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GP Week : Issue 123
M ugello is a fantastic circuit. More fantastic than ever this year, fully smoothed and resurfaced, and the kerbs painted in the Italian Tricolore as if to celebrate Rossi’s home-race debut on a Ducati. And the race was some kind of a treat for 83,746 fans who packed the scenic foothills surrounding the5.245-km circuit. But not the one they had hoped for. The wrong guy won, but so brilliantly that it was a fine moment to have shared. Not even Jorge Lorenzo had expected to win: he had no victory celebration lined up for his lap of honour. Contentment came from having given a demonstration of superbly accurate and determined riding on a bike not necessarily the fastest, but beautifully balanced to make the most of fuel, tyres, and the rider’s skill. “I put everything I have on the track today,” he said afterwards. “I have not much of any kind of energy left.” It had looked like another Honda charter in practice, attenuated by bad weather on both pre-race afternoons, with Casey Stoner in the driving seat and on pole for the fifth time in eight races. Sure enough, he surged straight into the lead and pulled a comfort zone of two seconds before half distance. Behind him Repsol Honda team-mate Andrea Dovizioso eventually got the better of the pursuing Lorenzo’s factory Yamaha. But then on lap 12 Lorenzo pulled a daring move round the outside into the fast down-hill right-left Casanova- Savelli combination. “I couldn’t pass under brakes, but I found another place,” he explained. Now the gap to the leader started to drop. Stoner was losing his edge. In the morning he’d found the tyre grip was fading as they warmed up. “ We wanted to change the pressure, but we were recommended not to,” he said. Now he was losing bite front and rear, and there was nothing he could do to when Lorenzo caught up rapidly and pulled the same Casanova- Savelli move on lap 18. The factory Yamaha drew slowly clear. His final margin was almost a second, but had been twice that as he started the last lap. But Stoner had his hands full with junior Repsol team-mate Dovi. The Italian set him up on the second-last run down the front straight, passed with a masterful (and fiercely resisted) outbraking move at the end of the straight, and held a jubilant second to the line. Fourth was as bitterly disputed between Assen winner Ben Spies (Yamaha) and Assen loser Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda). The Italian spent the weekend trying to shrug off his accumulated disgrace and rode with a caution that diminished as the race wore on. But he couldn’t prevent Spiess’ inexorable overtake on the inside of the final corner, the American holding an advantage of less than a tenth to the flag. But much of the interest was concentrated on a lively battle for sixth. Rossi, qualified 12th, gained no ground from the start, and found it surprisingly hard to pick his way through a gang surprisingly led by Alvaro Bautista’s Rizla Suzuki. Rossi had to pass Cal Crutchlow, who pitted soon afterwards with yet more front tyre problems, then his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team- mate Colin Edwards. Then he had real trouble with Hector Barbera’s customer Aspar Ducati. Rossi only escaped the Spaniard with two laps to go, by when Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) had recovered after clutch problems dropped him to 14th on lap two to slot into eighth, ahead of Edwards. Nicky Hayden (Marlboro Ducati) had a disaster, starting strongly only to run off at the end of the straight on lap two, fighting through from the back to tenth, ahead of Hiro Aoyama (San Carlo Honda), Karel Abraham (AB Cardion Ducati) and a distant battle between Bautista (who had dropped back suddenly after running off on lap 16) and Randy de Puniet’s Pramac Ducati. Toni Elias (LCR Honda) was even further behind, last. The championship is spicing up again. Stoner’s lead is now less than one race, with 152 points to Lorenzo’s 133. Dovizioso is stepping up on 119, Rossi a distant 91, then Hayden and Spies 77 to 74. 24