Stoner Wins Breathtaking Catalunya GP
First bad news for Rossi was he had to start the race from pole. The previous 3 times he had done so this season, he ended up in 2nd place or worst at the finish line. He slipped into 5th place after the first corner, while Stoner quickly got into the lead. Crowd's favorite Dani Pedrosa kept the pressure on in 2nd place, while Rossi had to work his way up to the front once again. He only needed a couple of laps to get past Suzuki's John Hopkins and started closing the gap on the leading duo.
Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet survived a serious scare in Lap 1, when Gresini Honda's Toni Elias tried to overtake him and touched his knee and handlebar in the process. But the Frenchman stayed on track and, despite the obvious pain, kept pushing for the 5th place. Back in the pack, Loris Capirossi used all of his Ducati's power to overtake as many riders as possible - as he started the race from 17th place. By Lap 7, he was already in 8th place.
Rossi closed the gap on Pedrosa and Stoner and seemed like the perfect candidate for the final win. His tire choice proved to be working after a first 6-7 rather disappointing laps, as the Italian scored a fastest lap and was soon beginning to put pressure on Pedrosa. Hopkins did not give up and trailed Rossi from 4th, as the front 4 riders were building a comfortable margin before 5th place Elias.
By Lap 11, it was official. Rossi was on fire, as the 28-year old Italian overtook Pedrosa on the brakes into the first turn after the main straight. Stoner was now feeling his rival's pressure on a circuit where all bets were on Rossi. It proved to be a great second part of the race, as the two shared the lead a number of times before the finish line. In the back, De Puniet closed the gap on Toni Elias and overtook the Spaniard for 5th in Lap 11. Only 5 laps later, the Gresini Honda rider would retire due to mechanical problems.
The Australian got out of it "alive" and his Ducati proved a tough nut to crack in the curves - where Yamaha was supposed to hold the upper hand. Soon enough, Hopkins seemed happy with the certainty of his 4th place and let Stoner, Rossi and Pedrosa fight for the win. The Repsol Honda rider was obviously aiming for a home win, but his Honda didn't quite step up to the challenge.
Rossi took the lead once again in Lap 21, but lost it immediately on the long straight. Stoner's Ducati was clearly the better bike on Sunday, and Rossi had nothing to do but admit it. No matter how much Rossi picked up on the Australian in the curves, Stoner would get back and double it on the main straight.
Stoner entered the last lap in 1st place and didn't let go until the finish line. Rossi tried to hide his disillusion after coming 2nd, but he was clearly not feeling too happy about it. Pedrosa rewarded the Spanish crowd with a podium performance, while Suzuki's John Hopkins had to settle for 4th.
"That was a great race today. No bull either, we certainly didn't have a straightline speed advantage - you could see that by how he passed us on the straight sometimes and we passed him back sometimes, so we're pretty happy with the win. Luckily the Ducati is great on brakes, but Valentino was definitely quicker than us in some parts of the track. The way Valentino makes his passes are just so good. You have to give it back to him or he's just gonna get you every time".
"I would have been just happy with a podium here because Mugello was not a good race, but we ironed out the bugs and this is the result", stated Stoner at the end of the race.
On the other hand, Rossi sent his team a loud and clear message for the week to come: "I tried very hard. The race was fantastic and I enjoyed the bike a lot. I had some chances to win but I was too much on the limit on the last laps to try to pass. We need something better, but we are only 14 points behind and the battles will be strong. Casey is very strong".
Further on, Randy De Puniet managed to keep his 5th place by the end of the race, despite Loris Capirossi's efforts to close the gap on the Frenchman.
Chris Vermeulen finished the race in 7th place, while Barros got the best of his fight with Melandri for 8th place. Colin Edwards ended another disappointing race in 10th place and was followed by fellow countryman and defending champion Nicky Hayden.
Casey Stoner extended his lead from 9 points to 14 in the overall Riders' standings in front of Valentino Rossi. Dani Pedrosa strengthened his 3rd place, as he now holds a 23-point advantage over Marco Melandri. Ducati also extended their lead in the Manufacturers' standings, as they are now 17 points ahead of 2nd place Yamaha. Honda lost their runner-up spot by only one point.
The next race will be held at Donington Park, on the 17th of June.
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