Casey Stoner finally broke his GP duck in the final race of the 2003 season today at Valencia, the Australian teenager calmly surviving a last corner assault by home hero Hector Barbera to sweep to victory.
Qualifying saw Alex de Angelis
take his fourth pole of the season as he looked to consolidate the runner-up spot in the World Championship. Local favourites Pablo Nieto and Barbera had both led the session to the delight of the crowd, but dropped to second and fourth respectively after late attempts from de Angelis and Marco Simoncelli, the latter following up his surprise provisional pole with a first ever front row start.
Whilst Barbera had a mathematical chance of dislodging de Angelis from second spot in the championship, his main rivals Andrea Dovizioso
and Stefano Perugini would start today's race just behind him on the second row.
When the red lights disappeared it was home hero Barbera who had the crowd on their feet by leading Stoner, Simoncelli, Dovizioso, Bautista, Borsoi, de Angelis, Perugini and Jenkner.
However, the Aspar Aprilia rider's reign would last just one complete circulation before Stoner stuck his LCR machine underneath the man who celebrates his 17th birthday today, shortly before de Angelis, then KTM's Mika Kallio, crashed out.
But having no such problems was Stoner, the young Aussie pulling Barbera and Simoncelli with him as the top three took a 0.7secs advantage over Dovizioso, who in turn had 2secs worth of clear asphalt between himself and the fifth placed battle between Perugini, Bautista and Jenkner, by lap 3.
Barbera hit the front for the second time on lap 4 (of 24) as the leading trio of Aprilias put ever more space between themselves and the Team Scot Honda of Dovizioso. Meanwhile, Dovizioso's team-mate Simone Corsi and Phillip Island winner Andrea Ballerini were eliminated in a nasty collision, the former requiring a stretcher - then ambulance assistance - for apparent leg injuries.
By the midway stage of the race the top three were still trading paint, with Barbera leading Stoner and Simoncelli at that instant, while Dovizioso had now fallen victim to Jenkner and Perugini, but all three were now closing on the lead group.
The lead group would double in size to a clear six-way battle by lap 18, at which point Stoner had returned to the front, from Barbera, Simoncelli, Jenkner (the fastest man on track), Perugini and Dovizioso – and all covered by just 2.5secs.