MOTOGP: Round 9 – Sachsenring, Germany – July 19

Valentino Rossi had to put in the perfect final lap to score a psychologically crucial victory over his team mate Jorge Lorenzo. But even the very best performance by Rossi was only enough to score a 0.099s win over the pretender to Valentino’s throne.

After the 250cc race as red-flagged, delayed and then shortened by a third because of rain, the MotoGP riders will have been relieved to be greeted by blue skies and a dry track for their own race.

Rossi got off to one of his best starts, with Dani Pedrosa achieving his trademark flier off the third row to take up second place and Randy de Puniet following through to take a promising third ahead of Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso, with the consequent compression of the field into the first turn causing problems for Jorge Lorenzo (who fell to 6th) and Nick Hayden (back to 9th).

Lorenzo might have been hedging his bets at this point, however, as he was gambling on an extra-hard rear tyre to guard against tyre wear later in the race; the downside of the gambit was that the tyres were cold and inclined to bite hard if pressed too hard early on, as de Puniet (on similar tyres) finding out in lap 1 when the bike suddenly threw him off right in front of Stoner’s Ducati.

After Pedrosa’s flying start, his pace was clearly not a match for the Yamahas and Ducatis, and he fell behind both Stoner and Lorenzo (who had finally come up to temperature and won a protracted duel with Dovizioso) to fall back to 4th place. Seven laps in and Stoner was actually looking faster than anyone, finally pulling off a brilliant move on Rossi to take the lead of the race.

By mid-distance the top three – Stoner, Rossi and Lorenzo – were pushing each other incredibly close, while Pedrosa was getting dropped off slightly. But Stoner’s pace suddenly started to fall off and he was clearly holding off the battling Yahama boys right behind him, so that Rossi was able to take the lead back followed just a couple of corners later by Lorenzo.

Now Stoner had to fend off Pedrosa, which he did until five laps to the end when Pedrosa outbraked him into the first turn. Any hope Stoner had of fighting back was ended a lap later when the Aussie had a moment coming out of the last corner and seemed to throw an accusing glare at his rear tyre. After that he let Pedrosa disappear into the distance, confident in the knowledge that he was well clear of Alex de Angelis who had taken up 5th place.

That left the battle down to Rossi and Lorenzo. There was nothing to separate them: Lorenzo finally took the lead of the race for the first time with five laps to go, but there was a sense that Rossi still had some reserves and was playing a strategic game, allowing Jorge to run in front so that he could study his lines for the final shoot-out in the last couple of laps. Sure enough, Rossi took the lead back with an almost suicidal bit of late breaking and then put in two almost perfect laps to give Lorenzo no way back.

Arguably the critical moment came into the first turn of the final lap: Rossi late-braked again, struggling to turn in, and Lorenzo was forced to run just slightly too wide around the outside. That left him just a little too far back to strike at the following corners, and the only chance Lorenzo had was to get a better line out of the final turn and outdrive Rossi to the line. He tried – my God, how he tried – but it was just centimetres too short. Rossi had the win.

Despite a fine second place, Lorenzo looked deflated, puzzled as to what it was he had to do to beat Rossi. Valentino, meanwhile was understandably pleased with the win: victories that are so hard-fought are always the sweetest. But it won’t be lost on the world champion that it had taken every ounce of his skill and experience to keep the Spaniard in second, and that it’s getting harder and harder to do so every race. Germany might be the key moment that puts the 2009 title into Rossi’s hands; but it could also be the moment that starts the passing of the baton to a new generation, no matter how fiercely Rossi tries to put that day off.

Further back down the field, and the only other retirement was Dovizioso, who after a fine early stint paid the price for opting for soft tyres when they degraded alarmingly. After dropping a bunch of places, Devizioso finally had to retire to the pits when it became too dangerous to continue. His team mate Pedrosa also reported tyre problems, which while not as severe certainly meant that he was unable to fight the Yahamas toward the end of the race.

Having a most excellent day, on the other hand, was Tony Elias who had started from the back of the grid. By the final lap he was up to 7th place, and off the final corner he also pushed Marco Melandri out side almost onto the grass – which Marco most assuredly did not appreciate – to muscle his way to a hugely impressive 6th place at the chequered flag.

Race result

Pos  Rider             Bike              Time/Gap
 1.  Valentino Rossi   Yamaha          41m21.769s
 2.  Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha          +   0.099s
 3.  Dani Pedrosa      Honda           +   2.899s
 4.  Casey Stoner      Ducati          +  10.226s
 5.  Alex de Angelis   Gresini Honda   +  21.522s
 6.  Toni Elias        Gresini Honda   +  30.852s
 7.  Marco Melandri    Hayate Kawasaki +  31.301s
 8.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati          +  31.726s
 9.  Colin Edwards     Tech 3 Yamaha   +  32.865s
10.  James Toseland    Tech 3 Yamaha   +  43.926s
11.  Loris Capirossi   Suzuki          +  57.375s
12.  Niccolo Canepa    Pramac Ducati   +1m00.539s
13.  Chris Vermeulen   Suzuki          +1m03.645s
14.  Mika Kallio       Pramac Ducati   +1m04.155s
15.  Gabor Talmacsi    Scot Honda      +    1 lap

Retirements:

     Andrea Dovizioso  Honda           25 laps
     Randy de Puniet   LCR Honda       0 laps

Championship standings

Rossi’s clutch of wins means he’s starting to eke out a comfortable – but by no means commanding – lead over Lorenzo and Stoner, while Pedrosa’s return to fitness and form means he’s starting to finally take a grip on the 4th place he deserves.

Pos Driver  Points
1   Valentino Rossi   176
2   Jorge Lorenzo     162
3   Casey Stoner      148
4   Daniel Pedrosa    108
5   Colin Edwards      83
6   Marco Melandri     70
7   Andrea Dovizioso   69
8   Chris Vermeulen    64
9   Loris Capirossi    61
10  Randy de Puniet    58
11  Alex de Angelis    47
12  Toni Elías         47
13  Nicky Hayden       46
14  James Toseland     45
15  Mika Kallio        28
16  Niccolò Canepa     20
17  Sete Gibernau      12
18  Yuki Takahashi      9
19  Gábor Talmácsi      1
        
Pos Constructor Points
1   Yamaha      210
2   Ducati      148
3   Honda       139
4   Suzuki      84
5   Kawasaki    70
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