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Dani Pedrosa takes first Honda GP win of 2007

© Raceline Photography

By Dan Moakes
July 15 2007

The MotoGP World Championship race was still on, following Valentino Rossi’s impressive win at Assen with the 800cc Yamaha M1. Casey Stoner and the Ducati Desmosedici GP7 still held sway, but was the balance of power changing? Round ten of the series was in Germany, at the Sachsenring, so which of the two heroes would have the edge there?

Conditions proved hot over the weekend, and the pace in qualifying was equally good from most riders and their bikes. There was one change in the line up of competitors, but talk about more of the same for the future. With his broken leg from Assen, Toní Elías would not be appearing for Gresini Honda. The ride had been offered to top Superbike man Neil Hodgson, but the Englishman had turned it down to concentrate on his AMA commitments. Michel Fabrizio reappeared for his 28th Grand Prix entry instead.

The rumours surrounded an announcement on the future for John Hopkins, who had signed on to race for Kawasaki in 2008 and 2009. Speculation seemed to be centred on the decision for Loris Capirossi, who might be losing his Ducati ride to Marco Melandri, and therefore might be a candidate for Suzuki or Kawasaki, or who might still stay put. Chris Vermeulen also seemed like a possible target for Kawasaki, and no doubt we’ll have the usual reshuffle before next season gets going.

Injuries affected a couple of the guys, with Alex Barros and Alex Hofmann, the Pramac d’Antín Ducati riders, having a hurt hand each. The 36-year-old Brazilian still managed to match his best qualifying result of the year to date, in eighth place; and the home favourite, Hofmann, was just 0.8s from pole position - even if that was in P16.

In a close field, five different makes of bike made the top six. In his second pole of the year was Stoner, and only 0.1s separated him and the two Hondas beside him. Dani Pedrosa for Repsol was second, with Marco Melandri for Gresini third. The Italian had been provided with some of the latest modifications for his RC212V, as already used by the Repsol works guys. Amongst other things, changes to the pipes and the exhaust system allowed for better power delivery, and this was Marco’s first front row start of 2007.

Row two had Kawasaki, (Rizla) Suzuki and (Fiat) Yamaha machinery, with Randy de Puniet, then Hopkins, then Rossi. Capirossi followed on with the second Marlboro Ducati, from Barros, and then came the Dunlop Tech 3 Yamaha of Sylvain Guintoli. Ninth was easily the best performance of the year for the rider, team and tyres, and team-mate Makoto Tamada was nine places further back.

Shin’ya Nakano (Konica Minolta Honda), Vermeulen (Rizla Suzuki), Anthony West (Kawasaki), Colin Edwards (Fiat Yamaha), Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda) and Carlos Checa (LCR Honda) took the next batch of places, from Hofmann, Fabrizio, Tamada, and Kurtis Roberts for Team KR. Hayden and Tamada were each in their 75th GP, which had been reached by Edwards a round earlier.

The modern Sachsenring is a short and sinuous circuit, with a couple of fast straights, and a long series of linked curves. In the middle part of the lap this equates to a continuous run of left-handers, and these, plus the high temperatures, would make tyre durability key. Most riders opted for hard compound rubber, although Edwards had gone with a medium rear.

The race started with Pedrosa converting to the lead, from Stoner, Melandri and Capirossi. Hopkins soon passed the second Ducati, and then came de Puniet and Barros. Nakano made a useful getaway to run eighth, but Rossi and Hayden were behind him. After the rollercoaster of left-hand bends, there is a fast right at turn eleven, taking them onto the downhill back straight. Turn twelve is the Sachsenkurve, a left-hander at the bottom of the slope, and one of the best passing zones. Rossi passed Nakano here, braking on the inside, and the Japanese rider would drift ever backwards from there.

The other big braking region is for the right-handed turn one loop, the Coca Cola Curve. The second lap saw Melandri go past Stoner here, and already the first three were starting to pull clear of the rest - the pursuit led by Capirossi again after he had re-passed Hopkins. Casey responded on Marco at the Sachsenkurve, and Pedrosa’s lead also came under attack. The same corner saw Stoner through on the inside, but he was too quick and went well wide, letting Dani go back ahead.

Capirossi, Hopkins, de Puniet and Rossi made up the second group. Valentino improved on Melandri’s previous fastest lap, and was clearly pushing the Kawasaki man ahead. The usual Rossi charge was looking imminent, but then it went wrong for ‘the Doctor’. The right looping Castrol Omega bend on the infield was the scene, Rossi making his pass with a tight inside line. But this pushed the Yamaha too far over on the lean angle, and he was down and slid out. The machine would not restart, and the points gap from Stoner was clearly going to increase. At this stage, Checa and Guintoli had also crashed, but with the Honda rider at least getting going again, if a lap down.

