30 April 2006
Melandri beats Stoner in Turkish thriller.
Marco Melandri has taken his first victory of the 2006 MotoGP season, from 14th on the grid, after overtaking class rookie Casey Stoner at the final turn of the Turkish Grand Prix - capping a breathtaking race that saw nine riders battling for victory.
Saturday's heavy rain, which had helped Rizla Suzuki rookie Chris Vermeulen take a shock - but well deserved - debut pole, had cleared by Sunday, with the few damp patches present during morning warm-up having fully evaporated by the time Vermeulen (16th in warm-up), Nicky Hayden (13th in warm-up) and Gibernau (fastest in warm-up) led the 19-rider field onto the grid for the much-anticipated climax of a unpredictable weekend...
When the red lights went out for the third time in 2006, Vermeulen rocketed off the line to lead a MotoGP race for the first time - while Gibernau, Hayden, John Hopkins and Stoner slotted in behind the Australian through turn one. Melandri had made an impressive start, rising to sixth on the exit of turn one - with Capirossi, Colin Edwards and Randy de Puniet following - while world champion Valentino Rossi was still back where he had started in eleventh.
Vermeulen's lead initially lasted just a few corners before Gibernau jumped ahead but - in a sign of the gutsy resistance he would offer right to the chequered flag - the former WSBK star promptly retook the position, before being permanently forced to yield into turn one on lap 2 of 22 - with hard charging team-mate Hopkins slipping past at the same time
With Vermeulen offering a firm defence, the Gibernau-Hopkins one-two was untroubled until lap 7, when Stoner finally accelerated past Hopkins along the home straight - and within a lap Hopkins had plummeted to seventh, in what had now become a nine-rider fight for victory.
And one particular rider was starting to command ever more attention: Repsol Honda's superstar rookie Dani Pedrosa - another high-profile casualty of the wet qualifying session - had advanced from 16th to 13th and then 9th within the opening two laps, before quickly reeling in the top eight ahead of him.
Once in their slipstream, Pedrosa had passed Edwards, Capirossi and Vermeulen in the space of just two laps - then added the scalps of Hopkins, Stoner, Hayden, Gibernau and Melandri to sensationally take the lead, for the first time in a MotoGP race, on lap 12.
But a notable absence from the lead group was Rossi, who had made slow progress in the opening lap - then ran wide and dropped all the way back to 14th on the second circulation. That mistake would ultimately prevent a podium charge, but by the midway point Rossi was back on the attack and, with the pace up front starting to tell, was beginning to pick off stragglers from the lead group.
The first of Rossi's lead-group victims had been Hopkins whom - having battled so hard in the early stages - struck some form of tyre trouble that sent the Anglo-American from third on lap 8, to ninth on lap 9, eleventh on lap 10 and fourteenth on lap 11 - at which point he was forced to pit for a new rear. Hopper returned to the track in 18th and went on to finish one place higher.
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