After 18 races without a MotoGP victory, Dani Pedrosa and Honda held off Valentino Rossi by just 0.344sec for a surprise victory in Sunday's US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca.

Pedrosa, the only Honda rider to win 800cc races, had last taken victory in round seven of the 2008 world championship and suffered a series of injuries in the year since - most recently at the Italian Grand Prix, in late May, when he cracked a thigh.

With most attention on title contenders Jorge Lorenzo, Rossi and Casey Stoner - who had qualified on the front row despite heavy falls for Lorenzo and Stoner - Pedrosa got one of his frequent superb starts to rocket from fourth to first.

By the halfway point of the 32 laps the Repsol Honda rider was 3.3sec ahead of Rossi, Stoner and Lorenzo. But the fight for second was heating up, with Lorenzo passing Stoner into the final turn with ten laps to go, then hunting down Rossi.

Lorenzo, who dislocated his right collarbone and fractured a bone in his right foot in his huge qualifying highside, attempted to repeat his Stoner pass on Rossi with five laps remaining, but his M1 began bucking as he hit the brakes and he was fortunate to keep control.

The Spaniard ran wide, giving team-mate Rossi vital breathing room. The top three positions thus looked decided, but Pedrosa suddenly began losing chunks out of his lead, which dropped to under two seconds with four laps to go.

Pedrosa was still an apparently safe 1.5sec clear of Rossi as the last lap began - but as he dropped through the Corkscrew for the final time Rossi suddenly appeared just a few bike-lengths behind him.

Rossi's last lap turned out to be 1.2sec faster than Pedrosa's and the Italian, who overtook Lorenzo at the final turn of the Catalan Grand Prix, couldn't resist an attempt to snatch victory from Pedrosa into the final hairpin.

But the reigning six time MotoGP world champion was just a little too far behind and Pedrosa was able to claim his seventh MotoGP victory, while Lorenzo's miraculous performance was rewarded with his seventh podium of the year, having crossed the line a mere 1.9sec from victory.

Rossi is now nine points clear of Lorenzo in the world championship, with Stoner 16 back and fourth placed-Pedrosa 59 behind The Doctor.

As well as his qualifying crash damage, Stoner had his mystery energy-sapping illness to contend with, but the Australian proved he was up for a fight by overtaking Rossi for second place early in the race.

Once he had dropped back to fourth, the 2007 world champion stuck with the Fiat Yamahas until around ten laps to go, when he began to slip away. Stoner reached the finish 12 seconds behind Pedrosa and nine seconds in front of his Ducati Marlboro team-mate Nicky Hayden.

Hayden, riding in a special patriotic livery for his home race, gained one place from eighth on the grid during the opening lap, which then became sixth when his Repsol Honda replacement Andrea Dovizioso lowsided out of fourth - just ahead of Lorenzo - on lap 7.

The American overtook Toni Elias for fifth soon after, but the San Carlo Honda Gresini Honda rider fought back and was only 0.378sec behind at the flag. Both Hayden and Elias claimed their best result of the season so far.

The only other American, Colin Edwards, rode to a discreet seventh for Monster Yamaha Tech 3, with Chris Vermeulen (Rizla Suzuki) and Randy de Puniet (Honda LCR) a lonely eighth and ninth. Marco Melandri (Hayate) held off Alex de Angelis (Gresini Honda) by just 0.7sec to complete the top ten.

Twelfth and last of the riders to reach the flag was Laguna Seca rookie Niccolo Canepa, of Pramac Ducati.

Joining Dovizioso in crashing out were Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda), Loris Capirossi (Rizla Suzuki) and Sete Gibernau (Francisco Hernando Ducati), while Tech 3's James Toseland was black flagged for failing to serve a ride through penalty for a jump-start.

Round nine of the world championship takes place at the Sachsenring in Germany on July 19.

US Grand Prix:

1. Pedrosa
2. Rossi
3. Lorenzo
4. Stoner
5. Hayden
6. Elias
7. Edwards
8. Vermeulen
9. de Puniet
10. Melandri
11. de Angelis
12. Canepa