Rossi edges Stoner at Laguna Seca

AMA champion Spies finishes an impressive eighth

Seven-time world champion Valentino Rossi earned his first career MotoGP victory on American soil, outdueling Casey Stoner to win the U.S. Grand Prix July 20.

Rossi capitalized on a rare accident by Stoner to claim the win and stretch his lead in the season standings to 25 points. The win came a day after Fiat Yamaha announced it had extended Rossi’s contract through the 2010 season.

“We made some modifications to our bike after warm-up and these gave us the last few tenths that enabled me to fight with Casey today; the result was just fantastic,” says Rossi. “I don’t know how many times we changed the lead but it was a lot and it was great, great racing for me and I think also for the fans, because it’s been a while since we've been like this.”

Stoner’s Ducati Desmosedici held the advantage on the straight sections, but Rossi’s Yamaha YZR-M1 made up for the difference braking through Laguna Seca’s curves.

The key moment in the race came on lap 24 as Stoner ran wide on the final corner and dipped into the gravel. He was able to remount and continue, but Rossi was out of reach. Stoner was far enough ahead of the third-place finisher, Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen, that losing second place was not a concern. After the race, the Ducati Marlboro rider criticized Rossi’s aggression on the corners.

“At the end of the day I’m not happy because I’ve made a mistake and it has cost me the chance to win this race, but I also think that even if he rode a great race, some of Valentino’s moves early in the race were too aggressive,” says Stoner. “Anyway, we can’t do anything about that now – the important thing is that we've come away from here with 20 valuable points and after being written off in some quarters four races ago we now go on our summer holiday with a fighting chance of winning the title again.”

Ducati Marlboro manager Livio Suppo was a little more direct with his criticism.

“For sure if Casey had not shown a tremendous coolness and maturity, there would have been at least a few occasions in which they both could have crashed as a result of maneuvers which, in our opinion, were a bit over the limit on [Valentino’s] part,” says Suppo.

Rossi however disagreed and felt that his moves were aggressive but did not cross the line.

“About the passes, I am sorry that Casey thinks some of them were a bit strong but I really don’t agree,” says Rossi. “I passed only on the brakes, I braked in the same places every time and we never touched. Of course this was an aggressive race, but it was definitely a fair one.”

With his podium finish, Stoner was able to move past the idle Dani Pedrosa into second place in the season standings behind Rossi. Pedrosa took part in the free practice sessions but felt he had not recovered enough from the injuries he suffered at the German Grand Prix July 13. The Repsol Honda rider decided to play it safe and not risk further injury and will instead began his mid-season break early to recuperate.

Pedrosa’s Honda factory teammate, the ‘Kentucky Kid’ Nicky Hayden was the top American in the race, finishing fifth behind Honda satellite rider Andrea Dovizioso.

The 2005 and 2006 USGP winner, Hayden began the race on the front row but fell behind Dovizioso and Vermeulen. Hayden attributed his result to his tires.

“We really had only two race tires, the one I used in practice I kept using again and again, I used it Friday, Saturday and again this morning, by the end it had 35 laps on it,” says Hayden. “I think I learned a good lesson, we set up the bike on quite old tires. In the race when we put in a grippy new race tire the balance of the bike changed a lot, so it was pushing the front in a lot of places.”

Rizla Suzuki wildcard entrant Ben Spies also placed in the top ten. The AMA Superbike series leader qualified 13th but moved up to tenth after the first lap and went as high as seventh before getting edged out by Ducati Alice’s Toni Elias by a fraction of a second at the finish.

“It was good out there today and I’ve got to be pleased with the result. I couldn’t get going right off the bat as I haven’t quite got used to the tires yet,” says Spies. “Everything was getting better and better and then Elias came past me and I thought I had one more lap, but the checkered flag was out and that was the end of the race. It was a good race and I will now be even more prepared for when we get to Indianapolis later in the year.”

Spies’ AMA rival Jamie Hacking rode for Kawasaki, replacing the injured John Hopkins, and finished just out of the top ten in 11th place. Hacking started the race in the back row, but by lap 12 he moved into the tenth spot behind Spies. In a scene that should be familiar to AMA Superbike fans, Hacking approached Spies but was unable to pass him.

“I fought my way up to Ben Spies, and I was just thinking to have a bit of a breather when he looked back and saw who was behind him. As soon as he saw it was me he upped the pace and managed to pull enough of a gap that I couldn’t quite stay with him,” says Hacking.

Colin Edwards, the top performing American thus far in the MotoGP season, was the last of his countrymen across the line. After finishing second in the 2005 USGP, Edwards has dropped at each successive race at Laguna Seca, finishing this 14th in this year’s race, over a minute behind Rossi.

“I don’t think I need to say that this race was well below what I expected,” says Edwards, who has renewed his deal with Tech 3 Yamaha for another season. “To be honest I was struggling from the start with the harder compound front tire I had. I’d have some moment on the brakes while I was trying to pass someone and I’d lose a load of time and a bunch of places. I’d gradually work my way back through only for it to happen again and it was frustrating. I just didn’t have any confidence in the front and everybody knows I am a front-end guy.”

With the USGP under wraps, the MotoGP series enters its mid-season break. The series continues at the Automotodrom Brno in the Czech Republic Aug. 17.

Final Results
1st Valentino Rossi (ITA) - Yamaha Team (B) 44min 4.311 secs
2nd Casey Stoner (AUS) - Marlboro Team (B) 44min 17.312 secs
3rd Chris Vermeulen (AUS) - Rizla Suzuki Moto GP (B) 44min 30.920 secs
4th Andrea Dovizioso (ITA) - JiR Team Scot Moto GP (M) 44min 39.212 secs
5th Nicky Hayden (USA) Repsol Honda Team (M) 44min 39.974 secs
6th Randy de Puniet (FRA) - LCR Honda MotoGP (M) 44min 41.979 secs
7th Toni Elias (SPA) - Alice Team (M) 44min 45.940 secs
8th Ben Spies (USA) - Rizla Suzuki (B) 44min 46.238 secs
9th James Tosel (GBR) - Tech 3 Yamaha (B) 44min 47.330 secs
10th Shinya Nakano (JPN) - San Carlo Honda Gresini (B) 44min 48.702 secs
11th Jamie Hacking (USA) - Kawasaki Racing Team (B) 44min 50.569 secs
12th Sylvian Guintoli (FRA) - Alice Team (B) 44min 59.584 secs
13th Alex de Angelis (RSM) - San Carlo Honda Gresini (B) 44min 59.832 secs
14th Colin Edwards (USA) - Tech 3 Yamaha (M) 45min 6.691 secs
15th Loris Capirossi (ITA) - Rizla Suzuki MotoGP (B) 45min 12.518 secs
16th Marco Melandri (ITA) - Ducati Marlboro Team (B) 45min 15.273 secs
17th Anthony West (AUS) - Kawasaki Racing Team (B) 45min 34.872 secs
18th Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) - Fiat Yamaha Team (M) Did Not Finish
19th Dani Pedrosa (SPA) - Repsol Honda Team (M) Did Not Start

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