Stoner supreme in Istanbul stunner
22 April 2007
Casey Stoner may have led every lap of the Turkish Grand Prix, but all hell broke loose behind with a multi-rider pile-up, frantic passing manoeuvres and major problems for championship leader Valentino Rossi.
Stoner's second win from his first three races with Ducati has propelled the Australian back into the MotoGP World Championship lead, by 10 points over Rossi, on a day when - in complete contrast to qualifying - Bridgestone riders dominated the leading positions.
But Michelin-man Rossi lost the lead to Stoner through his own a mistake, the Italian pole-sitter running wide through the awesomely quick turn eleven as he pushed hard to break away on the opening lap. That dropped him to fifth by the time he had threaded his way back onto the track and through the tight left-right-left final chicane that follows the back straight.
Others weren't so lucky; just behind Rossi an out-of-control Olivier Jacque triggered chaos by slamming into the side of the Italian's Fiat Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards on the entry to that turn - the Kawasaki rider taking out Dani Pedrosa's front wheel in the process, with Pedrosa's Repsol Honda in turn tripping up Chris Vermeulen.
Vermeulen's Rizla Suzuki was left literally on top of Pedrosa's RC212V, but the young Australian still managed to rejoin - the only rider to do so. OJ received brief medical treatment at the side of the track, while Pedrosa - who began the race equal second in the championship with Stoner - suffered a minor chest injury.
All of which left Stoner leading Ducati Marlboro team-mate Loris Capirossi with Suzuki's John Hopkins in third ahead of Gresini Honda's Toni Elias - who had rocketed up from tenth on the grid - then Rossi. The Doctor, fearing a Stoner whitewash, pushed hard to climb back up the order, but Elias and Hopkins are two of the best late-brakers in the business - and were also involved in their own battle.
Elias' efforts to take third from Hopkins ultimately played into Rossi's hands as he darted past the distracted Spaniard on the exit of the last turn, then made a similar move on Hopkins one lap later. The former five-times MotoGP champion continued his recovery by neatly seizing second from Capirossi with nine of the 22 laps compete.
But Elias hadn't been shaken and was also past Capirossi, then dealt Rossi's victory hopes a major blow by elbowing back past the #46 into the final chicane, bumping fairings as he went, before casually raising a leg to apologise. Rossi also briefly lost the front while trying to hold firm around outside, putting him back on the defensive.
The second half of the race thus began with Stoner 2.3secs clear of Elias and Rossi a further 1.1secs back. In theory there was still time for Rossi to catch Stoner, but the Italian was soon suffering from a mysterious lack of speed - and within three laps had lost out to Capirossi, Hopkins, Marco Melandri and Alex Barros.
That quartet, like Stoner and Elias, were all on Bridgestones and the extent of the Japanese manufacturer's advantage became glaringly obvious in the closing stages as Rossi was left almost defenceless. However, breaking that convenient conclusion was reigning world champion Nicky Hayden, now lapping almost as fast as the Bridgestone riders and enjoying his most competitive race of the season.
While Rossi sank all the way back to tenth at the chequered flag, the Repsol Honda rider tagged onto the tail end of a thrilling five-way fight for the final podium position.
Eight seconds after Stoner had casually glanced over his shoulder and wheelied across the finished line, and two seconds after Elias began celebrating an excellent second, Capirossi used all of his considerable experience to secure third, after a DNF in Qatar and miserable 12th in Jerez, by just 0.1secs over Barros and Melandri - who had started just 13th and 14th on the grid.
Hopkins got the better of Hayden for sixth in the final turn showdown, while Randy de Puniet salvaged eighth for Kawasaki. Barros' d'Antin Ducati team-mate Alex Hofmann also had the 'honour' of overtaking a limping Rossi in the closing stages on his way to ninth. Rossi duly clinched a disheartening tenth and was soon looking at his rear Michelin.
Vermeulen finished seven-seconds behind Rossi after a brave comeback ride that saw him set the fastest lap of the race - and he can only wonder what might have been without that first lap fall.
Michelin Honda riders Carlos Checa and Shinya Nakano were twelfth and 13th, while Dunlop Tech 3 Yamaha's Makoto Tamada and Sylvain Guintoli completed the point scorers. Kenny Roberts Jr finished 16th and last after a weekend to forget.
Sadly, it is feared that Sunday's stunning race might have been the last Turkish Grand Prix for the foreseeable future, unless Dorna can agree terms with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, who announced on Friday that he has 'taken over' running of the track.
"It depends an awful lot on the position of Dorna," the Briton explained on Friday. "The contract runs out after this year, so we are not sure what they will or won't do. I am a big, big motorcycle supporter. I think motorcycle racing is super so whatever we can do [to help keep the MotoGP race] we'll do."
Round four of the 2007 MotoGP World Championship, the Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai, takes place in two weeks time... at a circuit where Ducati can exploit its straight-line speed advantage more than ever.
Turkish Grand Prix:
8. de Puniet