Two Championships

Valentino Rossi and Ben Spies win big in MotoGP and World Superbike.

Two Championships - Valentino Rossi and Ben Spies

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American Ben Spies has won the World Superbike championship in his first season, and Valentino Rossi has taken the MotoGP championship, his seventh top-class Grand Prix title. Spies has now been signed to ride with Colin Edwards on the Tech3 Yamaha team (first-timers in MotoGP are required to start on a satellite team), and Rossi will continue at least one more season on the factory Fiat Yamaha team with Jorge Lorenzo.

For Spies, this was a nerve-wracking year, for the new Yamaha YZF-R1 with its crossplane crankshaft had numerous small failures and even ran out of gas once. But with his customary ability to concentrate on the race at hand rather than on matters beyond his control, Spies made hay every time fortune's sun shone. His powerful rival was Noriyuki Haga on a factory Ducati 1198. Haga at one time was fast but erratic, telling the public once that beer was his training regimen. But in recent years, he has become quieter and more focused, evidenced by the way he darted through any gap in Spies' performance this season. Adding to the drama was the depth of the Superbike field, which included Jonathan Rea on a Honda, Max Biaggi on the newAprilia RSV4and Michel Fabrizio on the other factory Ducati.

Back and forth teetered the points lead between Spies and Haga, until it seemed only the end of the season could bring a decision. The end did come, and its cause was the amazing concentration of Spies and Haga's vulnerability to crashing under pressure.In 2007, the stunning performance of Casey Stoner and the Ducati D16 made it appear a new age had dawned—one in which the Ducati's mechanical and electronic perfections were almost exactly matched by Stoner's mind-melded riding. They appeared to be an unassailable combination.

Yamaha fought back in 2008, and by Laguna could give Valentino Rossi a machine almost capable of matching the Ducati. Rossi's only strategy was to get in front and stay in front, for otherwise Stoner would be gone. He made this work spectacularly. In subsequent races, the Yamaha gained strength and Rossi applied his old Biaggi stalking tactics to Stoner, who crashed out twice, giving the title to the Italian.

This year, the expected challenge from Stoner fizzled as the Australian was forced by a mystery fatigue syndrome to take three races off. Yet Rossi had challenge aplenty from his own teammate, Lorenzo, who was relentlessly fast. A matter-of-fact Lorenzo quote from Indianapolis sums this up: "I see that I can win. So I must win."

Yet Rossi is not many times champion by accident. Lorenzo could win races, but he could not, he said, "Think on the bike as Vale can think." That meant crashes that slowed his otherwise impressive drive for points. He is very, very fast, but Rossi's resources are deep. Rossi was champion again.

Both will ride Yamahas next year, but there are whispers of possible change for Rossi after that, despite a previous declaration that "I shall finish my career on Yamaha." Is there friction? Rossi has said he dislikes developing a bike for his strongest "enemy." Rossi's strong relationship with iconoclastic Yamaha engineer Masao Furusawa is a powerful alliance. Could he create anything as effective at another company, say, Ducati? Yet Yamaha must keep Lorenzo, as he is the next generation. We await the outcome.

Ben Spies and Noriyuki Haga

Ben Spies

Jorge Lorenzo

Valentino Rossi

Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo

Ben Spies

Ben Spies

Valentino Rossi

Ben Spies