MotoGP world champion Casey Stoner finished his first race in three starts at Sunday's storm-lashed Indiapolis Grand Prix, despite 'destroying' his rear tyre.
Stoner snatched the lead into turn one, but dropped to third by the end of the lap and had been shuffled back to fifth by lap three. The Ducati star was already struggling with a lack of rear grip, but was able to take fourth place from Andrea Dovizioso just before the race was stopped - due to high winds and pouring rain - with seven of the planned 28 laps remaining.
Stoner later revealed that the rain helped to preserve his tyres, but the gusting wind made riding 'ridiculous' and he fully supported the decision to stop.
"With this wind, it's literally unrideable," he declared. "The rain wasn't a problem in the race; it was actually the wind issues. You would glance a good two or three metres offline, and going into the back straight your front wheel is literally just moving a metre every time you change gear. It became very dangerous. It was ridiculous. The safest option was to stop."
Stoner and Valentino Rossi were among the riders seen being consulted about the possibility of a restart (pictured) - a proposal that was soon abandoned.
"We're happy with the race today, but I would rather go home in one piece. Even in dry conditions, I don't think it's safe [in that wind]. It is literally unbelievable. I don't think you can keep your bike online, and I think there would have been a few nasty crashes. You know, it's not anybody's fault.
"We started off OK in the race, and I needed a few laps to warm the tyres up because we just weren't getting temperature. I destroyed the tyre after that. We were actually quite lucky it started to rain toward the end there. I don't think we could have kept up if it hadn't rained," he confirmed.
"It was a tough race for Casey but he showed grit and determination to bring home a decent result," added Ducati MotoGP project director Livio Suppo. "It maybe to do with the power delivery of our engine or the set-up of the bike but the rear tyre went off quicker than expected and Casey couldn't ride on the attack, as we're used to seeing. It's a shame it wasn't a dry race because in the warm-up [in which Stoner was fastest] we saw Casey was in good shape for those conditions."
Stoner has now dropped 87 points behind Indy winner and world championship leader Rossi and could lose the 2008 crown at the same venue where he won the 2007 title, next time out at Motegi.
Meanwhile, team-mate Marco Melandri struggled home 19th and last on a day when, despite the weather, every rider reached the finish.
"I'm really disappointed because after riding in the wet on Friday I was expecting a pretty good race today," said the Italian, who will switch to Kawasaki next season. "As it happened I struggled to rediscover the same feeling, especially with the engine braking. I never had a good feel for the bike and there was no grip on the front or the rear. I couldn't ride it from the first lap and in conditions like that it is incredibly difficult."
"It was another tough weekend for Marco. Hopefully things go better in Japan at a circuit he like a lot," said Suppo.