In one of the greatest debacles in the 57-year history of grand prix racing, the 21-year-old Spanish rider Dani Pedrosa yesterday took out his Repsol Honda team-mate Nicky Hayden from the Portuguese MotoGP and virtually handed the championship to Valentino Rossi.
Pedrosa was holding fourth place on only the fifth lap of the 28-lap race when he appeared to attempt to cut inside Hayden. But his front wheel skidded away from him, his 990cc bike rammed Hayden's machine side on, and both riders tumbled into the gravel.
Hayden, the 25-year-old American who had been leading the series with a 12-point advantage over Rossi, took off his helmet and walked away from the scene screaming in rage.
The Spaniard Toni Elias won the race on his Fortuna Honda, with Rossi in second place on his Camel Yamaha and Kenny Roberts Jnr taking third place on the British-built KR211V.
Pedrosa later denied that he had been trying to pass Hayden, but anyone who views a rerun of the incident would say that it looks like an out-braking manoeuvre at the most inopportune moment in the season.
"I didn't try to overtake him," Pedrosa insisted. "I just braked normally, but suddenly I was approaching him too fast. I didn't feel that I was going faster than the lap before, but my wheel touched the zebra markings on the inside of the track. It was the first time that I have ever hit another rider."
With astonishing composure, Hayden said: "It's a disaster for the team, but that's racing. Anything can happen. Dani came to see me afterwards. I know he regrets it, and I know he's not a dirty rider."
Rossi now leads the championship by eight points from Hayden, and the title will be decided at the last round in Valencia on 29 October.
"It was a great race," Rossi said. "For sure victory would be better but with Nicky's crash we are now ahead and will concentrate in Valencia which I think will be a very good last round."
Pedrosa broke a bone in his left hand in the crash, and Hayden hurt a shoulder that already contains a plate from a previous injury, so both will hope to be fully fit.
Britain's new Ilmor MotoGP challenger scored a championship point in its first race when the Australian Garry McCoy rode it to 15th place, despite having to go into the pits briefly because of a faulty front wheel sensor.Reuse content