It was the race MotoGP fans have been waiting for, but certainly hadn't expected, at Laguna Seca on Sunday - when Valentino Rossi
overcame a practice deficit to battle furiously with reigning world champion Casey Stoner
at the US Grand Prix.
Stoner, winner of the past three rounds, held a commanding half-second advantage over the field throughout practice and qualifying, leaving Rossi to joke about needing a 30-second head start to prevent the reigning world champion taking his fourth victory in a row on Sunday.
But some pre-race modifications extracted vital tenths out of Rossi's YZR-M1 and he combined his new found pace with a clear strategy of counter-attacking whenever the Australian took the lead.
That determination to 'smother' Stoner's advantage resulted in some thrilling overtaking: Stoner twice lost the lead to Rossi at the top of the Corkscrew - Valentino running over the dirt to make the second pass stick, forcing them both wide - and Stoner was twice block-passed by the Italian under braking for Turn Five.
Rossi also put up a stubborn defence. Stoner, who had closed to within 20 points of Rossi heading into the event, was stronger along the curved home straight - something Rossi reacted to by covering the inside, forcing Stoner to ride the long way around.
Stoner still made several such brave moves stick, but - just as Rossi had surely been hoping - began to show signs of frustration when he ran wide into the double apex second turn just moments after squeezing past the #46 on lap 14.
It took Stoner less than two laps to bridge the half second lead the mistake had handed Rossi - but his next error had more serious consequences. On lap 24 of 32 Stoner's rear wheel bobbled as he braked hard for the tight final turn, forcing the Desmosedici rider to run off track - where his front wheel dug into some soft gravel, tipping him over.
That mistake handed Rossi his first victory since June Italian's Grand Prix by 13 seconds from Stoner, who in turn finished 13 seconds in front of third placed Chris Vermeulen, riding in what seemed like a different race.
In terms of fastest laps, Stoner's best was 0.225secs quicker than Rossi - but third fastest Vermeulen was over one second slower than Stoner!