Stoner storms Laguna
22 July 2007
Nobody had managed to win a MotoGP event from the front of the grid since the 2006 Japanese GP last September, but Stoner blew that statistic out of the window as he simply rode away from the rest of the field in California to snare his sixth victory of the season.
Having been the man to beat throughout free practice and qualifying, the Ducati rider lost out when the lights went green as Dani Pedrosa made the best start from second on the grid to jump into the lead, but it wasn't to last as the 21-year-old points leader quickly made a move on his Spanish rival to retake a lead he wasn't to lose for the remainder of the race.
Indeed, while one Repsol Honda man made a good start, the second was in trouble as defending champion Nicky Hayden saw his title defence lurch from one disaster to another at turn two, when he ran wide alongside fellow American John Hopkins but then made contact with the Rizla Suzuki man as both attempted to get back on line. While Hopkins would come off worst and end up on the tarmac, it would be Hayden who would ultimately pay the higher price as the race progressed…
At the end of the opening lap, Stoner led from Pedrosa, while Chris Vermeulen on the second Suzuki had maintained his third place from Yamaha team-mates Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards in fourth and fifth. Behind them, Italian Marco Melandri had jumped up to sixth from tenth on the grid – despite being at far from 100 per cent following his session stopping fall during qualifying.
Throughout the second lap, Pedrosa did his best to keep in touch with Stoner, but the Australian quickly nailed the quickest lap on his third tour of the picturesque Laguna circuit to start extending his lead, while Pedrosa was quickly coming under pressure from Vermeulen behind. While Stoner started to pull away, Vermeulen took his chance on lap four to dive into second at the final corner, making it an Aussie 1-2 at the head of the field. Lap four would also see the first retirement of the race, with the second Ducati in the hands of Loris Capirossi returning to the pits to retire.
Outside the top six riders, and interesting battle was starting to develop in the mid-field, with Randy de Puniet, Makoda Tamada, Shinji Nakano, Carlos Checa, Roger Lee Hayden, Anthony West and Alex Barros running in close proximity in positions seven through to 13, while further down the pack, debutants Chaz Davies and Miguel Duhamel found themselves fighting with Nicky Hayden as the Respol man struggled down in 16th place on his damaged Honda following his lap one incident. Hopkins meanwhile had pitted at the end of lap one but had resumed racing on home soil but two laps down at the back of the field.
As Stoner continued to eek out his advantage over Vermeulen, the man on a move was Melandri, who was making his light of his injuries to fight Edwards for fifth. Despite the American doing all he could to keep the Gresini rider behind him. Melandri swept by on lap five and quickly set off in pursuit of fourth placed Rossi.
Within three laps, Melandri had caught onto the tail of his countryman, and on lap eight took fourth – with an unlikely trip to the podium drawing ever closer.
Stoner continued to lead heading into the second third of the race, with Vermeulen starting to slip back after initially maintaining his gap the leader, while Pedrosa in third had started to slip back from the front two and was starting to come under pressure from Melandri. Rossi was fifth ahead of Edwards, with de Puniet, Tamada, Nakano and West rounding out the top ten. Hayden meanwhile was now clearly in big trouble, with the champion lapping some three seconds slower than the rest of the field and ahead of only Hopkins on the timing screens.
While the gap between first and second continued to grow, so the gap between third and fourth dropped, and by lap 14, the Gresini Honda was less than half a second behind Pedrosa's factory machine. For the following two laps, Melandri inched closer to the Spaniard and, having made an unsuccessful attempt to take third at the Corkscrew, Melandri made his move stick into turn ten to go into a podium place.
From that point onwards, the top three would be safe in their positions as Stoner gradually pulled away from Vermeulen, who in turn had a comfortable advantage over Melandri – meaning the focus turned to the battles further down the field.
Perhaps key amongst those battles was the fight for fourth, with Rossi keen to get as high as possible to minimise his points loss to Stoner heading into near month-long break before the Czech GP at Brno.
Having been unable to keep touch with the front-runners, Rossi was able to close on Pedrosa and made his move at the final turn to take fourth on lap 20, then pulling away from Pedrosa to secure the place with the Repsol rider settling for fifth.
The battle for sixth was also hotting up nicely, with a train of riders having queued up behind Edwards who was starting to slip down the order.
On lap 24, the American lost sixth place to de Puniet and by the time the field came round again, the 'Texas Tornado' liveried Honda had lost two more places, with Tamada and West having demoted the home rider to ninth place – West having earlier slipped past Nakano in the mid-field battle. Nakano had then lost further places, with Roger Lee Hayden and Alex Barros having got ahead of him in the train.
By this point, Kurtis Roberts, Duhamel and Hayden had all joined Capirossi in retirement while Davies had lost time in the pits with a broken sprocket and was now running with Hopkins, two laps behind the rest of the field.
Over the closing laps, the fight for sixth would continue to be the main focus of interest, although the squabble between Tamada and West for seventh would prove to give de Puniet time to open up a slender lead over the group behind that would allow the Frenchman to secure a top six finish. West took seventh after getting ahead of Tamada on lap 29, while Barros would secure ninth after taking Hayden on the final lap. However a top ten finish for the younger member of the Hayden clan was still a good way to celebrate his MotoGP bow. The notable absentee from the top ten was Edwards, who had continued his trip the wrong way down the order and could only take eleventh place – both Hayden and Barros having passed the ailing Honda three laps from home on a disappointing day for the home riders.
Nakano finished in twelfth ahead of the second Dunlop Tech 3 Yamaha of Sylvain Guintoli with Carlos Checa in 14th being the final rider to finish on the lead lap.
Two laps further back, Hopkins took the final point in 15 while Davies secured a finish on his MotoGP debut – the young Briton setting some encouraging lap times late in the race comparable with riders with much more experience under their belts.
US Grand Prix:
6. de Puniet
10. Roger Lee Hayden
17. Nicky Hayden