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GP Week : Issue 83
THINGS weren't as usual at Le Mans. For once the weather was hot and dry, the track resurfaced, and everyone had arrived with confidence high after a successful day of testing after the last round at Jerez. And by the end of the afternoon, something else unexpected. Valentino Rossi was beaten soundly by his junior Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo. For a second race in a row. And Casey Stoner (Marlboro Ducati) had crashed out in the early laps, for a second time in three races. The defeat was clear-cut. Rossi qualified on pole, and led away for the early laps. Jorge slotted in behind him ... but when he did attack for the first time he was firmly and immediately repulsed. But by then, both riders knew something that 82,270 spectators did not. Jorge had the pace, and Rossi didn't. It was only a matter of time. "I understood Valentino would be difficult to pass, because he brakes so late. I had to stay close out of the corners and wait for a mistake. But he didn't make many mistakes," said Lorenzo. "If that happened two or three years ago, maybe I would have done a crazy thing. But for this championship it is important to finish every race, and I have learned to be patient." His chance came on the 12th lap; he immediately pulled away, gaining more than three seconds in five laps. Rossi had no answer. When he repulsed the first attack, it was "just for fun. Because I knew he was faster than me anyway." And he had no excuses. "I was worried about my shoulder pain, but that came only in the last seven laps. By then, the race was over." The problem had been, once again, missing the perfect set-up. "We have to understand this problem, and make it right," he said. The pair of factory Yamahas dominated the race, helped perhaps by another enormous indiscretion by Stoner, who crashed out on lap three. He'd passed Marlboro Ducati team-mate Nicky Hayden and was chasing Dani Pedrosa for third before once again the front slid, and then the rear. And he was down and out. Pedrosa's Repsol Honda had chased the leaders for the first half of the race, before he started dropping back. But his problems came on the final lap, from his own vengeful team-mate Andrea Dovizioso. Dovi had finished lap one in seventh, but had been picking his way through and by half-distance was fourth and 1.4 seconds adrift of Pedrosa. Last year Pedrosa had pegged him back and passed him on the last lap. "This year I really wanted to do it to him" he said. He was challenging over the last eight laps, but "Dani is very fast in acceleration, and he was blocking me under brakes." But Pedrosa was on the edge, and on the final lap he ran wide and let the other Honda through. It would get worse. Hayden had also regained pace and closed on the pair, and when Dani ran wide again in the last corners, Nicky also got ahead of him, for 24