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Stoner defeats Rossi and Pedrosa in Barcelona


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By Dan Moakes
June 11 2007

The 2007 MotoGP of Catalunya was the scene of some of the best motorcycle racing of the season to date, as the three top riders in the championship standings, on three different makes of 800cc machine, raced it out for supremacy at the Barcelona circuit. Following on from the excitement in Italy a week earlier, it was all to play for between Ducati, Yamaha and Honda.

Round five of the series took place on the same track that had earlier hosted the Spanish F1 GP, but with the two-wheel racers using the traditional layout, and not the modified corners at the end of the lap, including a new chicane. Huge crowds turned out to cheer for Spanish heroes Toní Elías and Carlos Checa, but in particular Honda’s leading works rider Dani Pedrosa, on the Repsol RC212V.

Pedrosa qualified on the front row of the grid, in third, despite a lowside crash in Friday practice. He still talked of the Honda’s braking stability problems, compared to the race winning Ducati and Yamaha 800s, but was fully four slots ahead of the next Honda rider. RCVs filled row three, with Nicky Hayden (Repsol), heading Elías (with Antoni Gaudí-inspired livery) and Marco Melandri (both Gresini).

Four other makes found their way onto the first two rows. Valentino Rossi made it four pole positions for himself and five for Fiat Yamaha, with team-mate Colin Edwards in sixth this time. Championship leader Casey Stoner was fourth with the Ducati, ahead of John Hopkins, who would be racing with a modified engine in his Rizla Suzuki. But the most unexpected fast man was Randy de Puniet, second for Kawasaki. This marked the green machine’s first front row of the year, and came despite the rider’s pain with a knee injury. Team-mate Olivier Jacque was absent.

Second of the Ducati riders was d’Antín customer rider Alex Hofmann, in tenth, and this was his best so far in 2007. Team-mate Alex Barros was four slots behind, with works rider Loris Capirossi in P17 - his worst GP qualifying since during his first 125cc season in 1990, as a result of a lack of feeling for the current GP7 Marlboro Ducati. Chris Vermeulen was in P11 for Suzuki, and the last pair of Hondas were Shin’ya Nakano (12th) and Checa (15th).

The Dunlop Tech 3 Yamaha duo were going into their second race with different front tyres, and Sylvain Guintoli was in P13 and Makoto Tamada in P16. Behind Capirossi were Kenny and Kurtis Roberts, for Team KR. Honda British Superbike rider Jonathan Rea is due to replace the younger of the brothers for the forthcoming British GP at Donington Park.

No rider had yet won from pole in 2007, but Rossi would have been a good man to bet on to change the trend. The race went ahead in hot and dry conditions, but with the Italian losing places to Pedrosa, Stoner and Hopkins from the start. Back to fifth was de Puniet, until relegated further by Elías, from Edwards, Hayden, Melandri, Vermeulen, Capirossi, Barros, Hofmann, Nakano, Guintoli, Checa, Kurtis, Tamada and Kenny Roberts. Melandri and Tamada both moved up one in the lap, with Vermeulen pushed back two.

Barcelona has a longish back straight, followed by braking for a left at la Caixa; but the main start-finish straight is faster and longer still, with even more braking effort needed for the right then left first Elf corner. Stoner moved in to the lead from Pedrosa along this stretch, and Rossi contested third with Hopkins later in the lap, at the Würth left-hander. He went through on the inside, but ran wide for the Suzuki man to go back through.

Stoner and Pedrosa were threatening to start escaping from the rest in the early stages, with the Ducati rider fastest. Dani drafted Casey in his attempts to pass at Elf, and he now went quicker, but the order was unchanged. Rossi passed Hopkins on the inside for Elf, and would soon speed up to the first two. Elías had come under more pressure from de Puniet, who moved back into fifth, but the Honda rider reversed this again and set about Hopkins. He went by at Elf, only to go wide and then contact de Puniet as he recovered behind the Suzuki. John tagged on behind Rossi as the first four moved clear.

The race progressed such that Stoner, Pedrosa, Rossi and Hopkins were the only men left in the battle for the lead. Elías was again passed by de Puniet, as these two got clear of Melandri and the rest - with the Italian soon to come under attack from countryman Capirossi, as Edwards dropped back. He had soon lost out to Hayden, Barros and Vermeulen, and led Guintoli, Hofmann, Tamada, Nakano and Checa.

