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GP Week : Issue 116
Casey stoner became the first rider to win two races this year at Le Mans. He could hardly have asked for a more dramatic backdrop for the win. Or have been more thankful that he was not involved in all the drama. While he sailed away up front, his Repsol Honda having dominated practice and qualifying, it all kicked off behind him, in a series of incidents that had arguments resounding late into the night. The worst of them put early leader and long-time second-placed man Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) out of the race and into hospital, his right collarbone broken barely two weeks after his left collarbone finally healed. He crashed after he collided with Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda) as they battled for second. Bad boy Simoncelli survived, only to be penalised for dangerous riding with a ride- through, scotching once again his hopes of a first rostrum. But the crowd didn’t mind, and nor did Marlboro Ducati, for it meant that their new star rider Valentino Rossi was now scrapping over a rostrum position, rather than fourth. Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) claimed second, after Rossi had mistimed his attack, thinking the penultimate lap was the last. But Rossi was barely three tenths behind his compatriot, and thrilled by his first Ducati rostrum. Stoner was grateful for the win, after trouble on the start line. His engine had been hard to start, then he had struggled to find neutral, overheating his clutch which resulted in a sluggish start. “I made up a few places being aggressive into the first corners,” he said. Then he had followed early leader Dani, noted he was cautious in the left-handers, and attacked, expecting to get away. “Instead whatever I did Dani matched it. My pace was faster than I wanted to push with a full tank, but he was still with me.” Only after ten laps could he grab a small advantage, and from then it started stretching fast. “It was a pretty perfect weekend,” he said. Dovi admitted he was still short of the top level with his bike, but second proved “we improved a lot this weekend. But not enough, we need to improve again.” He’d beaten Rossi by getting an advantage before the final corners, “because I knew he was faster than me on the last left.” Rossi said: “My first Ducati rostrum is very important. It was also a great race.” A further setting change after warm-up had improved rear grip, while his pace meant “I could learn a lot about the bike, because you do when you are with other fast riders. But today I rode the Ducati like never before.” Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) was fourth, unable to stay with this pair at a track where for the first time the Yamahas were struggling somewhat; 10 seconds behind him Simoncelli had blasted back after his ride- through, surging past battling Americans Ben Spies (Yamaha) and Nicky Hayden (Marlboro Ducati). Hiro Aoyama (San Carlo Honda) was a distant eighth; a long way behind him Hector Barbera (Mapfre Ducati) won out in a race- long five-bike battle to avoid being last. He was narrowly ahead of Karel Abraham (AB Cardion Ducati), Toni Elias (LCR Honda) and Alvaro Bautista (Rizla Suzuki). Loris Capirossi (Pramac Ducati) had crashed out of this group; Colin Edwards (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) claimed last, two laps behind, having crashed, pitted and rejoined. His team-mate Cal Crutchlow also crashed out, early, from a strong ninth. Home-race hero Randy de Puniet (Pramac Ducati) spoiled everything for his fans, crashing on the second lap. Lorenzo’s title lead shrank to just 12, 78 points to new second-place man Stoner on 66. Pedrosa has 61, then Dovizioso (50) and Rossi (47). Pedrosa led (left), but would go out in controversial style after colliding with Simoncelli (above). Winners from this fracas were Andrea Dovizioso (below) and Valentino Rossi (right), who took his first podium for Ducati. MOTOGP LE MANS >> 25