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GP Week : Issue 102
THE absence of Dani Pedrosa was crucial, certainly to Jorge Lorenzo and possibly also to winner Casey Stoner. The Repsol Honda’s strength was shown by Pedrosa’s team-mate Andrea Dovizioso, who challenged Stoner’s Marlboro Ducati strongly almost throughout. So what could Dani have done with it? Lorenzo’s perspective was different: his last title rival was out, and likely so next week as well. A win here would secure the championship. The Fiat Yamaha rider had little time to think about it, as he fought an increasingly bitter battle with uneasy team-mate Valentino Rossi. The intensity grew as the end approached until they collided at least twice in the last laps, changing places six times in the process. At the end Rossi was jubilantly triumphant, back on the rostrum, his shoulder injuries shrugged off, describing it as “a funny race”. Lorenzo was resentful, criticising some of Rossi’s moves as risky and “too strong” (see separate story). But he had the comfort of stretching his lead once again. The title is just a cruise away, even if Pedrosa does return. Rossi had expected the stop-and-go circuit ’s hard braking would punish his injured shoulder. Instead, because it was in a straight line, he qualified on the front row for the first time since round three. Dovizioso claimed his first MotoGP pole; Stoner was third, with Lorenzo off the front row for the first time all season. The Honda got the jump but ran wide out of the first corner ... and Stoner was in front. And there he stayed, posting a string of fastest laps as he responded to every one of the determined Dovizioso’s attacks. “He really made me work for it,” said Stoner. It was his first win at Motegi, and Ducati’s fourth in the last six years. Dovizioso praised Stoner’s relentless pace: “I don’t know what he had to eat today,” he joked – a (possibly inadvertent) reference to the Australian’s AWOL spell last year with diet-related fatigue problems. Rossi’s battle with Lorenzo began on lap one, when Lorenzo pushed past into third. Rossi watched frustrated as the leading two drew out of reach – by almost two seconds when he did reverse the positions at the hairpin on lap six. He gave chase at once, setting fastest lap of the race next time round ... but he never got much closer. Jorge stayed ever-present, and when Rossi started to tire in the later laps, he saw his chance. They changed places six times in the last two laps, but Rossi always emerged in front. Twenty seconds behind, Colin Edwards (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) battled back ahead of Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda) by a couple of seconds at the end for his best result of the year. Simoncelli was almost caught by Alvaro Bautista, the Rizla Suzuki rider coming through steadily. His last victim had been team-mate Loris Capirossi ... but only when the older rider’s engine had suddenly died into the third corner while he was fending the youngster off. 34