Casey Stoner stamped his renewed good health and happy spirits with a nearly flag-to-flag win in the Australian round of the world Moto GP series this weekend — his third consecutive win at home on the fantastic Philip Island track — while Valentino Rossi shadowed him from start to finish to take second on the day and a commanding lead in the world title chase, with two races left.
Rossi’s campaign was helped considerably by his only title rival (and team-mate) Jorge Lorenzo, who crashed in the first corner of the race, thereby handing Rossi a huge lollipop in the points lead for the season. "Once I’d seen that Lorenzo was out, I knew that if I made a mistake it would be a big disaster! Anyway I tried in places but Stoner was a bit faster than me. I didn’t give up until the end but Casey really deserved this win; I want to give him my congratulations." With 50 points left to play (25 per race), Rossi has a 38 point lead. Basically, for Lorenzo to take the title, he has to win twice and Rossi not score — that would be something on the order of predicting the Leafs for the Stanley Cup this year (or any year, for that matter).
Third on the day went to Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, who as usual in the press conference had the appearance that his mother had just died. Honestly, you’d think the guy might practice a smile in front of the mirror when he brushes his teeth in the morning, given that a good part of his job is PR.
While the race wasn’t much of a spectacle in the way that the World Superbike dogfights often are, there was some great stuff happening. Stoner and Rossi were in their own world, lapping 0.5-1.0 second faster than anyone from start to finish, ending with a 20 second margin over Pedrosa. Rossi was always close enough to try.
Behind him it was a long way back to Andrea de Angelis on the Gresini Honda (who may be earning himself a Honda ride in Moto GP next season), then a fun dogfight back to about eighth.
Colin Edwards grabbed fifth on his Tech 3 Yamaha, but the ride of the race (aside from the two leaders) had to go to Marco Melandri, on the Hayate Kawasaki, who finished a remarkable seventh on the bike that’s been an undeveloped one-off all year. On the fastest track of the circuit — nearly 180 km/g AVERAGE speed over 27 laps! — to finish ahead of most of the Hondas, both Suzukis, one of the Yamahas and three Ducatis is amazing.
Speaking of Ducatis, poor Nicky Hayden once again had his race destroyed through no fault of his own. He steadily improved through practice, had a decent qualifying and a great morning warm-up, then got whacked by Lorenzo in the first corner after the start. While Lorenzo crashed, the Kentucky Kid managed to keep the bike up but rejoined nearly half a minute back with a damaged machine. He rode the race out, hoping for rain so he could change bikes, but no luck. That’s the third time this season he’s been torpedoed by somebody else; he’s got to be getting tired of it.
At least this time Lorenzo was man enough to accept full responsibility and apologize for it, which Hayden graciously accepted. Nice to see a couple of pro racers acting like grown-ups, really.
Current Moto GP standings after 15 of 17 races:
1. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Fiat Yamaha, 270 points; 2. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Fiat Yamaha, 232; 3. Casey Stoner, Australia, Marlboro Ducati, 195; 4. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 189; 5. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Repsol Honda, 152; 6. Colin Edwards, USA, Tech 3 Yamaha, 145; 7. TIE Andrea de Angelis, Italy, San Carlo Gresini Honda / Randy de Puniet, France, LCR Honda / Loris Capirossi, Italy, Rizla Suzuki, 101; 10 Marco Melandri, Italy, Hayate Kawasaki, 100.
The next race is in Malaysia at Sepang, October 25.