MOTOGP: Round 16 – Phillip Island Australia – Oct 17

Casey Stoner romped away to his most dominant and arguably easiest home victory, in the bitterly cold and windy coastal conditions of Phillip Island, and despite the pressure of the sky-high expectations on the Australian to maintain a run of four consecutive wins here.

Stoner launched off the line and was out of touch of the rest of the pack almost by the first corner, while Jorge Lorenzo had a more spirited rival in Ben Spies who overtook him for second around the outside of turn 1. But with Lorenzo no longer having to pull his punches in pursuit of the world championship, he was able to decisively late brake and block the American into the next corner. Spies had to check up to avoid a collision and ended up losing several positions as a result, but that was perfect for Lorenzo who was finally released from pressure and able to set about pulling away from the pack.

For the rest of the race, there was no contest over the top two positions – Stoner had pulled out a 5s lap over Lorenzo by mid-race, who in turn had a whopping 10s lead over everyone else. Once Jorge realised that there was no chance to catching the Ducati in front, he eased off and drove a lonely and almost unnoticed ride to second, his only hope being that Stoner had a recurrence of that problem the Ducati’s displayed on several occasions where cold tyres cause mystery low-sides. But Stoner was in complete control and didn’t put a tyre wrong all afternoon, and was triumphant at the chequered flag.

In fact the whole field stretched out and broke up into little pocks of riders, mostly two riders locked in their own private battles. Early in the race, the battle for the final place of the podium was a heated one between Marco Simoncelli and Nicky Hayden: Nicky got past the customer Ducati only to have the 250cc champion fight his way back past, but as the race bedded in Simoncelli’s form seemed to ebb and Hayden was soon able to retake the position and pull away.

Meanwhile Valentino Rossi was recovering from a poor qualifying and tepid start, working his way past Simoncelli and Spies and laying siege on Nicky Hayden before finally claiming the third position by barging his way past his Ducati team mate-to-be on lap eight. But any thoughts that he would then be able to take off and challenge his current Yamaha team mate Jorge Lorenzo were dashed – the gap was simply too big for one thing, and for another Hayden was also not allowing Rossi to get away and was grimly holding right onto the back Rossi’s bike.

For the majority of the race, therefore, the Rossi/Hayden battle for third and the Spies/Simoncelli duel for fifth were the main attractions out on track. The latter duo were up to ten seconds ahead of Colin Edwards who was having a very lonely ride for seventh, well ahead of a two-way fight between Aleix Espargaro and Marco Melandri for eighth.

As the race neared its completion it looked as though Hayden didn’t have anything in reserve to really challenge Rossi: but once again his stubbornness not to miss out on a podium, coupled with the need to make a point to his incoming team mate, drove him to make a pass at the hairpin with two laps to go – either catching Rossi by surprise, or perhaps Valentino was tiring form his ongoing injury problems. Either way, losing third gave Rossi a shot of adrenalin that allowed him to pull off a copycat pass on Hayden through the hairpin on the final lap and holding on through the final few corners to clinch third place by an eye-wateringly slender 0.038s margin, leaving Hayden visibly frustrated and annoyed with himself for not delivering for the team, even though the team itself were all smiles and lauding Hayden’s fast and determined ride.

Ben Spies survived a scare at turn 1 on lap 7 when he came in too hot and had the rear come around on him to win his tussle with Simoncelli, a result that confirms Spies as the MotoGP rookie of the year over Simoncelli, after joining the series as reigning 2009 World Superbikes Champion. Next year he’ll be stepping up to the Yamaha works team to replace Rossi as Lorenzo’s team mate – a hard task, but one that the American has proved himself up to by his performances in his début year.

Andrea Dovizioso was the only retirement of the race, the bike clearly experiencing problems from the start and finally forcing him to bring in the sole Repsol Honda representative into the pits on lap four. Randy de Puniet overshot the turn 4 Honda hairpin after a strong early performance in the opening section of the race and took an age to recover, falling 38s off the lead in the process. He fought his way through the backmarkers to finish a relatively creditably tenth place in the circumstances.

Dani Pedrosa had withdrawn after finding the pain form his collarbone injury too much to overcome in the practice sessions; and Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi also withdrew after a crash during qualifying left him with “a strain to the Adductor muscle at the top of his left thigh and the medical staff had no choice but to declare him unfit to ride”, meaning his second missed race in four rounds.

The team hopes and expects he will be back for the Portuguese Grand Prix in two weeks’ time, MotoGP finally getting a week off after a frenzy of back-to-back events.

Race result

Pos  Rider             Team                 Time/Gap
 1.  Casey Stoner      Ducati             41:09.128s
 2.  Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha             +   8.598s
 3.  Valentino Rossi   Yamaha             +  17.997s
 4.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati             +  18.035s
 5.  Ben Spies         Tech 3 Yamaha      +  22.211s
 6.  Marco Simoncelli  Gresini Honda      +  25.017s
 7.  Colin Edwards     Tech 3 Yamaha      +  35.168s
 8.  Aleix Espargaro   Pramac Ducati      +  46.194s
 9.  Marco Melandri    Gresini Honda      +  46.294s
10.  Randy de Puniet   LCR Honda          +  59.635s
11.  Mika Kallio       Pramac Ducati      +  59.664s
12.  Alvaro Bautista   Suzuki             +  59.732s
13.  Hiroshi Aoyama    Interwetten Honda  +1:05.029s
14.  Hector Barbera    Aspar Ducati       +1:05.053s

Retirements:
     Andrea Dovizioso  Honda              3 laps

MotoGP championship standings

Pos Driver            Pts     Pos Constructor  Pts
1.  Jorge Lorenzo     333     1.  Yamaha       354
2.  Daniel Pedrosa    228     2.  Honda        315
3.  Casey Stoner      205     3.  Ducati       255
4.  Valentino Rossi   197     4.  Suzuki       96
5.  Andrea Dovizioso  179     
6.  Ben Spies         163     
7.  Nicky Hayden      152     
8.  Marco Simoncelli  102     
9.  Randy de Puniet   100     
10. Marco Melandri    93
11. Colin Edwards     90
12. Hector Barbera    76
13. Alvaro Bautista   73
14. Aleix Espargaro   60
15. Hiroshi Aoyama    47
16. Mika Kallio       43
17. Loris Capirossi   41
18. Alex de Angelis   11
19. Roger Lee Hayden  5
20. Kousuke Akiyoshi  4
21. Wataru Yoshikawa  1
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