MOTOGP: Round 6 – Catalunya, Spain – 14 June

An extraordinary duel between team mates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo led to one of the most thrilling climaxes to a MotoGP event in years.

The top three riders all got off to good starts, running in qualifying order, Jorges Lorenzo initially opening out a gap over Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner for the first lap before they compacted together and were practically inseparable for the next two laps.

Behind them Randy de Puniet and Dani Pedrosa got blinding starts to ambush Andrea Dovizioso for 4th place with Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi also getting a flier from 11th to challenge the top six. Dovizioso soon reasserted himself, however, and took back 4th spot, while de Puniet fell backwards after the impressive start and ended up eight by the end.

At the front, the storm that threatened a three-bike pile up broke when Rossi finally squeezed past Lornzo for the lead three laps in. However if he had been expecting to power off into the distance he was mistaken, with not even a mistake by Lorenzo running wide and gifting Rossi an extra second being enough to prevent the local hero from getting right back into the fray.

Casey Stoner was valiantly staying with the lead duo; it was interesting to see how the Ducati’s familiar grunt down the long straights wasn’t in evidence, although on the other hand Stoner wasn’t dropped off in the slower, twistier sections as has traditionally been the case either. But he was clearly pushing the bike beyond its limits and finally the Yamaha duo left him for dead, and Stoner then had to battle Dovizioso to retain his podium place which he just about did – although he looked exhausted from the effort by the end of the 25 laps, explaining that an attack of ‘flu had worsened as the race approached: “I’ve been slowly getting a little more sick each day and after the warm-up this morning I was cramping and having all sorts of problems,” he explained. “I was really afraid of not finishing this race, and we did everything we could to prepare for it. But halfway through I gave up. I was absolutely dead and had nothing left, so decided just to try and run around to get points.”

That left Rossi and Lorenzo to battle it out for the win. Ten laps in, and unable to breakaway from Lorenzo, Rossi seemed to take the tactical decision to cede the lead to Lorenzo, drop in behind the youngster and study his racing lines ready for a decisive strike in the closing laps.

The moment came three laps before the end, when Rossi staged a surgical overtaking move down into turn 1 to retake the lead; but again, Lorenzo couldn’t be shaken and at the same spot the next lap Lorenzo got past Rossi, only to then have the world champion squeeze through an impossibly narrow gap on the outside to snatch the lead straight back.

Lorenzo didn’t make the same mistake on turn 1 of the last lap and this time left no space for Rossi to navigate through: he rounded the corner in the lead, and then fended off Rossi’s every attempt to find another part of the track to stage an overtaking move. Time again again they came within millimetres of touching and yet somehow didn’t, testament to Rossi’s huge experience and Lorenzo’s rapidly developing maturity and racecraft.

And finally they came to the long last turn, a part of the track where Lorenzo has been strong all weekend and where all common sense said there was no way of overtaking. And yet, somehow, Rossi pulled it off, taking an insane inside line to startle Lorenzo and put himself in the lead past the chequered flag. It had been a breathless, dramatic, tense and superb few minutes in the history of MotoGP.

The Spanish crowd didn’t know whether to cheer or cry: even when Rossi ran out onto the track in front of the main grandstand to salute the fans, the reaction was schizophrenic with many of the fans dismayed that Lorenzo hadn’t landed a home win, others cheering Rossi, and still more fans just stunned and dazed by the battle they had just seen and not sure who/what/where to think.

Further back, there was a gripping battle between Pedrosa and Capirossi for 5th place; unsurprisingly, Capirossi was finally able to take the position over the still-injured Spaniard. There were only two retirements: Yuki Takahashi overcooked it on the first lap and ended up in the air barrier, while Tony Elias laid the bike down on lap 9 and slid into the gravel.

Afterwards, Rossi was understandably elated at pulling off one of the hardest-won victories of his career and bounded over to congratulate his team mate Lorenzo on the battle. “In the end I didn’t close the door well enough, and Valentino overtook me. I didn’t think he’d try it there,” said Lorenzo afterwards. “He’s been cleverer and better than me, and brave, because I didn’t expect him to make a move at the last turn, and I didn’t shut off the line. I thought he’d try to overtake me on the straight.”

Lorenzo took it well enough, but murmured: “just wait till next time.” Battle is joined and war could be about to break out in the Yamaha pits; but for today at least they could revel in the 1-2 and the relief that their riders hadn’t taken each other out in the process.

Race result

Pos  Rider             Bike            Time
 1.  Valentino Rossi   Yamaha    43'11.897s   
 2.  Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha    +   0.095s
 3.  Casey Stoner      Ducati    +   8.884s
 4.  Andrea Dovizioso  Honda     +   8.936s
 5.  Loris Capirossi   Suzuki    +  19.831s
 6.  Daniel Pedrosa    Honda     +  22.182s
 7.  Colin Edwards     Yamaha    +  23.547s
 8.  Randy de Puniet   Honda     +  25.265s
 9.  Mika Kallio       Ducati    +  31.797s
10.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati    +  33.593s
11.  Chris Vermeulen   Suzuki    +  36.683s
12.  Alex de Angelis   Honda     +  36.874s
13.  James Toseland    Yamaha    +  39.433s
14.  Marco Melandri    Kawasaki  +  44.788s
15.  Sete Gibernau     Ducati    +  46.754s
16.  Niccolo Canepa    Ducati    +  55.873s
17.  Gabor Talmacsi    Honda     +1'27.640s

NOT CLASSIFIED/RETIREMENTS:

     Rider             Bike       Laps
     Toni Elias        Honda         9
     Yuki Takahashi    Honda         0

FASTEST LAP: Stoner, 1m42.858s on lap 2

Championship standings

And just to show how tight things are in this season of MotoGP: the result means that all three drivers – Rossi, Lorenzo, Stoner – are now all on 106pts in the championship. It literally could not be closer.

Pos Driver             Points
1   Valentino Rossi     106
2   Jorge Lorenzo       106
3   Casey Stoner        106
4   Andrea Dovizioso     69
5   Daniel Pedrosa       67
6   Colin Edwards        54
7   Marco Melandri       50
8   Loris Capirossi      49
9   Randy de Puniet      42
10  Chris Vermeulen      42
11  James Toseland       29
12  Mika Kallio          26
13  Alex de Angelis      25
14  Toni Elías           23
15  Nicky Hayden         19
16  Niccolò Canepa       10
17  Sete Gibernau         9
18  Yuki Takahashi        8
        
Pos Constructor Points
1   Yamaha      140
2   Ducati      106
3   Honda        89
4   Suzuki       60
5   Kawasaki     50
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