23 December 2008
Crash.net's MotoGP season review - Pt 1.
But the next time Lorenzo rode his M1, during Friday free practice for the Chinese Grand Prix, he was catapulted into the air during a vicious highside that left him with fractures to both ankles. Incredibly, Lorenzo returned to the track on Saturday and qualified fourth on the grid, then repeated that position on race day.
Nevertheless, Fiat Yamaha team-mate Rossi stole the Sunday Shanghai headlines by winning his first race of the season and first ever with Bridgestone tyres. The victory also marked the end of a seven-race losing streak, Rossi's longest since his debut 2000 season, and put The Doctor within nine points of Pedrosa.
Rossi's title challenge was galvanised with victory next time out in Le Mans - a race that saw Stoner fail to score points for the first time as a Ducati rider, after a technical problem in the closing stages - while the injured Lorenzo and Colin Edwards completed an all-M1 podium. In claiming third Edwards, who had taken pole at Shanghai, handed Tech 3 its first MotoGP podium since 2004 - at the team's home event - while Rossi and Lorenzo now held first and second in the world championship.
Rossi then took his third win in a row with a record-breaking seventh successive home win at Mugello, before Pedrosa rose to the occasion for his second home victory of the season at Catalunya. Like Rossi, the Repsol Honda rider had finished off the podium just once during the first seven rounds and was now ranked ahead of Lorenzo in the championship and just seven points from Rossi.
But it was fourth in the championship Stoner, without a win since Qatar, who was soon to re-emerge as Rossi's toughest challenger - thanks to an electronic breakthrough at the post Catalunya test.
"In the past few rounds we've had trouble getting power to the ground - every time I opened the throttle the bike wanted to buck and that made the chassis look a lot worse than it really was," said Stoner, after dominating Friday practice at the following British GP. "In the Barcelona test we tried something with the electronics that both [test rider] Vitto and myself really liked straight away. It is great to see that the improvement has transferred to Donington and I believe there is still more to come…"
Stoner went on to win from pole at not only the British Grand Prix, but also the following Dutch TT at Assen and German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring - each victory increasing the pressure on Rossi and Yamaha, who knew they couldn't afford to keep being beaten by Stoner indefinitely.
Rossi began the British GP 48 points ahead of Stoner, but the Australian's triple victory meant he left Germany just 20 points from the Italian. During this period, Rossi also suffered what proved to be his worst result of the season, when he fell on lap one at Assen. It was Rossi's only race mistake of the season and he still managed to salvage eleventh.
Pedrosa's mistake at a soaking Sachsenring was more costly; the Spaniard had stunned his opponents by charging to a 7.4sec lead after just five laps, but then fell at high speed as he braked for turn one. Pedrosa had been leading the championship at the time, but his title hopes effectively ended in the Sachsenring gravel - hand and ankle injuries ruled Dani out of the following US and he wouldn't return to the podium until round 15 of 18.
Laguna Seca, the last race before the summer break, was expected to see the seemingly unstoppable Stoner repeat his runaway 2007 victory and thereby close to within striking distance of Rossi - especially after claiming his fifth pole in a row by 0.447sec over the Yamaha rider.
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