The first four were split between tyres from Bridgestone (Stoner, Hopkins) and Michelin (Pedrosa, Rossi), as well as having four different bikes, and all of them had opted for the hard compound rubber from their suppliers - except for Stoner with a medium rear. He seemed about to start pulling away, but with fifteen laps to go Rossi overtook Pedrosa on the inside for Elf, and was soon on the attack.

Hopkins set a new fastest lap at this stage, but Rossi was about to go for the lead. Braking on the inside for the Seat left-hander, Valentino sent his Yamaha out wide, and so Casey recovered the position. Performance levels for acceleration and speed seemed pretty well matched at this circuit, so the leading Ducati, Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki stayed close until the last two seemed to lose a little ground. Pedrosa responded to the two men ahead, leaving Hopkins to dip into a solitary fourth, well clear of the next man. This was de Puniet, on his own, as Elías’ Honda had suffered a smoky failure with ten laps to go.

Eight laps were left and the race was on between the three points leaders, Stoner, Rossi and Pedrosa. Valentino passed Casey at the looping Repsol right-hander, but the youngster fought back, and ‘the Doctor’ only managed to get through at Seat, the following left. Then Stoner drafted Rossi to attack as they reached Elf, which gave him the chance to find room on the inside at the next, long right-handed Renault turn. He squeezed past, but Rossi responded - until he went wide at Seat.

The action was far from over. Pedrosa went to the inside to attack Rossi into Elf, but could not brake late enough; and so the Yamaha remained second, and he was able to go after Stoner again. An impressive pass came on the inside at New Holland, the final fast right-hander, but Casey had the speed to re-pass on the main straight.

There were five laps to go when Rossi passed Stoner at Elf. He used the same corner next time to make his counter, on the inside, but Valentino was able to out-brake the Ducati and stay ahead. All the while, Pedrosa was right on their tails. Casey tried the same thing again going into the penultimate lap, and this time the result was a successful manoeuvre.

Stoner, Rossi and Pedrosa; Ducati, Yamaha and Honda. The last two laps saw all concerned pushing the limits of performance, and la Caixa was the scene of a notable slide by Rossi. The last lap saw these three close all the way, but there was never so much as a chance to try for a pass, so they reached the finish line in the same order, after another thrilling contest. Hopkins was a secure fourth, and likewise de Puniet in fifth, for his best result in the class - again despite the pain in his knee. Five different manufacturers took the first five positions, something which didn’t happen even once in the whole five year 990cc MotoGP era.

Capirossi had made his way through from near the back of the grid to finish sixth, having got the better of Melandri most recently. Vermeulen got by Barros, Hayden and Melandri for P7, and was just behind the second Ducati at the flag. Alex and Marco also swapped, with the Brazilian eighth, and Melandri losing out overall with just seven points on the day.

Edwards and Hayden were next, tenth and eleventh, way behind their two team-mates, and only the third and fourth Michelin runners to finish on another good Bridgestone day. Tamada, Hofmann, Guintoli and Nakano took the remaining points, from Kenny Roberts, Checa and Kurtis Roberts. Elías was the only man not to finish, missing a possible sixth place at home, which would have been second of the Hondas.

The Grand Prix of Catalunya offered racing of the highest calibre, and a clear demonstration of the competitive nature of the new 800cc MotoGP category. Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa are shaping up as the obvious class acts in the field, and are looking like the only title contenders. The best aspect of it is that they will be squaring up to one another on the track to decide the championship. Ducati, Yamaha and Honda are the class machines in the field, although the latter is yet to win a race - and they haven’t failed in 25 years. Rossi and Stoner - the Italian now has 96 podiums in the top GP class, more than Mick Doohan; and the young Australian now has more wins that the 2006 champion. What will be the next record to fall?

Standings after seven races: Stoner 140; Rossi 126; Pedrosa 98; Melandri 75; Vermeulen and Hopkins 72; Capirossi 57; Barros 51; Elías and Edwards 45; Hayden 41; Hofmann 38
Ducati 143; Yamaha 126; Honda 125; Suzuki 95; Kawasaki 39; Team KR 4; Ilmor 0


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