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GP Week : Issue 69
VALENTINO Rossi took his Fiat Yamaha to place in a fraught wet Malaysian GP, and with team-mate Jorge Lorenzo fourth it was enough to secure his seventh premier-class World Championship with one race to go. But Casey Stoner put a great big 'what if' underneath the Italian superstar's achievement. In only his third race back after succumbing to a mystery ailment, the Marlboro Ducati rider claimed a second totally dominant win in succession. This one was by miles, conquering the most difficult of conditions with concentrated mastery after seizing a one- second advantage on the first lap. Boxed in fifth at the first-corner ("I thought I was going to be taken out)" Stoner was quickly past Loris Capirossi (Rizla Suzuki), Randy de Puniet and Toni Elias (LCR and San Carlo Honda), and then Pedrosa as well. Then he simply pulled away at two or more seconds a lap. At half distance he was better than 15 seconds clear, and the same at the finish. And looked fit, strong and smiling. "We couldn't ask for a lot more than to come back after three races off and have a second and two wins. A big thanks to everyone who supported and stayed with me, and thanks to the doctors and everybody who's helped us out," he said; now one step closer to third overall ahead of Pedrosa. Conditions were streaming wet, the race delayed by 40 minutes after a sudden cloudburst shortly before the warm-up lap. With no wet practice; settings were an educated guess. Rossi started from pole and outdragged Pedrosa, only to run wide in the first corner, dropping to tenth. It even put him behind team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, from the back of the grid. He had qualified second, but bike trouble meant he had to start the warm-up lap from pit lane. Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso couldn't live with Stoner but pulled clear of the rest. Dovi was redoubling his attacks on the Spaniard when he slid off on the wetter part of the circuit on lap 15. By now past the midfielders and Elias (de Puniet crashed out on lap two), Lorenzo and Rossi had closed to within three seconds of the Hondas. Rossi had been patiently shadowing, and when Dovi went he also slipped cleanly past Lorenzo, though a well- saved slide immediately afterwards showed how hard he was trying. This move underlined his title, and ensured he would get onto the rostrum to celebrate it. For a while it seemed third would still not be enough, and he closed on Pedrosa ... before choosing caution: "I was risking a bit too much, and between second and third is not a big difference. Also Dani was very fast in some points, and the goal of the podium was done." He had arranged an arcane celebration involving a live though somewhat moribund chicken and a slogan: "Gallina Vecchio" (Old Chicken ... an Italian proverb has it that such birds make the best broth). B ut if the egg he carried to the rostrum left the record 60,000-plus crowd bemused, the achievement was clear to all, and Lorenzo made a special trip to parc ferme to congratulate him. In between the giants, little Dani celebrated his first podium in the wet: "I have worked hard to improve in this condition," he said. Nicky Hayden (Marlboro Ducati) was an on-form fifth, after seeing off Elias, the Spaniard dropping another place to seventh. His second nemesis was Chris Vermeulen (Rizla Suzuki), revelling in the conditions after a poor start. Marco Melandri (Hayate Kawasaki) was eighth, then Loris Capirossi (Rizla Suzuki) won a fierce closing scrap with Mika Kallio, super-sub Aleix Espargaro (both Pramac Ducati) and Alex de Angelis (San Carlo Honda). Colin Edwards dropped back from this group, Monster Tech 3 team-mate James Toseland was a distant last, with Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda) between them. With Rossi on 286 and Lorenzo on 245, the first two title places are done. Stoner is drawing away from Pedrosa, 220 to 209. There is a real battle for fifth, with Dovizioso on 152 and Edwards 148. 37