Ducati Corse and Casey Stoner have claimed a well earned podium in Portugal after a thrilling 28-lap race in Estoril this afternoon won by Yamaha's Valentino Rossi ahead of Honda's Dani Pedrosa.
Stoner's 16 points for third place see him retain a 76-point lead at the head of the riders' championship, equivalent to three race victories with just four races of the season remaining. Marco Melandri (Honda Gresini) and John Hopkins (Suzuki) enjoyed a close battle for their fifth and sixth positions respectively. The ten points earned by Hopkins elevate him to fourth in the championship ahead of team-mate Chris Vermeulen while Melandri cements his sixth place.
Five Bridgestone-shod riders attained top ten results this afternoon and Stoner's podium, his eleventh of the season, is the first for a Bridgestone rider at Estoril since Makoto Tamada back in 2004, a notable improvement over recent results at the Portuguese track. The top rider on Bridgestone tyres in last year's event finished 25 seconds from the race winner, but Stoner's third place this afternoon was just 1.4 seconds adrift of Rossi. Stoner's combined race time (45m51.388s) was around 18 seconds quicker than last year's race-winning time (46m08.739s).
All riders opted for the same hard compound rear tyre to combat the abrasive nature of the Estoril asphalt and especially with the stress placed on the right-hand side of the tyre. Bridgestone takes pleasure from the consistency of the lap times over the race distance, in stark contrast to last year's event, but acknowledges that there is still performance to be found from its tyres around Estoril.
Hiroshi Yamada - Bridgestone Motorsport - Manager, Motorcycle Sport Unit
"That was an exciting race and well done to Casey and the Ducati team for claiming another strong podium finish. Three of our teams scored top ten results today with Honda Gresini's Marco Melandri and Suzuki's John Hopkins adding yet another top six finish to their impressive season tally. After a difficult race in Portugal last year, I believe we have made a significant step with our performance this weekend. Casey and Ducati have retained a healthy lead of the championship as we head to Motegi next week, so I am hopeful that we can take another important step together at Bridgestone's home race."
Tohru Ubukata - Bridgestone Motorsport - Manager, Motorcycle Race Tyre Development
"I am generally pleased with the performance and consistency of our hard compound rear over the complete race distance this afternoon, which Casey proved was competitive enough for a strong podium finish. This has always been a track at which our tyres have struggled, so I am encouraged that such an improvement has been seen this season. One of our pre-season targets was to demonstrate a big improvement at previously challenging circuits, Qatar, Turkey, Donington and here in Estoril. I think that we can consider this target achieved, even if we are the first to admit that there is still room for further improvement."
Casey Stoner - Ducati Corse - Third Position and Championship Leader
"I'm happy with the result, but we did have higher expectations going into this race, at least to be there on the last lap, battling for the win. We thought we had a pretty good set-up, but unfortunately I started having a problem with the clutch about five laps into the race. There was no engine braking so I couldn't try and brake as late as the other guys without running wide into the turns. It was very difficult to manage the situation and it took me quite a few laps to learn to ride around the problem. Towards the end I started to have quite a good rhythm again, I was getting faster and started to close them down. I felt like I had enough stamina to chase them but I just didn't have the feeling with the bike and I didn't have enough laps. Anyway, I gave my all and the team has done another fantastic job all weekend. We've been fast, we had a little problem today, but I think we can come back again next weekend."