MOTOGP: Round 9 – Laguna Seca, USA – 25 July

A tense and close series of practice and qualifying sessions had set up a stone cold classic duel between the evenly matched Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner at the front of the grid for Laguna Seca. But as the lights went out for the start of the US MotoGP, others had designs on the victory as well.

Despite a flying start, Lorenzo got too much wheel spin and ended up shuffled back to fifth as Dani Pedrosa predictably hijacked the lead ahead of Stoner, Ben Spies and Andrea Dovizioso. Lorenzo was quickly back past Dovizioso and Spies on the first lap, but Pedrosa and Stoner were already making a major break for it at the front.

Four laps in and a familiar pattern was playing out: Pedrosa was breaking away from Stoner in front, leaving the Aussie to fall back into the clutches of the recovering Lorenzo, and all three some 3s ahead ahead of the battle for fourth which was now between Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden – Ben Spies’ strong start having quickly faded, but the American was still staying with this battle and well ahead of Marco Melandri who was comprehensively dropped in eighth place.

Stoner made a mistake five laps in and ran wide at the bottom of the hill coming out of the corkscrew, gifting second to Lorenzo who now set his sights on compatriot Pedrosa for the lead. It was hard work though, Jorge chipping away by the odd tenth here and there, but this is clearly a circuit that suits Pedrosa and for the first part of the race it seemed Dani had more than enough in hand to control the race.

And then Dani blew it, the front end washing out under him at turn 5 on lap 11 to bounce into the gravel, and suddenly Lorenzo was in the lead with a comfortable two second lead over Stoner in second. All he had to do was to absolutely not follow Pedrosa’s example and throw away the golden opportunity, and he’d go into the summer mini-break with a championship lead that he couldn’t possibly have ever expected or even dreamed of.

Further back, Pedrosa’s team mate Dovizioso rose to the challenge of being the only remaining works Honda left in the field and upped his game, pulling away from Rossi, Hayden and Spies. It took Rossi some time to start to break away from Hayden and Spies, Laguna Seca certainly not the best of circuits for him given his shoulder and leg injuries, but the multiple world champion was showing little weakness as he gradually pulled away and started to close on Dovizioso. The two Americans were left fighting it out over fifth place, and Spies was finding his feet and came off the better rider of the two, before then running wide on lap 24 to undo all the good work and gift the position back to Hayden.

At the end of lap 26, Valentino Rossi had closed on Dovizioso enough to mount an overtaking big through the last corner and onto the start/finish straight. He pulled of off but Dovvie fought back, threatening to re-take the position going into turn 1, but Rossi firmly sliced across the track to dissuade him – an amazing move for someone with such fresh injuries. Andrea had the wind knocked taken out of his sails, and Rossi was on the podium provided he could just hold Dovizioso off for the last few laps.

Upfront, Lorenzo had no problem taking chequered flag and immediately set off to change into silver spacesuit in order to to plant a Lorenzoworld flag in the scorched earth of central California. Stoner arrived shortly after in a lonely but entirely profitable second place. The Ducati had not proved to be the match for race pace that the practice and qualifying sessions had suggested: the bike had struggled with cornering and second was the best he could do.

Dovizioso looked set to mount a last lap challenge on Rossi but then ran wide in the final corners, almost ending up losing fourth place to Hayden. Rossi toured into parc fermé and notably stayed seated on his bike, looking spent from the effort – but surely well worth it for the final podium place!

Alvaro Bautista was the first retirement, crashing out on lap 3, while fellow rookie Hector Barbera went soon after with a highly unusual broken chain. Marco Simoncelli followed Pedrosa out of the race with a lookalike accident at the same turn 5 with 13 laps to go. Aleix Espargaro followed suit three laps before the end at the same spot, the bike suddenly folding under him resulting in Aleix planting his face down flat on the tarmac before bike and rider headed for the gravel.

Débutant Roger Lee Hayden – Nicky’s brother, filling in for the injured Randy de Puniet – remained resolutely in the lower positions as would reasonably be expected, but brought the bike home in an impressive 11th ahead of Alex de Angelis and in one piece without incident, which as the adventures of others during the afternoon had demonstrated was no mean feat. It was also the first time that brothers had both scored points in the same major grand prix class event since Carlos and David Checa at the 2005 Dutch TT.

Race result

Pos  Rider             Team                  Time/Gap
 1.  Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha              43m54.873s
 2.  Casey Stoner      Ducati                + 3.517s
 3.  Valentino Rossi   Yamaha               + 13.420s
 4.  Andrea Dovizioso  Honda                + 14.188s
 5.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati               + 14.601s
 6.  Ben Spies         Tech 3 Yamaha        + 19.037s
 7.  Colin Edwards     Tech 3 Yamaha        + 40.721s
 8.  Marco Melandri    Gresini Honda        + 47.219s
 9.  Loris Capirossi   Suzuki               + 52.812s
10.  Mika Kallio       Pramac Ducati        + 52.814s
11.  Alex de Angelis   Interwetten Honda  + 1m14.089s
12.  Roger Lee Hayden  LCR Honda          + 1m14.666s

Retirements:

     Aleix Espargaro   Pramac Ducati      28 laps
     Marco Simoncelli  Gresini Honda      18 laps
     Dani Pedrosa      Honda              11 laps
     Hector Barbera    Aspar Ducati       3 laps
     Alvaro Bautista   Suzuki             3 laps

MotoGP championship standings

Pos Driver            Pts
1   Jorge Lorenzo     210
2   Daniel Pedrosa    138
3   Andrea Dovizioso  115
4   Casey Stoner      103
5   Valentino Rossi   90
6   Nicky Hayden      89
7   Ben Spies         77
8   Randy de Puniet   69
9   Marco Melandri    53
10  Marco Simoncelli  49
11  Colin Edwards     48
12  Hector Barbera    41
13  Loris Capirossi   36
14  Mika Kallio       31
15  Aleix Espargaro   28
16  Alvaro Bautista   25
17  Hiroshi Aoyama    18
18  Alex de Angelis   8
19  Roger Lee Hayden  5
20  Kousuke Akiyoshi  4
21  Wataru Yoshikawa  1

Pos Constructor       Pts
1   Yamaha            215
2   Honda             175
3   Ducati            133
4   Suzuki            48
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