MOTOGP: Round 5 – Mugello, Italy – May 31

Casey Stoner emerged victorious from a wildly eventful and unpredictable Italian MotoGP, to end Valentino Rossi’s seven-year run of home wins here. But it was something of a lottery throughout, with at least half a dozen riders in contention for the win at various points of the race.

It threatened to be a disaster for polesitter Jorge Lorenzo, who was caught out by a slight shower and managed to slide off the wet track into the gravel trap on the sighting lap before the race even started. He had to return to the pits and change to the reserve bike: although it was quickly fitted with wet tyres, it still had the dry set-up for the anticipated mid-race changeover, and the problems with mixed tyres/set-up showed at the start when Lorenzo’s rear wheel just spun and spun while half the field streamed past him. Down to 8th before the first turn, the rest of the race seemed as though it was going to be damage limitation for him.

The best starts were by Casey Stoner, Andrea Dovizioso and Chris Vermeulen. Vermeulen is known as something of a wet specialist and proved it here, taking the lead from Stoner by the end of the first lap.

But this race was going to be all about the changing conditions: Vermeulen led while the track was still pretty damp, but as things started to dry off his lack of pace compared with the Ducati and Honda riders started to show and he dropped back at a fair rate of knots.

In these crossover conditions, it was actually Valentino Rossi (who had been circulating in fourth) who was coming on strong and finally broke into the lead; he brought Marco Melandri to the front with him, and as pit stops for a change to slicks loomed it was actually Marco (so forlorn on the Ducati last year) who impressively swept past Rossi to put the Kawasaki into the lead.

As in the previous race at Le Mans, the critical moment here was when to come in for dry weather tyres. And, mindful of how Rossi had gambled on changing over too early only to crash out of the race, no one was too keen on jumping the gun. The exception to the rule was James Toseland, who came in several laps earlier than the leaders and opted for hard tyres that took some time to heat up to optimal conditions. But once they did, he was taking chunks of 4s a lap out of the leaders and that was the signal for everyone to come in and switch.

Even so, the changeover proved dangerous for some: Alex de Angelis and Yuki Takahashi found conditions too treacherous and went off into the gravel, although de Angelis was able to recover and make it to the end of the race to pick up a point. But Dani Pedrosa was not so lucky: he suffered a violent tank-slapper going into a 115mph corner and was thrown from the bike, landing heavily and skidding into the gravel. It seemed to seriously aggravate the hip injury he had already sustained in practice on Friday, and he remained motionless curled into a foetal position until the medical crew arrived to stretcher him off. It looks very much as though that could be the last we see of the Spaniard for some time, and he will certainly miss his home event in Catalunya in two weeks.

Although Melandri and Rossi resumed in the lead after the pit stops, they were on the harder tyres and were quickly overtaken by those on the softer compound. We were back to the Ducati/Honda/Suzuki line-up at the front, only this time it was Loris Capirossi representing Suzuki alongside Stoner and Dovizioso. But nothing was certain, as Stoner was battling a clutch problem and Dovizioso and Capirossi would start to fade in the closing laps as the softer compound struggled to provide them with sufficient grip.

That gave the Honda riders Rossi and Lorenzo the chance to stage a comeback: having already paid the price on choosing the hard tyres, they were now fully up to speed and starting to fly, past first Capirossi and then – with a battle – Dovizioso to get both of them onto the podium. But Stoner had dealt with his clutch problem and had a big enough lead to make it to the chequered flag.

Stoner was ecstatic at his victory: no one expects to come to Mugello and beat Rossi, but the Australian had pulled it off, describing the race as a roller-coaster and admitting that his bike performance had had so many ups and downs that he simply hadn’t been sure what was going on or what position he was in at various points of the race.

And in second: Jorge Lorenzo, despite the sighting lap accident and the dire start. He was beaming, declaring this as his greatest race ever, and it had indeed been a fine performance. Whereas, by contrast, Valentino Rossi was rather subdued in third, having only just managed to hold off a fightback from Dovizioso at the line and admitting that he tends to have “bad luck in this type of race in the past, so to arrive on the podium here in front of all the Italian fans is a good result.

“After seven wins in a row it’s a pity, but it’s a normal situation,” said Rossi. “It was quite a difficult weekend, especially in the race – which was crazy and incredible. Anyway, the podium is better than nothing.”

And it certainly keeps the championship race incredibly tight – although sadly, it appears that Dani Pedrosa can now be discounted from the title hunt.

Race results

Pos  Rider             Bike             Time
 1.  Casey Stoner      Ducati           45m41.894s
 2.  Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha            +  1.001s
 3.  Valentino Rossi   Yamaha            +  2.076s
 4.  Andrea Dovizioso  Honda             +  2.129s
 5.  Loris Capirossi   Suzuki            +  3.274s
 6.  Colin Edwards     Tech 3 Yamaha     + 24.451s
 7.  James Toseland    Tech 3 Yamaha     + 25.621s
 8.  Randy de Puniet   LCR Honda         + 26.046s
 9.  Niccolo Canepa    Pramac Ducati     + 31.815s
10.  Chris Vermeulen   Suzuki            + 34.814s
11.  Marco Melandri    Hayate Kawasaki   + 35.090s
12.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati            + 39.122s
13.  Mika Kallio       Pramac Ducati     + 52.462s
14.  Toni Elias        Gresini Honda     + 52.478s
15.  Alex de Angelis   Gresini Honda     +   1 lap

Retirements:

     Dani Pedrosa      Honda            12 laps
     Yuki Takahashi    Scot Honda       9 laps

Championship standings

Another race weekend, another name at the top of the championship standings. Stoner’s excellent win at Mugello means he takes over the top spot from Lorenzo, after the Aussie leapfrogged both Hondas.

Only 9pts covers the top three, before a 25pt gap back to Pedrosa in 4th.

Pos Driver  Points
1   Casey Stoner        90
2   Jorge Lorenzo       86
3   Valentino Rossi     81
4   Daniel Pedrosa      57
5   Andrea Dovizioso    56
6   Marco Melandri      48
7   Colin Edwards       45
8   Loris Capirossi     38
9   Chris Vermeulen     37
10  Randy de Puniet     34
11  James Toseland      26
12  Toni Elías          23
13  Alex de Angelis     21
14  Mika Kallio         19
15  Nicky Hayden        13
16  Niccolò Canepa      10
17  Sete Gibernau        8
18  Yuki Takahashi       8
        
Pos Constructor Points
1   Yamaha      115
2   Ducati       90
3   Honda        76
4   Suzuki       49
5   Kawasaki     48
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