Toni Elias (Gresini Racing Moto2, Moriwaki) made history at Sepang today when he was crowned the first-ever Moto2 World Champion.
The hugely experienced Spaniard finished fourth in a typically thrilling race to secure the title with three rounds remaining.
Although Elias has been a front-running Grand Prix rider for a decade, this is his first world crown.
The 27-year-old has ridden a spectacular season, winning seven of the 14 races so far. Such consistency would be impressive in any race series, but in the new Honda-powered Moto2 category it is nothing short of remarkable.
Moto2 is the first motorcycling World Championship to feature a control engine – Honda supplies identical tuned CBR600 engines to all riders – in order to keep costs down and to give all riders an equal chance of success.
The series also features control tyres, ECU and slipper clutch. The result of this equality of machinery is dramatically close racing, which requires inch-perfect performances from riders if they are to run up front consistently.
Although Elias has managed that feat with an impressive run of eight podium appearances, the racing in Moto2 is so topsy-turvy that even he has had some tough weekends this year, like the British GP, where he finished tenth, and the Italian and Catalan GPs where he finished fifth.
Elias joined Moto2 from MotoGP, which he contested for five years from 2005, winning one race (at Estoril, aboard a Fortuna Honda RC211V) in 2006 and scoring a further five podiums.
He took the traditional route to the premier class, commencing his full-time GP career in 1999 in the 125 class, then graduating to 250s in 2002. He won two 125 GPs (in 2001) and seven 250 GPs (between 2002 and 2004).
A popular member of the paddock, as much liked for his cheerful character as for his radical hang-off riding style, Elias comes from a racing family. His father a top Spanish motocross rider and owner of a motorcycle shop in the family’s home town of Manresa.
Elias won his first minimoto title aged nine and then won success in local and national scooter racing classes before moving onto 125 race bikes in 1998. Amazingly, he scored his first world points that same year, as a wild card entry at the Valencia Grand Prix.
Elias’ race wins in Moto2 give him membership of a very select club. He is one of only seven riders in more than six decades of the motorcycling World Championships to have achieved victories in four different classes, Elias having won in 125s, 250s, Moto2 and MotoGP.
The other riders in this elite band are Mike Hailwood (125/250/350/500), Jim Redman (125/250/350/500), Phil Read (125/250/350/500), Chaz Mortimer (125/250/350/500), Loris Capirossi (125/250/500/MotoGP) and Valentino Rossi (125/250/500/MotoGP).
Tony Elias says: “When I crossed the line the first thing I did was cry a lot, but then after that it seemed like my emotions were blocked, I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t feel anything; I don’t know why.”
“Now, minute by minute, I feel better, because I know it’s all true. But maybe I will start crying again in a few minutes! Finally we reached our target. To win this championship we had to lose two – a 125 (in 2001) and a 250 (in 2003).”
“All that experience made me stronger and gave me what I needed to win this championship. It has been many years of fighting and then this year a lot of work with my team and with Moriwaki. This title is for my parents, my sister, all my friends and everyone who has worked with me during my career.”
“It is also for the people who are not here, like my uncle, who died four years ago, and for [Shoya] Tomizawa [Elias' Moto2 rival who died following an accident during last month's Misano Moto2 race]. My dream has come true, now we will continue fighting for another championship, maybe here or maybe in MotoGP.”
“I have learned many things in Moto2, so whatever I do next I will be stronger. I feel like a weight has come off my shoulders. When I came to Moto2 I thought it would be an easy class, but that all changed at the first corner of the first race in Qatar, when I quickly understood it would be very difficult.”
“We have worked so hard, also in qualifying, and we have fought with many different rivals. It has been closer than we expected. The most important race for me was Germany, where we made a big change to the chassis set-up.”
“In one go we made two big steps forward, and from then on I knew we could be competitive and consistent. But we also won the championship with some difficult races, like Silverstone where I qualified 18th but still managed to finish in the top ten.”
Shuhei Nakamoto (Honda Racing Corporation vice-president) says: “Elias has done a very good job, so everyone at Honda would like to congratulate him on becoming the first Moto2 World Champion.”
“Moto2 has been a great success – the racing is really competitive and fantastic to watch – so Honda is very to help this new kind of Grand Prix category by supplying CBR600 engines.”
“The engines have proved strong and very reliable, which is a good point for us. It is very tough for riders to be up front all the time in Moto2, which proves that Elias has stayed very concentrated and is always thinking about how to win.”
Tony Elias Fact File
Born: March 26 1983, in Manresa, Spain
Team: Gresini Racing Moto2
Machine: Moriwaki MD600
First GP: Spain, 1999 (125)
First GP win: Netherlands, 2001 (125)
GP victories: 17 (MotoGP: 1, Moto2: 7, 250: 7, 125: 2)
Tony Elias Year-by-Year
1993 3rd Catalan Pocketbike Championship
1994 2nd Catalan Pocketbike Championship
1995 10th Catalan 80cc Scooter Championship
1996 4th Catalan 80cc Scooter Championship
1997 Scootermania Champion
1998 23rd 125 Spanish Championship (Honda)
1999 3rd 125 Spanish Championship (Honda)
2000 20th 125 World Championship (Honda)
2001 3rd 125 World Championship (Honda)
2002 4th 250 World Championship (Aprilia)
2003 3rd 250 World Championship (Aprilia)
2004 4th 250 World Championship (Honda)
2005 12th MotoGP World Championship (Yamaha)
2006 9th MotoGP World Championship (Honda)
2007 12th MotoGP World Championship (Honda)
2008 12th MotoGP World Championship (Ducati)
2009 7th 9th MotoGP World Championship (Honda)
2010 Moto2 World Champion (Moriwaki)