Top 10 Greatest Last Laps Ever
You only have to be in front when you cross the finishing line but with every passing lap, that appointment with the chequered flag becomes ever closer. So when it comes to a last lap showdown, light the fireworks!
Nearly every decade has produced at least one titanic duel and a dramatic final lap showdown between the leading protagonists. MotoGP, World Superbikes, real road racing and the much missed Transatlantic Match Races have all seen races come down to a last lap, last corner shoot out. We take a look back at a selection of the best ever last laps.
Nurburgring, 1980 – 350cc German GP
Coming into the final round of the 1980 350cc World Championship, Jon Ekerold and Anton Mang were level on points and the title would be decided around the 14-mile Nurburgring circuit, one of the most daunting on the GP calendar.
Ekerold, the privateer, against Mang, the works Kawasaki rider, which on paper looked a no-contest but they were evenly matched and it couldn’t have come to a more dramatic conclusion around the fearsome tree-lined road course.
Mang qualified on pole, some nine seconds clear of Ekerold, but the duo were tied together by an invisible piece of strong throughout the six-lap race. However, on the final lap, tough guy Ekerold dug deep and knew something special was required, which is exactly what he produced.
He smashed the lap record with a time that, unbelievably, would have qualified him in second place for the 500cc race! His winning margin may only have been 1.25s and it may not have been a lap that saw countless changes of the lead but it was the lap that won Ekerold the World Championship, the last privateer to achieve such a feat.
Brands Hatch, 1987 – Transatlantic Match Races
When Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz came to the UK for the 1987 Transatlantic Match Races they weren’t just intent on beating the Brits, they were hell-bent on beating each other.
Clearly superior to any member of the British team, the opening race at Brands Hatch, indeed the whole series, was a two-way duel for supremacy with no quarter asked and certainly none given. Having battled side by side throughout the 16 laps of the Indy circuit, a circuit neither of them had seen before, Rainey dived up the inside at Paddock Hill Bend on the final lap.
Paul Ricard, 1988 – 500cc French GP
The original Paul Ricard circuit in the South of France, with its mile-long Mistral straight, was something to behold and when the 1988 GP took place, the 500cc series was in the middle of its golden era.
Defending champion Wayne Gardner arrived at Ricard twenty points down on series leader Eddie Lawson who had dislocated his shoulder the week before and it appeared the tides were turning. However, there was still Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz and local hero Christian Sarron, who had taken his fifth pole position in a row, to contend with.
As Rainey dropped back, Lawson, who’d rejected painkillers, gritted his teeth and rather than opt for a damage limitation weekend, he went all out for the win joining the other three riders at the head of the pack. With one lap to go Gardner had the lead but at the end of the Mistral straight, he slowed dramatically as a loose crankshaft bolt broke into the water pump.
The other three swept by, still nose to tail, and it was Lawson, putting in one of his bravest and best rides ever, who took the chequered flag with Sarron riding perfect shotgun to his Yamaha team leader to keep Schwantz back in third. Less than half a second covered the trio at the end of the twenty laps whilst Gardner managed to limp home in fourth.
The clash of fibreglass was clear to hear, but Schwantz returned the compliment immediately afterwards at Druids only for Rainey to have another go at his compatriot at Clearways. With tyre marks on their leathers proving the serious amount of contact that had been made, Schwantz slammed the door shut once more and took the first win of the series.
He later said how the team had agreed the first race would be an all out scrap for the win, at whatever the cost, and the duo would fight like this for a further seven years on tracks all across the world although few were as fairing crunching as this one!
Hockenheim, 1991 – 500cc German GP
Hockenheim was dauntingly fast with a habit of shredding tyres but it also produced some thrilling races and the 1991 500cc GP was no exception. After numerous exchanges in the lead, it was Wayne Rainey who led going into the last lap but Kevin Schwantz was shadowing him all the way and slipped by at the infamous Ostkurve.
However, that allowed Rainey to draft him on the last straight that led into the stadium section and he started peeling in to the right hander, seemingly ahead, but Schwantz wasn’t beaten, swinging out again to perform the most epic of late braking passes, the RGV Suzuki squirming from side to side as the rear wheel jumped up and down leaving a big line of rubber behind.
Somehow, Schwantz got the bike under control and successfully held off Rainey on the dash to the line albeit by just 0.016s, later describing his braking technique as “See God, then back off.” He also admitted Rainey’s tactics had surprised him. “He took me by surprise braking so early. I had to swerve to avoid hitting him.”
The Californian’s takes on things was, needless to say, somewhat different. “It’s the way Schwantz raced. I had to give him room. If it’d been the other way round, he’d have taken me out.”
Donington Park, 2000 – 250cc British GP
The 2000 250cc World Championship was a year-long battle between Olivier Jacque and Chesterfield Tech 3 team-mate Shinya Nakano that went right down to the final lap of the final race but even more remarkable was Ralf Waldmann’s last lap victory in that year’s British GP.
The race started dry but with rain not too far away, tyre choice was a gamble. With only 13 laps to go, Waldmann’s choice of full wets looked disastrous as he was 90 seconds behind race leader Jacque and just one corner away from being lapped but then he was thrown a lifeline; it began to rain.
