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Valentino Rossi back at the front in MotoGP


© Getty Images

By Dan Moakes
September 16 2007

Motorcycle Grand Prix racing was well in the red during 2007, with the multiple race winning Ducati, piloted by Australian Casey Stoner, in front of the rest by 85 points after thirteen rounds. The title was surely destined for 21-year-old Stoner, but nearest rival Valentino Rossi (with Yamaha) was always going to try and fight his way closer where possible.

Round fourteen was at Estoril, in Portugal, where the circuit comprises a variety of fast and slow challenges, and plenty of clockwise cornering action - and some good passing opportunities. Qualifying for the event saw a mix of machinery setting the fastest times, with Honda, for a change, coming out on top. HRC’s works riders, in the Repsol colours, were on good form. Reigning champion Nicky Hayden took his first pole position of the year, with team-mate Dani Pedrosa in fifth.

Stoner was only beaten to top spot by 0.04s, although Marlboro Ducati team-mate Loris Capirossi was way back in P15. The other marque to threaten was Yamaha, with Rossi third on the Fiat works bike, and his partner Colin Edwards sixth. The Michelin tyres therefore took four of the leading slots, with Bridgestone primarily represented by Stoner. But there was a surprise package in the form of the other Yamaha team, Tech 3, with the Dunlop-shod bikes of Makoto Tamada (fourth) and Sylvain Guintoli (eighth) having a particularly good outing.

Marco Melandri and Toní Elías joined Guintoli on the third row with the Gresini Hondas (seventh and ninth, respectively), and therefore the first Suzuki was back in P10, with John Hopkins aboard. Chris Vermeulen was two away on the second Rizla machine, split from Hopkins by the LCR Honda of Carlos Checa. Then came Shin’ya Nakano (JiR Honda), Alex Barros (d’Antín Ducati), Capirossi, Anthony West (Kawasaki), Alex Hofmann (d’Antín Ducati), Randy de Puniet (Kawasaki) and Kurtis Roberts (KR-Honda).

Stoner was into his familiar position from the start, taking the lead ahead of Hayden, Pedrosa, Melandri, Rossi, Hopkins, Tamada and Elías. The shuffle at the tight, right-handed Curva 1 saw Pedrosa take over second from his team-mate. Meanwhile, the Italians would fight over fourth. Rossi took this from Melandri in the fast right-kinked Curva 5, only for a reply at the next, heavy braking left-handed bend, Parabolica Interior. Valentino converted again at Orelha, the next right-hander.

Elías took seventh from Tamada on the first lap, but the Yamaha rider repaid the move at the heavy braking Curva 1, and they were followed by Edwards, West, Checa, Capirossi, Barros, Nakano, de Puniet, Vermeulen, Guintoli and Hofmann. Roberts was an early retirement with clutch problems. Stoner was fastest initially, as the first six riders began to pull clear of the pursuing pack. Behind Pedrosa, Rossi passed Hayden on the inside for Orelha, leaving him to the advances of Melandri.

Stoner started to open a gap over Pedrosa, with Rossi just a little further out of touch. The close race at this stage involved Hayden, Melandri and Hopkins. Marco got the verdict with a pass at Orelha, but Nicky’s works machine enabled him to pull back ahead along the main start-finish straight. He then managed to get wide through the looping right Lamy bend, after Curva 3, but stayed in front of the Italian. Melandri got inside for Orelha, forcing through, but Hayden was on the inside line after the following right, to again go ahead into the tight, uphill left-handed Saca-Rolhas hairpin.

Stoner’s lead over Pedrosa was reduced by the Spaniard, who then went on the offensive. On this occasion, the Honda looked to have useful straightline speed relative to the always-fast Ducati, and Dani used the slipstream along the straight to get on the inside - where he went ahead on the brakes for Curva 1. Casey went a bit wide in the turn, but continued in between Pedrosa and Rossi.

Fourth man Hayden was now starting to move comfortably clear of Melandri and Hopkins, whose slide would mean that only Stoner continued to race the Bridgestone tyres as part of the leading group. It did seem that Michelin had the advantage, and now Rossi passed the Australian on the inside braking for Curva 1, before moving closer to Pedrosa. Fastest lap from Hayden would soon mean that he was catching the first three, and the race for victory would now be no more than a four-way affair.

Rossi used the slipstream effect to get on the inside of Pedrosa under braking for Curva 1, going ahead, and at half-distance these two were tailed by Stoner, with Hayden getting near, too. Dani used the same method to recover the lead from Valentino, and now the pace meant that the next two started to fall behind. The gap second to third went beyond 1.5s, while Hayden also began to lose touch with Stoner at this stage.

There was a threatened resurgence from Stoner for a time, but from now it was effectively a two-man contest. The racing pattern suggested that Rossi’s Yamaha was behaving better on cornering effect. At Saca-Rolhas, the following tight right Turn 10, right-left Esses, and then the final long right Parabolica Ayrton Senna, this meant that ‘the Doctor’ was right into a position to strike behind Pedrosa, going onto the main straight at Recta da Meta.

In fact, Pedrosa sent himself deep and wide at Curva 1 with five laps to go, so that Rossi overtook. But the Italian made his own mistake, going wide at Parabolica Interior, that let Dani back through. Next time round, Valentino was in attacking mode again. At two to go, he went by on the brakes for Curva 1, but going wide put him second again. He made up for it by going past on the inside into Parabolica Interior, using his bike’s agility to pull out a small margin through the final sector of the lap. The final circuit saw Rossi just too far ahead, and the multiple champion was back in the winners’ circle after four races away.

Stoner was still quite close in finishing third, behind Pedrosa, but fourth man Hayden was in a particularly solitary position by the flag. Casey talked of some clutch difficulties after the race. Melandri and Hopkins took the next two spots having been together in the same order for a lot of the race. Checa had got through Elías and Tamada for a good and secure seventh, but Makoto lost out on a promising eighth when he slid off in the closing stages.

Eighth place at the end would therefore be between Barros and Elías, who got into quite a bit of place swapping, plus de Puniet and Capirossi. Barros had come through from fourteenth on the grid, but his run ended with an engine failure, not long after the same thing had happened to de Puniet. Elías therefore headed Capirossi, Edwards, Nakano, West and the lowly-placed Vermeulen. Guintoli was the last finisher, after a tyre change stop, with Hofmann the fifth of the non-finishers.

There had been three disappointing races for Michelin, all won by Casey Stoner on the Ducati, but this race had seen the French tyre makers back on the pace. Valentino Rossi took nine points out of the Australian, and he dedicated the win to his departed friend Colin McRae, the rally driver who had sadly died in an air crash. Dani Pedrosa also clawed marginally closer to the virtually uncatchable Stoner, as both riders passed the 400 points in the class, each in their second year.

Standings after fourteen races: Stoner 287; Rossi 211; Pedrosa 188; Hopkins 150; Vermeulen 147; Melandri 137; Edwards 106; Capirossi and Hayden 105; Barros 83; Elías 71; Hofmann 65.
Ducati 299; Honda 239; Yamaha 238; Suzuki 202; Kawasaki 94; Team KR 14; Ilmor 0


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