After his inopportune failure to finish Sunday's American Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi has admitted that his championship hopes are now over.
(By James Mulholland)
"We're 51 points down on Hayden with only six races left, so for the first time I will race without thinking about the pressure of the championship," he said.
The seven time champion endured a difficult weekend under the stare of the immense Hayden mural at the entry to the Corskscrew with the Laguna Seca track soaring up into the mid fifties. But from tenth on the grid he was on the verge of another stunning feat, having raced to fourth behind Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki).
The Camel Yamaha rider looked certain to take the Australian for third before it all went downhill - more rapidly than Hayden through the Corkscrew - as rear tyre problems forced him to slow down on the searing track before his cooling system decided to pack it in.
"We've been in a really difficult situation all weekend with a lot of problems and unfortunately things got even worse today!" said The Doctor. "We made a big improvement this morning in warm-up and I was much faster, so I thought that maybe we could do a good job in the race and to start with we made good progress from our grid position.
"But then we had a problem with the rear tyre and I lost all grip and was forced to slow right down in order not to crash. Then we had a problem with the water-cooling system for the engine, it overheated and when I saw the smoke, I knew it was over."
Rossi had embarked upon a remarkable comeback from a disappointing start to the season and his incredible victory in the German Grand Prix brought him within 26 points of Hayden.
Germany was his fourth victory of the year while Hayden's home victory at Laguna Seca was only his second, but compared with Rossi's three DNFs, the Kentucky Kid has only had two results from eleven races outside the top three (fifth in France and seventh Britain).
Scoring no points in California has basically flattened his hopes of contesting the title and, while his competitive spirit has in no way diminished, the focus will now be more on enjoying himself.
"My plan is to have a lot of fun over the remaining races and try to win as many as possible," he said. "Then who knows what might happen?"