By Gordon Hatch, MotoGP correspondent
- Stoner wins French GP in Style
- Repsol Honda 1-2 finish
- Rossi returns to the podium
Casey Stoner first ever GP win at action packed Le Mans
Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner claimed his first ever win in emphatic style at the Le Mans Bugatti circuit at today’s fourth round of this year’s MotoGP Championship at the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France and crossed the line doing a standing wheelie dispalying his delight.
... my thoughts are with Dani at this moment, I hope he can recover soon as he is a very strong contender for this Championship.
Stoner was followed into second by his teammate Andrea Dovizioso who had to battle to the wire with Ducati Marlboro rider Valentino Rossi who finished in an unexpeted third position. Both riders pulled away from reigning MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo who couldn’t muster anything at the end of the race to catch the Italians and the factory Yamaha crossed the line in fourth.
Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini) looked to be on target for his first MotoGP podium but good fortune continues to evade the Italian after a move on Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, that saw the Spaniard crashing out and clutching his shoulder afterwards, resulted in Simoncelli being given a ride-through penalty for what Race Direction deemed to be an ‘Illegal Manouvre’.
Stoner was beaming after his second win this year saying, “We went into the race confident, at the beginning of the race Dani was very fast and he was difficult to pass as he was being cautious. When I overtook him I thought I might be able to take some advantage but he was able to match my times and follow me for some laps, so I continued to push more than I prefer to and eventually I put a gap between us. From this point the race came to me and I was able to focus on my consistency and win.”
Stoner added, “A big thanks to the team and everyone for all their hard work, but my thoughts are with Dani at this moment, I hope he can recover soon as he is a very strong contender for this Championship.”
Dovizioso was very happy with his first podium of the year and to win the battle for second against Rossi. “I’m really happy with the second position today, it’s so important for the Championship and it arrives after a start of the season, where we didn’t get the results we expected,” he said while continuing, “We did a very good job with the team since the beginning of the weekend and I knew I could fight for the podium, but I didn’t expect second place. I had a great battle with Valentino and to beat him always has a special taste, and it’s a good fun to get the podium after a hard fight.
“Concerning the race, I had a good start, Lorenzo’s strong overtaking slowed me down a little, but then I pushed to recover the gap. We had good pace, but we need to be faster. We have to keep on working to reduce the gap to stay with the front riders from the beginning. Dani today was very unlucky and I hope he can recover soon,” Dovi added.
Rossi spoke about his happiness at being on the podium for the first time this year and the first on the Ducati GP11 saying, “We’re very pleased with this podium because we’re on the right path, and especially because I had fun today. I rode the Desmosedici well, I was fast in the technical parts of the track, I felt good from start to finish and I had good lap times.
The seven times MotoGP champion continued, “I knew I could beat Lorenzo, so that was my goal. I also passed Dovi at one point, but I got a little confused and made a move on the penultimate lap instead of the last one. I lost my concentration momentarily, but in short, he got me again. Anyway, it’s fine like this; I’m happy for myself, for my team, for Filippo (Preziosi), and for all the boys at Ducati. This result boosts our morale.”
What looked to be a thrilling race on paper turned out to be exactly that in reality with an action packed race that saw multiple battles throughout the field that included a number of crashes, retirements and the unfortunate news that Stoner’s teammate Dani Pedrosa broke his shoulder again in the racing incident with Simoncelli.
The three factory Honda riders made a great start as did Simoncelli on his RC212V. Fair but fierce riding took place in the early stages with the top riders jousting for position and it was Pedrosa who took up the lead being closely followed by Stoner who led Simoncelli who in turn was ahead of Dovi with Lorenzo stalking behind.
Rossi made a great start from ninth to come up behind Monster Energy Yamaha Tech 3 rider Colin Edwards and both riders made gains on Lorenzo early on. Pramac Racing’s Randy de Puniet only made it to the second lap in his home race before suffering an unfortunate crash while trying to make a move stick underneath factory Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden.
Lorenzo wasn’t willing to hang behind Dovioso for long and barged his way past after his pitboard displayed his former teammates name Rossi who was closing in on the rear wheel of the YZF-R1 before Lorenzo made his move. Stoner made a move on Pedrosa with only three laps gone and took up the lead with hi teammate stuck to his back wheel. They both then pulled away a little from Simoncelli who was being caught by Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Rossi.
Positions remained unchanged for a time between the top six places with the field spreading out a little. With over 20 laps to go in the race Britain’s Cal Crutchlow (Monster Energy Yamaha Tech 3) crashed out to remount but later unfortunatley retired from the race. The British rookie was in a solid 9th place when he crashed and he was being followed by Hector Barbera (Mapfre Aspar), Pramac Racing’s Loris Capirossi and LCR Honda’s Toni Elias in what was a fierce battle for 10th place.
While Carion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham was passing Capirossi, Dovizioso passed Lorenzo into fourth place with Rossi making ground behind. Stoner was now over a second ahead of Pedrosa with the field now really spread out in the top ten. The battle for 11th was going strong though with Elias leading Rizla Suuzki rider Alvaro Bautista, Barbera, Abraham and Capirossi.
The second half of the race saw Rossi stuck to the rear wheels of Lorenzo and Dovizioso who were in a battle for fourth. Things continued to get worse for the Monster Energy Yamaha Tech 3 squad after Edwards crashed out of the race only to rejoin and circulate in the hope of picking up a point. With 11 laps remaining the race suddenly woke up again after Pedrosa began to fall off Stoner and Simoncelli didn’t need any invitation to catch up to Pedrosa to challenge for second.
When Simoncelli passed Pedrosa, the Spaniard came back at him at and in a counter-move Simoncelli rode around the outside leaving Pedrosa nowhere to go and crashing out. Pedrosa had just returned to the pits when Race Direction gave Simoncelli a ride through penalty after his move on Pedrosa was demed ‘illegal’. Simoncelli’s move is likely to incite a number of riders even more after there was an official complaint lodged against him ahead of today’s race.
While the news of Simoncelli’s penalty reverberated around the Bugatti circuit, Rossi was passing Dovizioso to move into fourth and chasing down Lorenzo. Lorenzo’s teammate Ben Spies was having a quiet race but was locked in a battle with Hayden for fifth place. Stoner had now built a lead of eight seconds with seven laps to go. Capirossi crashed out of the race with only six laps to go with the fight for the lower places still ongoing.
Rossi’s move on Lorenzo came with just six laps to go and while Lorenzo tried to fight back Dovizioso dived under the reigning champion to relegate him to fourth place where he would finish the race. Simoncelli re-joined the race in seventh into the middle of Hayden and Spies’s battle – the Italian would eventually pass both riders to salvage some pride with fifth position.
The final number of laps saw rossi and Dovi battle it out for second and while the seven-time MotoGP champion tried his best, Doviziozo’s Honda was more stable and he moved past his fellow contryman to claim second and Rossi in third to the delight of his fans at the French circuit.
Stoner wheelied his bike across the finish line to take his 25th Premier class GP win and his first at Le Mans and now sits in second place behind Lorenzo in the Championship that now moves to Round 5 of this year’s championship in the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain on 5th June.