Australian Casey Stoner wound up a stunning MotoGP career with a third place finish in Sunday’s wet/dry Valencia season finale.
Dani Pedrosa won Sunday’s Valencia MotoGP race from a pit lane start, after a dramatic accident for race leader and newly-crowned double champion Jorge Lorenzo.
Yamaha test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga finished in a shock second, while Stoner hunted down Alvaro Bautista to snatch a podium place in his final MotoGP appearance before retirement.
Lorenzo had been one of the few riders to correctly choose slick tyres for the drying conditions, with Nakasuga and Stefan Bradl the only other manufacturer riders.
Pole sitter Pedrosa realised his wet tyre error on the warm-up lap and was joined by Nicky Hayden, Cal Crutchlow and Bautista in pulling into the pits to change bikes, meaning an end of pitlane start.
Slick tyres soon began to pay off with Lorenzo rising from eighth to first in the space of four laps, as more and more wet-tyre riders peeled into pitlane.
Once all were on dry bikes, Lorenzo was leading by three seconds from title runner-up Pedrosa, with Bradl third, Nakasuga fourth and Crutchlow fifth. Bradl crashed out soon after.
Pedrosa caught Lorenzo after 10 laps, but then ran wide and lost five-seconds.
However Lorenzo then got into a tank-slapper while trying to lap James Ellison, just before the halfway mark of the 30 laps – which turned into a massive highside on corner exit.
The Yamaha star was left fuming but lucky not to be hurt as he trudged through the gravel to only his second non-score of the year.
The incident left Pedrosa with a huge lead over Crutchlow – who also started from pit lane – but the Englishman then crashed with seven laps to go, ending his hopes of rising higher than seventh in the standings.
Nakasuga, who impressed with sixth in last year’s damp Valencia race, thus secured a shock second place in only his sixth grand prix appearance.
Meanwhile Stoner – well outside the top ten early in the grand prix – got ever faster and passed Gresini Honda’s Bautista to claim the final podium place with two laps to go.
Stoner waved to his Repsol Honda team, who were hanging off the pit wall and holding a pit board saying “Going Fishing”, as he took the flag for the final time in MotoGP.
Stoner was the highest ranked rider to swap bikes during the actual race.
Fifth for Gresini’s Michele Pirro was the best ever result for a CRT rider, while Andrea Dovizioso (Tech 3), Karel Abraham (Cardion), Danilo Petrucci (Ioda) and James Ellison (PBM) followed.
Valentino Rossi’s last Ducati ride ended in tenth place and one lap down, while team-mate Hayden was an early faller.
Pedrosa concluded the season 18 points behind Lorenzo and with a best ever seven wins, one more than Lorenzo this year. Third in the standings Stoner took five wins, but missed three races due to ankle surgery.
Dovizioso was the top satellite rider with fourth overall in this year’s championship, with Bautista’s Valencia performance confirming a career-best fifth from Rossi and Crutchlow.
Riders and teams now have just one day off to celebrate before preparations for the 2013 season begin in earnest with a post-race test at Valencia on Tuesday and Wednesday – without Casey Stoner.
The 27-year-old Stoner had announced back in May that he would retire at the end of this season, regardless of whether he claimed a third world title.
Ankle injuries in August, for which Stoner required surgery and missed three races, ended his 2012 chances. However the Repsol Honda star returned to claim a dream sixth successive home win at Phillip Island.
“Considering everything that happened today, we’re very happy with a podium,” said Stoner, who was the highest placed rider to pit during the actual race. “My motivation wasn’t particularly high today as I haven’t wanted to push in the wet and haven’t felt comfortable on the bike.
“I just didn’t want to take any risks of crashing and damaging my ankle again so I was very cautious and this isn’t how I like to ride. Even with the choice of going with the wets, not the slick tyres at the beginning of the race, I took the easy option which really isn’t me.
“When I saw the slicks had a big advantage, we came in and changed bikes and went back out and pushed as hard as we could, without taking unnecessary risks. In the end we were able to chase down Alvaro and take the last spot on the podium in our last race.
“My team are like my second family, we’ve been through a lot of ups and downs together and it’s going to be difficult not to see them every week.
“I’m sorry for them and for everyone who has supported me for so long but this is the way it is and it’s time to say goodbye. Thank you to all the people who have supported us over the years and all our sponsors, and to everyone in the Repsol Honda Team”.
Stoner became Ducati’s only world champion at his first attempt in 2007 and left the factory with 23 wins at the end of 2010.
To date, only one other Ducati rider has won a race since 2007 – a wet/dry victory for Loris Capirossi – but Stoner’s talent only became truly appreciated when his replacement, seven-time MotoGP champion Rossi, took just three podiums in 35 starts.
By contrast, Stoner clinched his second title in his first season with the factory Honda team, matching his 2007 tally of 10 wins from a record-equalling 16 podiums. Stoner scored a further five wins this season, to finish third in the world championship.
On completion of his final MotoGP race, Stoner was nominated as a MotoGP Legend.
He becomes the 20th MotoGP Legend, joining an exclusive club, whose members are: Giacomo Agostini, Mick Doohan, Geoff Duke, Wayne Gardner, Mike Hailwood, Daijiro Kato, Eddie Lawson, Anton Mang, Angel Nieto, Wayne Rainey, Phil Read, Jim Redman, Kenny Roberts, Jarno Saarinen, Kevin Schwantz, Barry Sheene, Freddie Spencer, John Surtees and Carlo Ubbiali.
Valencia Grand Prix result:
1. Dani Pedrosa
2. Katsuyuki Nakasuga
3. Casey Stoner
4. Alvaro Bautista
5. Michele Pirro
6. Andrea Dovizioso
7. Karel Abraham
8. Danilo Petrucci
9. James Ellison
10. Valentino Rossi
11. Aleix Espargaro
12. Randy De Puniet
13. Hiroshi Aoyama
14. Colin Edwards