Valentino Rossi has beaten MotoGP World Championship leader Casey Stoner for the first time in four races, by winning his home Italian Grand Prix for a record sixth time in succession.

Rossi had lost points to Stoner ever since victory at round two of the championship in Jerez, when the Italian had beaten Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa - and it was the Spaniard, rather than the Ducati rider, who proved Rossi's closest rival at Mugello.

Riding with a large red heart on his helmet - to signify that, despite what the Italian media may think, he hasn't lost his 'heart' for a fight or love of MotoGP - Rossi was indeed forced to dug deep as he slumped from the front row to eighth at turn one, while pole sitter Stoner stormed to an early lead for the home manufacturer.

Rossi looked in real trouble as he struggled to overcome Rizla Suzuki's John Hopkins in the early stages - and the Fiat Yamaha star was still eighth after two of the 23 laps - but The Doctor kept his cool and began slowly scything through the field.

The Italian reached fourth on lap six, putting him in the thick of a hectic lead group, then passed Honda-mounted countryman Marco Melandri for third and Stoner for second in the space of a lap. That left only Pedrosa between the #46 and victory; Rossi shadowed the Spaniard for several laps before calmly taking the lead for the first time under braking on lap nine.

By that point the pair had broken Stoner and - whilst Pedrosa clung to Rossi's rear wheel for much of the remainder of the race - the former 125 and 250cc world champion was once again unable to retaliate and eventually settled for a safe second.

Third place would go to a Ducati rider, but not Stoner. The young Australian was under pressure from Hopkins and Pramac d'Antin rider Alex Barros for the second half of the race - and it was grand prix veteran Barros who proved the strongest of the trio. The Brazilian overtook factory star Stoner with three laps to go, then kept the determined Australian at arm's reach to the chequered flag - proving that there are no Ducati team orders at this stage.

But the race was all about Rossi, who crossed the line with his fist clenched before being mobbed by his adoring fans. By the time the former five-times MotoGP world champion had returned to pit lane, the front straight was packed with many of the 85,000 trackside fans - who produced a deafening roar as their hero climbed the podium.

As well as winning his biggest race of the year, Rossi pulled 12 points out of Stoner's lead and will start next weekend's Catalan Grand Prix just nine behind the 21-year-old. Completing a dark day for Ducati Marlboro was a seventh place finish for Stoner's team-mate, and home hero, Loris Capirossi. The Italian joined Stoner in a Desmosedici one-two in the early stages, but suddenly dropped from contention around lap six and was never able to recover.

Moving in the opposite direction was Toni Elias, who charged from just 15th on the grid to pass Capirossi for sixth with five laps to go, while Gresini Honda team-mate Melandri concluded his home race in a frustrating ninth after some early heroics.

One place in front of Melandri was second on the grid Chris Vermeulen, the Le Mans winner lacking the dry pace needed for a second consecutive podium, while world champion Nicky Hayden - Pedrosa's team-mate - rose just three places from his 13th on the grid.

Another American wishing he wasn't here was Rossi's team-mate Colin Edwards, who crossed the line 12th after qualifying down in 16th.

Italian Grand Prix:

1. Rossi
2. Pedrosa
3. Barros
4. Stoner
5. Hopkins
6. Elias
7. Capirossi
8. Vermeulen
9. Melandri
10. Hayden
11. Hofmann
12. Edwards
13. Nakano
14. Guintoli
15. Tamada
16. Jacque
17.Kenny Roberts



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