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GP Week : Issue 17
H ALF way through the season, Casey Stoner’s reviving World Championship defence got another boost at a Dutch TT full of upsets. As at Donington, the revived Marlboro Ducati racer looked, and was, unbeatable. Especially when the only man who might have challenged him fell off at the third corner. That was Valentino Rossi, not given to idle threats, who was convinced that his third-fastest lap time of the afternoon, set late in a lonely comeback ride to an eventual 11th, proved he could have raced Stoner. It was set, after all, on a bike with no toe-piece to its gear lever, leaving the erstwhile championship leader to shift with a stub. Almost 95,000 fans had to be content with the potential rather than the actuality; the race was for the most part processional. Stoner and the Duke were in explosive form, wet or dry, in practice and he seized the lead from fast- starting Dani Pedrosa’s Repsol Honda before they’d finished the first lap of the bowdlerised modern circuit. From then, he rode away at will to a final margin of 11.310 seconds. Pedrosa’s lone pursuit was always hopeless, but second gave him the points lead. But the overall picture has quite changed. Stoner, after two clear back-to-back wins, is now only 29 points behind the Spaniard, and 25 behind Rossi. With nine rounds left, he could easily catch up. It was still too soon to think about the title, he said: “But it’s more in reach. We need to keep the pressure on, and I definitely feel more confident.” Rossi was architect of his own downfall. He blamed the clutch for a poor getaway from the front row, and himself for being over-anxious to prevent the leaders from getting away. “I am a dick-head,” he said. He’d run too fast into the ultra- tight left-hander exiting the new stadium section that starts the lap and used a little rear brake … but with the tyre cold, the back had slid, and he had taken Randy de Puniet out with him. “I was lucky my engine was still running, but if not I would have completed the race on foot,” he said later, after going to the Frenchman’s pit to apologise. Nicky Hayden’s misfortune was no fault of his own. He’d chased Repsol team-mate Pedrosa hard for a couple of laps before more electronic puzzles slowed his pace in his second race on the pneumatic- valve Honda. But he was safe in third … until running out of fuel entering the final chicane for the last time. He freewheeled across the line, but only four seconds after a jubilant Colin Edwards had flashed past to put his Tech 3 Yamaha on the rostrum for the second time this year. Two years before, Edwards had led into that chicane only to tumble, handing victory to his fellow-American. Now he called it ‘Karma Corner’, adding with a laugh: “There’s not one shred of me that feels sorry for Nicky. After what happened two years ago, screw him!” The grid was already depleted 32