Suddenly lapping over five seconds a lap quicker than his French rival, Waldmann closed in but as they headed into their final lap, the deficit was still eight seconds and surely too big a gap to bridge. However, Waldmann was getting quicker all the time although Jacque still led into the final corner.
Ralf wasn’t to be denied though and with superior grip he accelerated past on the run to the line leaving Jacque almost speechless. Speaking afterwards, Waldmann said, “I insisted on wet weather tyres so I prayed for rain. I thought it might be a mistake but stupidity and heroism are so close.” It would prove to be his final GP win but one everyone will always remember.
Imola, 2002 – Race Two, World Superbikes
Ducati’s Troy Bayliss had dominated the first part of the 2002 WSB season and had opened up a huge lead in the championship but just past mid-season Castrol Honda’s Colin Edwards embarked on a winning streak that saw him come into the final round at Imola just two points behind.
What happened was maybe two of the greatest races ever as the pair went at it with everything they had as they banged fairings and locked handlebars. Both riders had to win to get the championship with both saying they would either win or crash.
Tactics went out of the window for the final race and such was the ferocity of the competition between the two they lapped well over a second quicker than they’d managed in qualifying but after swapping positions three times on the final lap alone, it was ultimately Edwards who prevailed, the Texan later describing it “as tough a race as it gets.”
Bayliss was magnanimous in defeat saying, “I was really glad it turned out to be a two-horse battle and it was real sweet, real clean and just how it should have been. At the end of the day, the rider who deserved the championship won it.”
Jerez, 2005 – Spanish MotoGP
For two years, Sete Gibernau was the only rider who could consistently challenge Valentino Rossi and over the course of time, their healthy relationship turned into a bitter feud.
The catalyst came at the Qatar GP in 2004 when the Spaniard and his team ‘reported’ Rossi for apparently spinning up a scooter on his starting place on the grid, which would have given him better traction off the line. Rossi declared “he will never win another race” with the ultimate fireworks coming at Jerez, the opening race of 2005.
The pair had fought to the end but long time leader Gibernau held the advantage as they entered the final corner. Rossi then dived up the inside, almost out of control and with his feet down in a desperate bid to make the corner. He slammed into Gibernau, putting him in the gravel trap and took the win with the highly disgruntled Sete rejoining the track for second.
Gibernau’s career nosedived considerably after this race and Rossi’s prophecy that he would never win again turned out to be true – indeed, he never beat Rossi again.
Catalunya, 2009 – Catalunyan MotoGP
MotoGP races in the 800cc era had lost some of the sparkle seen with the 1000cc machines but the rivalry between Yamaha team-mates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo re-ignited the flame, none more so than at Catalunya in June 2009, which some described as the best last lap they’d ever seen.
Just nine points separated Casey Stoner, Lorenzo and Rossi when they arrived at the Spanish circuit but with Stoner suffering with illness, it was a straight two-way fight between the Spaniard and the Italian throughout the 25-lap race.
After numerous exchanges in the lead, Rossi led going into the final lap by 0.095s but Lorenzo grabbed the lead going into turn one and slammed the door again in the next corner. Rossi looked like he’d got back ahead at turn four but his young rival was having none of it and continued to lead.
It seemed that Rossi’s last chance was at the end of the back straight but Lorenzo had this one covered too and appeared to have the race won. The final corner wasn’t thought of as an overtaking place and although Lorenzo admitted he hadn’t defended it as well as he could have, Rossi showed great opportunism and determination to slide through.
He held on to take the win, later describing it as his best moment of 2009 and one of his best races ever.
Brands Hatch, 2011 – Race Two, British Superbikes
The 2011 British Superbike Championship may have been contested over 12 rounds, 26 race and 487 laps but the outcome of a thrilling season was decided on the last lap of the last race of the season.
John Hopkins and Tommy Hill arrived at the final round at Brands Hatch separated by eight points in the American’s favour but results from the first two races meant Hill had closed the gap to just one point. Whoever finished ahead of the other would be crowned champion.
For more than three quarters of the race, the title looked to be going the way of Hopkins as he occupied third with Hill struggling to stay in touch. However, on lap 17 of 20, he began to make his charge and he not only overtook Hopkins but also second placed James Ellison.
Pushed into action Hopkins responded and got past Hill going into Surtees on the final lap only for the latter to fight back immediately into Hawthorne’s. Hopkins then dived up the inside at Westfield this regaining the advantage but, undeterred, Hill came straight back past at Dingle Dell.
It was set up for a grandstand finish and as they approached the finish line, Hopkins’ better drive out of the final corner saw him pull alongside as they took the chequered flag. It took a while for confirmation to come through but Hill got the verdict by just 0.006s and with it became 2011 British Superbike Champion.
And a few more…
1975 500cc Dutch GP – Barry Sheene’s first premier class victory came when he got the better of class maestro Giacomo Agostini on the run to the flag. The timing equipment wasn’t sophisticated enough to split the two and they were awarded the same time.
2000 World Supersport, Brands Hatch – another last round shoot out as world championship positions changed at each corner as the four potential world champions went from first to fourth at the blink of an eye. Less than three quarters of a second covered Karl Muggeridge, Jorg Teuchert, James Whitham and Christian Kellner but it was Teuchert who was crowned champion.