Today’s Aussie MotoGP was largely a collection of parade laps from pole-to-post winner and 2007 world champ Casey Stoner, but some feisty performances behind him made for an exciting race.
With Pedrosa, Dovizioso, De Angelis and Vermeulen all taking cross-country excursions on the first lap, 2006 champ Nicky Hayden settled in close behind Stoner and looked as if he might threaten his 2009 Ducati teammate until around lap 10 when he finally dropped off the Aussie’s tail.
Meanwhile, 2008 champ Valentino Rossi was slicing his way through the field from his 12th-place grid position - settling into 5th position by lap five, then dispatching teammate Jorge Lorenzo to put the pressure on third-placed James Toseland.
Toseland wasn’t taking any shenanigans from Rossi, and when the Doc slipped past at the end of the straight on the 8th lap, the Brit quickly grabbed the lead back on turn 2 and settled in for the kind of brawl he’s becoming famous for.
Rossi had other things on his mind though, and made the next pass stick as he set off after an impossibly distant Nicky Hayden 5.5 seconds in front. A dozen laps, and 5.5 seconds to make up? Sounds like the sort of challenge Rossi thrives on.
Perhaps predictably, the Doctor didn’t disappoint, hunting the Kentucky Kid down tenth by tenth in a vintage display of meticulous tarmac surgery and finally gobbling the American up on the final lap. Hayden had a brief crack at taking second again at turn four, but Rossi cut him off, pushed him wide and powered home in second place, a distant 6.5 seconds behind Stoner but with a typically incredible ride under his belt.
The stoush for fourth place went down to the last lap, Lorenzo and Nakano shoving past Toseland, who held off Dovizioso after an admirable and aggressive race.
Stoner’s victory, combined with Pedrosa’s first-lap DNF, gives the Aussie a good chance of a second-place championship finish and bodes well for 2009 - but the question remains: would he have held onto first place if it was Valentino Rossi tightening the screws and not Nicky Hayden?
DNF: De Angelis, Pedrosa, both 1st lap.
Simoncelli and Bautista: hammer and tongs in 250GP
The 250cc race, in contrast, was a stand-up, balls-out, desperate scrap between championship points leader Marco Simoncelli and second placed Alvarro Bautista, who threw the kitchen sink at the mop-top Italian to try to break Simoncelli’s rhythm.
It was edge-of-the-seat stuff for spectators as Bautista lunged into impossible gaps, rubbing tyres and fairings with Simoncelli, who would dive past the spaniard again on the brakes, and then lose the lead again under slipstream on the straight.
Bautista overcooked an overtake around the middle of the race, and gave Simoncelli a chance to open up a lead - but with the championship on the line, put his head down and pushed his Aprilia to lap-record pace as he chased the Italian down for a final-lap all-or-nothing showdown.
Simoncelli’s insanely late braking and narrow line into Honda hairpin, and careful line management around Siberia robbed Bautista of his strongest passing chances, but Bautista made one last, desperate attempt up the inside on turn 11. Simoncelli closed the door by a hair’s breadth and managed to cross the line 0.223 seconds in front. The battle for third was just as fiery, Kallio taking it in a 0.028 second photo finish after getting a better drive out of turn 12.
Simoncelli’s win extended his championship lead to 37 points from Bautista, who admitted it would be very difficult to catch the charismatic Italian in the remaining races. Still, both riders were delighted to have put on such a brilliant show and energised by the fight. Exactly the kind of race we’ll miss dreadfully when the 250cc class disappears in coming seasons.
In the 125cc class, Frenchman Mike di Meglio punted his factory Derbi to a 10-second victory and a 2008 world championship in his 6th season in GP.
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