Stoner’s still on top of the MotoGP standings, but he didn’t win the Motegi round in Japan, despite topping the qualifying sessions and getting off to a fast start and a good lead.
That victory went to his team-mate Dani Pedrosa, the Spaniard delighted to win after his big crash at the same track last year ruined his year with a badly broken collarbone.
Stoner should have had the race in the bag, leading and comfortably pulling away until lap seven, about 1/3 distance. He caught a bump cresting a hill, the bike went into a nasty tank-slapper, and when he grabbed the brakes for the next corner there was nobody home; the pads had been slapped back in the calipers by the force of the wobble.
He frantically pumped the brakes twice and when they caught he nearly tossed himself off the bike as it did a nose-stand, then he eased off and rode into the gravel, doing well to control the bike and keep it up. He returned in seventh place, climbed back to third, and counted himself lucky to make the finish, let alone the podium.
“Thankfully I avoided hitting the wall at the end of the gravel trap but this pretty much ended our race. It’s really disappointing as we had the bike to win here today, but in the end I guess I should be thankful that we were able to climb back up to a podium spot after other people’s misfortunes and mistakes on track.
As for “other people’s misfortunes,” the day was rife with them. First of all, Andrea Dovizioso, who certainly had the speed to win the race based on qualifying and his race times, collected a false start penalty, as he moved forward a touch before the lights changed. His movement drew Marco Simoncelli behind him into the same mistake, and behind him, Cal Crutchlow did the same. All three riders had to accept the penalty of entering and riding through the pits, angry with themselves but accepting that the punishment was deserved.
In the meantime, Valentino Rossi got himself sandwiched between the Yamahas of Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies on the first lap. Forced to move slightly to miss Lorenzo, who’d moved over without seeing him, he hit Spies with his brake lever, putting him down instantly. Spies was also off, but managed to keep his bike upright. He rejoined 17 seconds down on last place, and made a heroic ride to get a sixth. After the race, the phlegmatic Texan – whose participation at all was amazing, as he was suffering desperately from a bad bout of food poisoning all weekend – shrugged and said “That’s racing, it sucks but there you go. I’m not going to blame anybody, it’s just a shame, we’ll move on.”
Meanwhile, Nicky Hayden had an off-track excursion on the first lap, recovered to get as high as fourth, then ran off again when passed by Casey Stoner on the Australian’s charge to the front. Spies just pipped his fellow Yank for sixth in the final laps.
Alvaro Bautista on the factory Suzuki was as high as third before crashing, while Randy de Puniet also punted himself off the track.
All the antics rather overshadowed most of the racing. Pedrosa and Lorenzo stayed out of everyone’s way, took advantage of the penalties, and quietly motored off to take first and second ahead of Stoner. The most entertaining scrap of the race came for fourth, as Dovizioso and Simoncelli scrapped hard for the spot – the Italians don’t like each other and are in severe competition for Honda factory machines next season, so they were trying. Simoncelli finally just scraped through on the last lap.
In second, Lorenzo made up four points on Stoner’s championship lead, but he’d need a miracle – like winning all last three races while Stoner failed to finish any – to retain his title.
Next race, Philip Island, Australia, October 16
Moto GP Standings after 15 of 18 races
1. Casey Stoner, Australia, Repsol Honda, 300 points
2. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 260
3. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Repsol Honda, 196
4. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 195
5. Ben Spies, U.S.A., Yamaha Factory Racing, 156
6. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Marlboro Ducati, 139
7. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., Marlboro Ducati, 123
8. Marco Simoncelli, Italy, San Carlo Gresini Honda, 119
9. Colin Edwards, U.S.A., Tech 3 Monster Yamaha, 98
10. Hiroshi Aoyama, Japan, San Carlo Gresini Honda, 94.