Valentino Rossi has put one hand on the 2008 MotoGP World Championship with victory in front of his home fans at Misano on Sunday - a win that matches countryman Giacomo Agostini's all-time record of 68 premier-class victories.

Rossi's emotional triumph also marked Italy's 700th victory in grand prix racing and came after reigning world champion and nearest 2008 title rival Casey Stoner crashed out of the lead for the second race in a row.

Stoner, who began the race from his seventh pole position in a row, but with a re-opened scaphoid fracture in his left wrist, charged to near two-second lead by the end of the opening lap - while Rossi was thrown out of the seat of his Fiat Yamaha as he attempted to demote a fast starting Dani Pedrosa from second position.

Related Articles

Rossi sliced inside the Repsol Honda rider a lap later, by which time he was already 3.077secs behind Stoner - a deficit Rossi couldn't consistently reduce over the following laps.

Indeed, the seven time world champion - who began the race 50 point clear of reigning title holder Stoner - was still over three seconds behind the Desmosedici rider when Stoner made his third mistake in as many races, low siding from his factory GP8 on lap 8 of 28 and sliding into the gravel.

The accident left Ducati's head designer Filippo Preziosi with his head in his hands and gave Rossi a 2.9secs lead over Michelin-shod team-mate Jorge Lorenzo.

The race-winning Spanish rookie, regaining form after a series of confidence sapping injuries, initially indicated he had the speed to threaten the #46 - but the three-second difference between the blue machines ultimately held right to the flag for a memorable one-two.

After crossing the line, Rossi enjoyed lengthy celebrations with his adoring fans - at a circuit just 15km from his home town of Tavullia - although, disappointingly for many, Agostini played no part. 'Ago', who had been present at Misano during practice, was apparently absent from race day.

Regardless, the pit straight was covered in a sea of yellow by the time Rossi mounted the podium, in total contrast to the atmosphere of one year ago - when Rossi had retired with engine problems on lap five of a Stoner dominated race.

Rossi's third victory in a row means he is now a near unstoppable 75 points clear of Stoner, with just five rounds and 125 points remaining.

Joining Rossi and Lorenzo on the podium was Toni Elias, who took his second rostrum in a row from a season's best fifth on the grid. The Alice Ducati rider fought back from a slow start to overtake countryman Pedrosa for fourth into turn one on lap 6, which then became third place after Stoner's fall.

Pedrosa, riding in what is heavily rumoured to have been his last race on Michelin tyres, slipped from his early second position to a distant fourth at the finish, 17 seconds behind Rossi and six behind Elias, although the former world championship leader is now just two points behind Stoner in the standings.

Rizla Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen, like Rossi, came close to falling on the opening lap and although he kept his GSV-R on two wheels the Australian's close shave cost him heavily. Vermeulen then regrouped and went on to win a four-rider fight for fifth against James Toseland, Loris Capirossi and Andrea Dovizioso by the closing stages.

Toseland, Capirossi and Dovizioso fought right to the flag, with Capirossi - riding in a record-breaking 277th grand prix - diving under the reigning double World Superbike champion on the last lap. However, Toseland - starting just his 13th grand prix - cut back underneath and was able to hold a career-best equalling sixth at the line.

JiR Honda rider Dovizioso advanced six positions from his lowly starting position and finished seven seconds ahead of countryman Marco Melandri, on the surviving Ducati Marlboro machine, with Colin Edwards tenth for Tech 3 on a day when the top ten riders alternated perfectly between Bridgestone and Michelin.

Elias' team-mate Sylvain Guintoli finished eleventh, ahead of the Bridgestone-shod factory RC212V of Shinya Nakano, whilst Kawasaki riders John Hopkins and Anthony West finished where they had started - at the back of the field - but were at least in the points due to retirements ahead.

Joining Stoner on the DNF list were Randy de Puniet and Alex de Angelis. de Puniet's race lasted only slightly longer than one year ago as he fell from fifth place at the end of the first lap, while de Angelis retired from his home event shortly after.

Nicky Hayden withdrew from the event on Sunday morning, his recent heel injury having got progressively worse throughout the weekend. Hayden will now attempt to regain fitness in time for his second home race of the season, the inaugural Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix on September 14.

San Marino Grand Prix:

1. Rossi
2. Lorenzo
3. Elias
4. Pedrosa
5. Vermeulen
6. Toseland
7. Capirossi
8. Dovizioso
9. Melandri
10. Edwards
11. Guintoli
12. Nakano
13. West
14. Hopkins