Aussie ace Casey Stoner notched his eighth season victory today in the Grand Prix of San Marino held at Autodromo di Misano and now leads the standings 85 points ahead of Valentino Rossi, who retired in the 13th round of the season.
Stoner, onboard his Ducati Desmosedici GP7, took a lights-to-flag victory followed by both Suzuki fellows, Chris Vermeulen and John Hopkins, after 27 laps around the Italian racetrack.
The Australian scored his third consecutive start-to-finish victory and completed a hat-trick of wins after his success in Laguna Seca and Brno.
"It took a lot of concentration to not make any mistakes because it was really hot and hard work today. This was very nice win for me. Yesterday I wasn't so confident, but when we arrived on the grid today we were quite confident with the setting and everything worked well, we got a good start and we were able to get a good advantage. If there was a group up front my plan was to separate the group so there were less riders to battle with, I expected it to be a very difficult race. The team did a great job all weekend, they really pulled through for me", the winner commented.
This victory gave Stoner the chance to leave the Misano Adriatic circuit with a very nice cushion over Rossi. However, the standings leader will not take it easy.
"I'm still taking the championship race-by-race. It was unfortunate what happened to Valentino and to Dani (Pedrosa) today, but I was out in front doing my own thing, I had enough pressure myself", the Aussie said.
Despite the calm of Stoner, the truth is that with only 125 points remaining to be won, the Ducati rider will secure the championship at the next race in Estoril circuit of Portugal if he manages to outscore Rossi by a further 15 points and is not outscored by Dani Pedrosa by more than three points.
Vermeulen and Hopkins raced their Rizla Suzuki GSV-R's to second and third places respectively, to give Suzuki its first double podium in the history of the team in MotoGP.
Starting from the middle of the third row Vermeulen got a great start and was in fourth place by the first corner. The Australian made up a further place during the first lap as he passed seven-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, and then set about chasing teammate Hopkins who would later pass to take second place.
"I am very happy to be on the podium. I said earlier this year that there would be two Rizla Suzukis on there before the end of the year, and I am very pleased to have been proved right. Obviously I'm happy to be in front of John, but congratulations to him and the whole team on this great result. We had no data on the bikes before we came here and Suzuki and Bridgestone have both done a great job to give us such a fantastic package for a new circuit", Vermeulen mentioned.
This was the fourth podium in the season for the 25-year-old rider who took a victory in the French Grand Prix.
Hopkins had -- like his teammate -- a good start and was straight into second place, close behind Stoner. The American battled Vermeulen during the first part of the race, but later had to settle with third place and his third podium of the year.
"What can I say, two Rizla Suzukis on the podium so that isn't too bad a day! I got a great start which was crucial and I was lucky to avoid the accident at turn one. I wanted to hang on to Casey early on for as long as I could, the Bridgestone tyres worked really well right from the start and the bike also felt good. I had an incident when I pushed a bit too hard coming in to a fast right and had a big front-end slide. That cost me some time as it spooked me up a bit and because of that my lap-times dropped off. I could hear Chris behind me, he came up the inside and passed me - I knew he had a strong pace and I tried to hang on to him. I hung on for as long as possible until I had a problem with a knee-slider that came loose and I had to take it off and put it back on!", the 24-year-old rider commented after the race.
After 13 races, Stoner leads the World Championship with 271 over the 186 of Rossi. Third place stays in hands of Pedrosa, with 168.
Next stop of the Continental Circus will be on September 16th with the Grand Prix of Portugal to take place on the Estoril circuit.