MotoGP – Phillip Island, Australia – Sun Sep 28

Casey Stoner put the disappointment of losing the title fight behind him, and delivered a perfect home victory leading form start to finish at Phillip Island.

Only Nicky Hayden was able to stay with him at the start, and the two raced off into the distance leaving everyone else far behind. Hayden’s always fast here, and even before his resurgent end-of-season form would have been a favourite to finish on the podium.

Behind them, Jorge Lorenzo had a terrible start and dropped back to 5th, while compatriot Dani Pedrosa tried for one of his trademark banzai starts – and overcooked it going into Doohan, running wide onto the grass and was unable to stay upright. The bike washed out and Dani was unable to recover.

Behind him, in what was proving to be a very eventful start to the race, Chris Vermeulen and Sylvain Guintoli also ran off the tarmac in a separate incident to Pedrosa. They went well off onto the grass and gravel and took an age getting back onto tarmac, but at least they were able to rejoin the race.

All of that saw James Toseland pop up into 3rd place. Toseland knows this place well from his Superbike career and it suits his smooth riding style, so that when Lorenzo – recovering from his poor start – overtook him on lap 2, Toseland stayed right on his rear tyre and was able to pass Lorenzo a second time a couple of laps later and then thwarted the Spaniard’s attempts to overtake. Lorenzo ended up backed into Andrea Dovizioso who was having a strong race, and the two duelled for 4th.

Valentino Rossi meanwhile was having to start from 12th place on the grid after a crash in qualifying before he was able to set a flying lap. It had left him with a stiff neck, but he declared himself 100% fit ahead of the race and showed no ill effects on the day. Starting that far back on the grid there’s always the risk of getting caught up in a midfield bumping incident, and sure enough Alex de Angelis had a nasty crash right in front of him that only Rossi’s unrivaled reflexes were able to navigate around without drama.

Thanks to all these shenanigans up front, Rossi was in 8th by the end of the first lap and it wasn’t long before he had caught up the Toseland/Lorenzo/Dovizioso train. He worked his way past Dovizioso and his own team mate, but took longer to get past Toseland; when he finally managed it, he was somewhat shocked to find himself out braked by Toseland a few corners later to lose the position again. Yes, you got that right – Rossi, king of the late brakers, was himself out-braked.

It was clear that Toseland was wringing the next of his customer Yamaha in order to keep the works version with its superior pneumatic valve engine behind him. Rossi was also on the Bridgestones while Toseland was supposed to be nursing his Michelins to try and make them last the distance: the pressure from the newly crowned world champion put paid to his tyre management strategy, however, and Toseland’s handling faded fast toward the end.

Rossi was finally able to get past Toseland and this time turned on the speed to ensure the Brit couldn’t stage another successful counter-strike. Rossi set off after Hayden in second, who despite being 5s ahead was stating to struggle. The Kentucky Kid had cooked his own Michelins trying to stay on the tail of Stoner which made it easy for Rossi to reel him in at high speed, so that Rossi finally finished a comfortable 2nd – a long way behind Stoner but emphatically the best thing he could have hoped for from his poor qualifying performance.

“For me it was a very, very exciting race from the beginning to the end, because I never had one second to relax,” Rossi said. “Unfortunately with my mistake yesterday, starting from the fourth row is very difficult. But I was confident because I knew I had a good pace. Before the crash yesterday I felt confident with the bike.”

The tension and pressure of the title race behind him, Rossi seemed happy just to have had some quality racing and clearly relished the tussle with Toseland. “I pushed and pushed, and I arrived with Lorenzo and Toseland,” he said. “The battle with Toseland was very, very strong. I lost a little bit of time because James passed me back and I had to stay behind.

“But when I was able to get in front again, I changed my rhythm and I started to push. I could see Nicky becoming bigger and bigger. I said ‘I’ll try, I’ll try, maybe it’s possible, maybe it’s not’. I was not sure. But lap by lap, I arrived with Nicky on the last lap. So I think the second place today is the best result for us.”

Outside the podium positions, Toseland’s fading tyres saw him lose 4th to Lorenzo, and then in a last lap reshuffle Shinya Nakano – who had been watching and waiting behind the pack battling ahead of him – managed an opportunistic move that bounced Toseland down to 6th and Dovizioso to 7th.

At the back of the field, Guintoli and Vermeulen managed to recover sufficiently from their off-track excursion to catch and pass Marco Melandri who was having another disastrous day, finishing dead last while his Ducati team mate Casey Stoner blitzed the field in the lead.

Stoner was happy to deliver a home victory and – like Rossi – seemed to have something of an end-of-term spring in his step now that the title race is moot. “This season’s been a very difficult one for us, but we’ve given it everything,” Stoner said. “We’ve had a few ups and downs, and it’s nice to come back up again. We’ve been struggling lately, we haven’t had 100 per cent fitness. I’ve been working hard, but things just haven’t worked out. Today and this weekend, we’ve been working really hard and we managed to do it.”

Stoner’s smooth and flawless ride at the fabulous Phillip Island seafront track was the 2007 world champion back to his best, despite still struggling with the scaphoid bone injury he aggravated earlier this year that will require an off-season operation.

At certainly didn’t seem to affect his champagne-spraying action on the podium, as a thoroughly feel-good and entertaining MotoGP was celebrated by the traditional Aussie track invasion!

Race result:

Pos  Rider             Bike           Time
 1.  Casey Stoner      Ducati    (B)  40:56.643
 2.  Valentino Rossi   Yamaha    (B)  +   6.504
 3.  Nicky Hayden      Honda     (M)  +   7.205
 4.  Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha    (M)  +  11.500
 5.  Shinya Nakano     Honda     (B)  +  11.914
 6.  James Toseland    Yamaha    (M)  +  12.243
 7.  Andrea Dovizioso  Honda     (M)  +  12.780
 8.  Colin Edwards     Yamaha    (M)  +  25.920
 9.  Randy de Puniet   Honda     (M)  +  26.037
10.  Loris Capirossi   Suzuki    (B)  +  26.799
11.  Toni Elias        Ducati    (B)  +  27.027
12.  Anthony West      Kawasaki  (B)  +  47.808
13.  John Hopkins      Kawasaki  (B)  +  48.333
14.  Sylvain Guintoli  Ducati    (B)  +  48.899
15.  Chris Vermeulen   Suzuki    (B)  +  48.935
16.  Marco Melandri    Ducati    (B)  +1:11.767
Retirements:
Rider             Bike           Laps
Dani Pedrosa      Honda     (B)    0
Alex de Angelis   Honda     (B)    0
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