather and tyre issues brought about an end to Valentino Rossi's slim title chances today, as he finished 13th in Motegi despite a heroic ride which saw him lead the race at one point. His Fiat Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards suffered similar problems in what was an extraordinary race, finishing one place behind Rossi in 14th.
With the asphalt still wet after a morning of light rain, the riders started with wet-weather tyres on a fast-drying track. Rossi got a poor start from second on the grid and crossed the line for the first time in seventh place, with Edwards behind him in eighth. An outstanding ride from the seven-time World Champion then saw him fight his way back to the front, making up five seconds on the leaders and taking the lead on lap 14. The racing line by now was almost completely dry however, and behind him most riders had already opted to pit and change onto their second bikes with slick tyres. When Rossi eventually came in to change one lap later he had built up such a lead that he was able to re-join the race in second place, behind eventual winner Loris Capirossi, but Yamaha's jubilation was short-lived as Rossi immediately ran into serious issues with his front tyre and was forced to pit again. He rejoined the race in 15th but was able to make up only two places to the finish as he struggled with grip. Edwards, who was in third place when Rossi came in for the first time, rejoined in eighth but had similar tyre problems and also dropped back through the field to cross the line two seconds behind his team-mate.Casey Stoner took sixth place, which was enough to secure him the World Championship title. Rossi remains second and 26 points clear of Dani Pedrosa, who failed to finish the race, while Edwards drops two places down the standings to ninth, with three races remaining.
Valentino Rossi, "It's a great pity for us how everything has turned out this weekend, because in the dry we were faster than Stoner and we could have had a good chance. The first problem today was the weather this morning, but actually we were able to find a good setting 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 box to change and maybe this was one lap too late, but our strategy was more or less okay because I was able to come back into the race with only Loris in front of me. We had an intermediate front tyre, a slick cut which is normal in these situations, 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 could see there was nothing wrong so I went straight out again, and by then it was too late; the race was over for me and the championship was gone.
After four or five laps the tyre began to work better and I was able to keep going to the end, but without this problem it would have been possible for me to be on the podium or even to fight for the win with Loris. The conditions were very unfortunate. However this is racing and now we have three more races and we will do our best to find a way to win and end the season on a high note. I'm really sorry for my fans and for everyone in the team. Congratulations to Loris but especially 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 I am glad it's one of my fans! He is a great rival and I hope that we can continue this rivalry into the future.'