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GP Week : Issue 126
T he morning mist has lifted, and the sun is shining again on Casey Stoner. In an echo of the weather of the Monterey peninsula, the Repsol honda rider’s fifth win of the season lifted the mood of the past few races as he returned to brilliant winning form in front of 52,670 cheering fans. His US GP weekend hadn’t been easy. He’d qualified on the front row with “a one-lap wonder”, and finally got his Honda to his liking only in race-morning warm-up. Then, riding with clinical precision on the fairground swoops and curls of a sun-baked Laguna Seca circuit, he waited for the right time, then picked off first his team-mate Dani Pedrosa and then long-time leader Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) to win by better than five seconds. The pass on Pedrosa was clean and hard, into the Corkscrew; on Lorenzo even more so in both respects, round the outside at the daunting Turn 1. The put his title quest back on track, and went some way to erase the bitter memories of his defeat here at the hands of Rossi in 2008. “I was struggling to turn the bike after the start, but I was patient and I still had something left. Then lap by lap when the fuel went out, it just got better,” said Stoner “I think people had forgotten me a bit over the last races. It’s good to come back and show I can still win.” Lorenzo’s second was itself a heroic feat. The previous morning he’d smashed his leg and back in a vicious low-speed high-side crash, and was walking with difficulty. Riding beautifully, however, again – qualifying on pole and leading for 26 of 32 laps of the shortest and giddiest track of the year. “After qualifying I wanted to fight for the win. But dreams are not reality: Casey was faster today, and when he came past I threw in the towel. Of course, the pain was also difficult ... I feel lucky to be second.” Pedrosa fell away in a safe but distant third, also suffering physically at the exhausting track, after his recent third collar-bone surgery this season. At first the race was between Lorenzo and Pedrosa, with Stoner more than a second adrift after the first two laps, only narrowly ahead of Repsol Honda third man Andrea Dovizioso and a hard-pressing Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda). By the seventh he was closing steadily but firmly, with Dovi losing touch and Simoncelli out after losing the front into downhill Rainey Corner after the notorious Corkscrew. As the front trio sorted themselves out, Ben Spies (Yamaha) had been swamped at the start, but had got ahead of Valentino Rossi (Marlboro Yamaha) on lap three to begin a lonely pursuit of Dovizioso. The Honda man was slowing and Spies speeding up when they met with seven laps to go, and they battled furiously to the end, Spies pushing past into the last corner on the penultimate lap, and staying there. Another nine seconds away the factory Ducatis were glued together all race long, seldom more than half-a-second apart. They finished in the same order, Rossi just that little fraction too fast and too good for double Laguna race-winner Nicky Hayden to nose ahead. Alvaro Bautista (Rizla Suzuki) had been with the pair until he crashed out on lap 14. So had Hector Barbera (Mapfre Aspar Ducati), but by the end he had dropped away behind Colin Edwards (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha). Karel Abraham (AB Cardion Ducati) had been safe in tenth, but slowed radically in the last two laps to give the place to Hiro Aoyama (San Carlo Honda). Loris Capirossi (Pramac Ducati) and Toni Elias (LCR Honda) were a lap down. Cal Crutchlow (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) crashed out on lap four; wild card Ben Bostrom (LCR Honda) made a gear-shift muddle while lying last and ran into the gravel, and then retired, having an AMA Superbike racer to consider later in the afternoon. Stoner reversed the shrinking points gap, now up to 20, with 193 to Lorenzo’s 173. Dovizioso is falling away on 143, Pedrosa closing on 110, having consigned Rossi (108) to fifth’ Stoner came from third (right), but passed his team-mate to hone in on the back of Lorenzo (top left)