Pedrosa was cementing his lead with some fast laps, and the new track record. At one-third distance this put him 1.8s ahead of Stoner, and by half-distance it had just gone beyond three seconds. The race for victory was really over by this stage, as the gap kept growing. The Michelin tyres were obviously liking the heat, and meanwhile the trio of Bridgestone runners behind had got spaced out but were now closing up again. The action would be in this group.

Second man Stoner was caught by Melandri, who went for an ambitious pass at the fast turn eleven, but without success. It only looked a matter of time, though, and with Capirossi tagging on they were all three together at the start-finish line. Marco went to the left of Stoner, on the outside for Coca Cola, with Loris going to the right. The Honda rider out-braked himself, and had to move back in behind, but the two Ducatis were in a real contest. They ran side-by-side as the bend went back left for turn two, where Capirossi was on the inside and went ahead.

Stoner was now about two seconds from the pace of Pedrosa, possibly due to a front tyre issue, and Melandri carried speed through from turn ten to make his pass at the next bend. Like Capirossi, he also began to pull away, whilst Hopkins, Hayden and Edwards were homing in on the championship leader. The Michelin riders now seemed to be fairing better than the Bridgestone men in general, and not just Stoner, and for Hayden this was a track he had previously showed a good affinity for. He had already powered by de Puniet on the main straight and, with Edwards, got well clear.

Nicky emulated Pedrosa’s 2006 prowess with an inside line pass on Hopkins at Castrol Omega, and a couple of left-handers soon saw him relegate Stoner then Melandri. Edwards was tracking his countryman on the third Michelin-shod bike, and the Sachsenkurve allowed him to get the best of Melandri for fourth. By now, Vermeulen had taken a ride-through penalty for jumping the start, Barros from seventh had become the third man to crash out, Tamada had gone for the pits for a rear tyre change, and Nakano had gone the same route with a possible oil leak.

Pedrosa’s lead was now well beyond ten seconds as he motored to the win, but second man Capirossi seemed not to have tyre trouble and had at least five seconds over the next pair. Hayden gradually crept clear of Edwards, with a decent margin opening back to the next tussle. This involved Bridgestone trio Melandri, Stoner and Hopkins. Their late pace may have been compromised, but the next group all had the same tyres so were no threat.

The first four were well spread by the flag, but the next three finished close together. Stoner had re-passed Melandri at Coca Cola, and Hopkins crossed the line behind them. Eighth should have been de Puniet’s, but his bike had stopped just before the final lap. That meant a best in MotoGP for team-mate West, with Hofmann and Fabrizio next. Vermeulen beat Roberts for eleventh despite his penalty, but Kurtis still took his team’s best result of the year. The delayed Tamada and Checa completed the results, with Nakano the fifth of the non-finishers.

It was clearly a day to have Michelin tyres, with their three surviving factory riders in the top four. Dani Pedrosa’s convincing victory was also Honda’s first for the season, and with the RC212V 800, and the 21-year-old Spaniard was quite emotional about it. The 25 points helped him close in on Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi, with the Italian rider’s crash clearly proving costly. Stoner’s fifth took his points margin to a more than useful 32, but the tyre situation would have surely seen Rossi challenge Pedrosa if he’d kept it upright, and reduce that gap. Heat was one thing, but Valentino was under the weather with a temperature of his own, so perhaps this was a factor in his mistake.

250-plus GP veteran Loris Capirossi proved a point with his strong run to second, and it emerged that he’d gone for a different tyre choice from his Bridgestone colleagues. This canny thinking allowed him to beat team-mate Stoner for the first time this year, and prove his worth to potential employers, in case anyone had started doubting it. For Nicky Hayden, he made his second consecutive podium visit, after eight races outside the top six, and he will be looking to progress further as the next stop is the US GP, scene of his best riding to date in the series. Extra note: In 2008 he will get to impress at home twice, as the famous Indianapolis circuit joins Laguna Seca on the calendar. Can Indy stage a race to rival the major event that is the Daytona 200? Next year will tell.

Standings after ten races: Stoner 196; Rossi 164; Pedrosa 144; Hopkins 103; Melandri 97; Vermeulen 93; Edwards 88; Capirossi 77; Hayden 73; Barros 69; Hofmann 60; Elías 49; de Puniet 40.
Ducati 208; Yamaha 184; Honda 174; Suzuki 132; Kawasaki 64; Team KR 12; Ilmor 0

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