Casey Stoner took the greatest victory of his young career at Catalunya on Sunday - the young Australian brilliantly matching Valentino Rossi
blow-for-blow to claim his fourth win of the season.
Rossi began the Catalan Grand Prix from pole position and with momentum firmly behind him after an emotional home victory at Mugello last weekend - which had marked the first time the former five-times MotoGP champion had beaten Stoner for four rounds and put the Italian back within nine points of the Ducati star.
Last season's Catalan race began with a nasty first turn pile-up, but fortunately there was no repeat in 2007 as home hero Dani Pedrosa
rocketed from the outside of the front row to safely lead Stoner, Suzuki's John Hopkins
and a cautious Rossi through the first turn.
A near highside later in the lap for second-on-the-grid Randy de Puniet
helped the top four pull clear of the rest of the field - but not each other; by the halfway stage of the 25 laps Stoner, Rossi, Pedrosa and Hopkins were covered by less than one second with a near five-second gap over the injured de Puniet.
While they may have been almost inseparable on track, the potential of the top four was very different. Stoner and Rossi were focussed entirely on victory at all costs, but Pedrosa - although just a fraction behind - never looked capable of attacking, while the relentless pace soon proved too much for Hopkins' Suzuki.
The Stoner/Rossi fireworks really began on lap 18 when Rossi dived inside the Ducati. Stoner - as he had earlier in the race - immediately responded by cutting back underneath the #46, but this time Rossi also retaliated and held the lead for the first time.
Catalunya's 1km main straight was perfect Ducati territory, but the top speed differential between Stoner's factory Desmosedici and its chief rivals wasn't as overwhelming as it has been. Rossi and Pedrosa had both been able to stay in Stoner's slipstream but - with the situation now reversed - Casey looked set to slingshot past Rossi on the run into turn one.
That proved the case, but Rossi looked over as his red attacker drew alongside and responded by leaving his braking to the latest possible moment. The Doctor was certainly much stronger on the brakes and was just able to defend his lead, but Stoner wasn't to be denied and dived inside again at the very next turn. That produced the exciting sight of Stoner, Rossi and Pedrosa almost three-wide through the long right-hander, before Casey ran Rossi wide onto the kerbs. Amazingly, the fight still wasn't over as Rossi again lunged for the lead - and again Stoner delivered a successful counter attack.
It took Rossi a lap to get back onto Stoner's rear wheel, with Pedrosa still shadowing the M1 rider, and this time he tried an audacious pass into the fast final turn. It was a success, but Stoner unleashed Ducati horsepower to regain the advantage along the straight.