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Three out of four GPs to Casey Stoner and Ducati

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By Dan Moakes
May 9 2007

Just as with the recent Turkish race, the MotoGP World Championship made its third visit to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix. 21-year-old Casey Stoner, the youngest rider in the field, was leading the way for Ducati after two wins and a fifth, but with Valentino Rossi always a threat.

Fiat Yamaha rider Rossi made it three 800cc pole positions from four in 2007 at the Shanghai circuit, with its mix of fast straights and a range of tight or open curves. The straight between turns 13 and 14, the latter a heavy braking right-hand hairpin, is the longest on the MotoGP calendar, which certainly seemed to suit the four Ducati riders, with the Desmosedici’s slippery straight line aerodynamics. Yamaha’s riders benefited from their bikes’ nimble cornering characteristics, putting Honda as the big marque with the most disadvantage.

Rossi qualified first, with team-mate Colin Edwards third, despite a knee injury after being taken out in Turkey. Between them on the front row, for the first time this season, was 23-year-old John Hopkins for Rizla Suzuki. He was immediately followed by the only two riders on the grid younger than himself, Stoner for Marlboro Ducati, and Dani Pedrosa for Repsol Honda. Pedrosa was appearing for his 100th Grand Prix.

Marco Melandri would start sixth on the second Honda, in Gresini team colours, with the Italian wearing a crash helmet livery that reflected the red and yellow of the Chinese flag. And leading the third row was the green machine of Kawasaki rider Randy de Puniet, a place better than where he’d been in Qatar and Turkey. On this occasion, team-mate and fellow Frenchman Olivier Jacque was missing, the result of an injury sustained in a Friday practice incident.

The track’s high speed characteristics helped the two d’Antín Ducati riders to achieve their best starting positions of the year to date, with Alex Barros eighth and Alex Hofmann eleventh. All of which left world champion Nicky Hayden down in ninth, third of the Hondas with his Repsol machine. The other RCV men were close behind, Shin’ya Nakano (Konica Minolta) tenth, Toní Elías (Gresini) twelfth and Carlos Checa (LCR) thirteenth.

Row five also included the team-mates of Hopkins and Stoner, as Loris Capirossi (14th for Marlboro Ducati) and Chris Vermeulen (15th for Rizla Suzuki) had managed to hold each other up in qualifying. Chris also had a foot injury. Kenny Roberts on the KR-Honda, and the Dunlop Tech 3 Yamahas of Sylvain Guintoli and Makoto Tamada completed the final row.

The race start saw Hopkins take the lead, ahead of Rossi, Edwards, Stoner, Melandri, Pedrosa and de Puniet. Capirossi had made a good getaway, and soon passed Nakano for eighth, but by that point there had been drama in the form of a collision at turn two. This is the second part of the long coiling right that starts as turn one, and here Elías managed to run into the rear of Hayden on the brakes. Barros, on the outside, was particularly delayed by the incident, while Nicky was able to rejoin after grass tracking, but Toní was out. Vermeulen, Tamada, Roberts, Checa, Hofmann and Guintoli got by ahead of Hayden, with Barros well back when he got going.

The lead of the race soon changed hands, Rossi braking on the inside of Hopkins at the acute left turn eleven, at the end of a short straight. Stoner used his Ducati’s acceleration on the back straight to pass both Edwards and Hopkins for the turn fourteen hairpin, and was already attacking Rossi on the outside at the final left turn sixteen, which again gave him the acceleration on the start-finish straight to move ahead.

Melandri was moving up as Edwards went the other way, and soon Stoner and Rossi led the Honda rider, from Hopkins and Pedrosa. Sixth man Colin was now tailed by de Puniet and Capirossi, with a gap developing back to Vermeulen and the rest. Marco took second from Valentino at T14, and at the same time Casey was setting the new fastest lap as he looked to get away and secure yet another victory. Capirossi overtook Edwards on the inside for turn one, following the lead of de Puniet, and putting the front row man back into P8.

To offer up an answer to Stoner, Rossi had to duel with Melandri to regain second. The Yamaha team leader made a challenge at the T14 hairpin, but ran in deep and wide, letting his rival take the tight line and fight back. But Valentino did gain the advantage, and a better lap time then helped him back onto the exhaust of the Ducati. The field began to stretch out, with Melandri, Hopkins and Pedrosa contesting third, and de Puniet losing touch as Capirossi began to home in. At this stage, the two Japanese, Nakano and Tamada, went out in a crash at T14.

This made for only fifteen runners, which put last man Barros, doing good lap times, into a single point position. Hayden had dealt with Roberts and Guintoli to go twelfth, with Edwards, Vermeulen, Hofmann and Checa now leading the champion. Up front, Rossi was matching his hard compound Michelin tyres against the Bridgestones of Stoner, who had a hard front and medium rear. Hopkins used the same combination to take third from Melandri at the first corner.

Rossi was unable to match the acceleration of Stoner on the longest straights, but he seemed to have the edge on handling, and used this to pass at turn eleven. Again the young Australian moved back in front on the power, but Valentino was able to challenge on the brakes for T14 - except that he went wide again and was re-passed. The T11 move worked again twice for Rossi, but both times acceleration also worked again for Stoner.

By half distance, third placed Hopkins had got clear of Melandri and Pedrosa, and somewhat reduced a 0.8s deficit to the pair ahead. This margin was around 0.5s, with five seconds back to the Hondas, when Rossi dived by Stoner on the brakes at T14. This time he overdid it enough to run on beyond the edge of the track, rejoining in third but now 2.5s from the leader, with six laps left to run.

Stoner was clear of Hopkins, and his third win looked assured. The Suzuki rider was chasing his first podium result, but Rossi was soon catching him. In a couple of laps he was in place to use the slipstream effect to draft by and take the spot at turn fourteen, before starting to eat into Stoner’s advantage. A lead of around 2.8s came down to around two seconds, but Casey’s best straightline speed of 333km/h was enough to seal another good victory. Rossi took a clear second, with Hopkins finally getting his first GP rostrum, well ahead of the next man.

Honda’s best rider, therefore, was fourth, and it had been a move at T14 that allowed Pedrosa to secure this position ahead of Melandri. Meanwhile, a late race battle had developed for sixth. Vermeulen had passed Edwards for P8, who would also lose out to Hofmann and Checa, and the second Suzuki rider had tagged on behind Capirossi as the pair chased de Puniet. Loris passed the Kawasaki man at turn one, and Chris also got ahead so that they finished in that order, but closely grouped, with Hofmann not far off. Checa, Edwards, Hayden, Guintoli, Barros and Roberts completed the results.

The tenth MotoGP win for Ducati was also the third in four attempts with the bike for Casey Stoner and, even without Valentino Rossi’s brief excursion, he had surely looked the most likely winner. Rossi kept on the score sheet to remain as the biggest threat in the points battle, and with Dani Pedrosa and Marco Melandri managing to limit the damage to Honda’s chances and hold the next two places. John Hopkins’ 84th GP yielded his first rostrum visit, and only the seventh for Suzuki in seven seasons. The flip side was that potential title challengers Loris Capirossi, Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards managed to slip just a bit further out of contention, whilst Toní Elías almost completely undid the good work of the previous race meeting.

Standings after four races: Stoner 86; Rossi 71; Pedrosa 49; Melandri 41; Hopkins 39; Elías 35; Edwards 31; Hayden, Vermeulen and Capirossi 30; Barros 27; Checa 20.

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