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GP Week : Issue 122
T HIRTY minutes before the race start it was still raining. Ben Spies went out for the sighting lap on wet tyres. When he saw how it was drying up, he pitted for a hasty bike change and just made it to the grid in time. Just as well, because it was to be his big day. Spies had almost claimed pole for the Yamaha, in special red-and-white 50th anniversary colours, but missed it to Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda) by nine thousands after Capirossi crashed in front of him on his best lap. No matter. Simoncelli was to play a big part in the former Superbike champion’s maiden GP win, when the beleaguered Italian had a fourth crash in seven races. Sadly for his already bad reputation, when he high-sided at the track’s first left-hander on the cold tyre he took deadly enemy Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) with him. Both remounted, with Lorenzo afterwards roundly condemning Simoncelli once again. Lorenzo made a blazing start from row two to lead into the first corner, Spies pushing past immediately because he feared an incident at the first left. Wise move. The crash gave him a little breathing space, and he made the most of it. “I saw on the TV on the back straight there’d been an accident, and I knew I had to push 100 percent to get a gap,” he said. “In some ways it was an easy race, in some ways hard. It’s been a while since I’ve led a race, and when you see your pit board saying ‘plus 3.5’ but the name underneath is ‘Stoner’, you don’t rest easy.” Those following avoided the debris, with Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) leading the pursuit from his team-mate Stoner and the ever-amazing Cal Crutchlow (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha). Valentino Rossi (Marlboro Ducati) had started well from the fourth row and would pass the English rider after five laps. Even so Crutchlow stayed with him until he pitted on lap 11 for a new front tyre. “I was so close to crashing every corner,” he said. Up front Stoner passed Dovi on lap two, and they stayed close for the first half of the race. He was unsure of his potential after crashing in free practice: “After that we couldn’t get grip in the rear. We tried a different setting to test in warm- up, but it was wet, so taking it into the race was a bit of a gamble.” Tentative in the early laps as Spies sped away, he tried to close the gap, but then decided that second was enough for his championship chances. Dovi had dropped a long way back by the end, battling with a soft front tyre he felt obliged to choose because of the conditions, but didn’t like. “But Valentino was not so fast, so I could control the gap,” he said. Rossi had never been close enough to challenge, and was alone after passing Crutchlow. But he took some positives. After problems setting his new GP11.1 in practice, they’d made a change overnight that improved the feeling at the rear: “In some corners I was 15 km/h faster than yesterday,” he said. “I am a lot more optimistic today, but we still lose a lot of time (a second a lap) on the leaders. Now we need to improve the grip on the front.” Nicky Hayden (Marlboro Ducati) was another 12 seconds adrift in fifth, after losing time running across the chicane on the first lap. He’d been passed by Colin Edwards (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) in the early stages, but the Texan faded with tyre problems as the race wore on, and Nicky was ahead again with nine laps to go. But at the end he was only two seconds away from being caught by Lorenzo, charging up from the back. This put Edwards seventh, with Pedrosa replacement Hiro Aoyama (Repsol Honda) eighth. Then came the remounted Simoncelli, passing Toni Elias (LCR Honda) on the last lap. Alvaro Bautista (Rizla Suzuki) was the last rider on the same lap as the leader. Hector Barbera (Aspar Ducati) and Aoyama’s San Carlo replacement Kousuke Akiyoshi were 12th and 13th, with Crutchlow another lap down, but still in the points. Karel Abraham (AB Cardion Ducati) crashed out on the first lap, Randy de Puniet (Pramac Ducati) on the second. Stoner extended his points lead. He has 136, Lorenzo 108, with Dovizioso closing on 99. Rossi is fourth with 81, then Hayden (71) and Pedrosa and Spies (both 61). 44