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GP Week : 06-May-2008
V ALENTINO Rossi is back. Not that he’d ever been too far away, but his Shanghai win was an emphatic return to dominant form, and his first in seven races. It was also the newly crop-headed Italian’s first on Bridgestones and a worrying omen for his rivals. “It’s a very long time since I’ve been in this place,” he beamed, after stopping on the slowdown lap to give his Fiat Yamaha a smacking great kiss on the nose, to the delight of the small crowd of 20,379 fans – most of them uniformed schoolchildren apparently bussed in for the occasion. The Fiat Yamaha rider’s only challenger was former Shanghai winner Dani Pedrosa, who stuck with him as Rossi kept on upping the pace. It was only in the final laps after Rossi broke the record again that he gave up, and not because he was out of fight: “I was over-revving on the back straight from lap 1, because there was a strong tail-wind,” he said. “When he kept getting faster every lap, I decided it was better to finish.” He was almost four seconds adrift. The track had mostly dried by the time the main race began, but surface temperature was down to 21 degrees, a massive 25 less than in qualifying. The change played out badly for third-placed 2007 winner Casey Stoner, after taking the same Bridgestone tyre advice that worked out perfectly for Rossi. “They advised us to go with a softer-compound rear, but after three laps I knew it wasn’t enough,” he said. “I was struggling for grip; it went down very quickly. If we’d have raced what I used yesterday, I don’t say I would have won, but we would have been closer.” Pole starter Colin Edwards led Stoner at the end of lap 1, but Pedrosa had passed both of them before they were halfway round the next, and Rossi was also ahead of him, and up to second next time round, the leaders taking a second a lap out of the pursuit. Edwards held third only until lap 6, when he ran off at the hairpin and dropped to seventh. From then on Stoner gradually gapped the rest. The other hero of the weekend was Jorge Lorenzo, with an epic fourth place. Less than three weeks before he’d had surgery to his right arm; two days before he’d been a doubtful starter after a massive crash in free practice. With a fracture in one ankle and painful bone bruising to the other, he could hardly walk to his bike, and dropped back to eighth in the middle of the race after a feisty start, overwhelmed by a big mid-field battle. But he gained speed at the end, forcing past the lot of them and leaving fifth-placed Marco Melandri (at last picking up the pace on the Marlboro Ducati) five seconds behind. It was a hell of a way to celebrate his 21st birthday. Melandri managed to hang on to fifth, with Nicky Hayden more than a second ahead, fending off Edwards. Toni was eighth, with Loris Capirossi ninth, losing two places on the last lap. The Rizla Suzuki rider had run off earlier and fought back, but was stymied at the end by a chain jumping on the sprockets. The same problem had eliminated his team-mate Chris Vermeulen after six laps. With four different winners in the first four races, it looks as if (as Rossi said) “this will be a long championship.” Pedrosa now leads Lorenzo by seven points and Rossi by nine, with Stoner just 25 behind. M oto GP CHINA >> 25