Gordon Hatch, MotoGP correspondent
Championship leader extends points gap to main rival Lorenzo
Casey Stoner romped to victory today at the Gran Premio de Aragon for round 14 of this year’s MotoGP championship where he crossed the finish line ahead of Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa and reigning champion, Yamaha factory Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo.
Stoner, decked out in new bright day-glo orange colours as part of a Repsol Honda collaboration with artist and designer David Delfin, moved into the lead shortly after the start of the race that was initially led by Ben Spies (Yamaha Factory Racing) who grabbed the holeshot ahead of teammate Lorenzo and the Repsol Hondas. The Australian was preparing to draft passed Spies before the Texan did all the work for Stoner as he ran wide enabling Stoner and Pedrosa to move into 1st and 2nd respectively.
Stoner’s win secured the 100th win for Repsol Honda since the partnership started with the first win being in 1995 by Stoner’s fellow countryman Mick Doohan. Speaking after the race Stoner said, "Before the race everyone was a little cautious with the wind picking up after the morning warm up session and conditions being a lot different to those we have seen all weekend. This was on our mind and also warming the hard tyres to makes sure everything was good for the beginning of the race. Our start was pretty average, I pulled to the left a little on the start and managed to avoid hitting Dani but Ben came around the outside and I ended up third or fourth going into turn one, but from there we were able to settle down and feel pretty comfortable with the bike.
A big, big thank you to the whole team and to take this hundredth win for Repsol Honda is something special.
“I wanted to get to the front as soon as possible as the bike has been working perfect all weekend and it was our race to lose, so I wanted to try and get out in front and pull a gap. I passed Dani as soon as I could and tried to pull that gap, Dani kept with me for the first few laps but slowly I was able to push and put in a gap and from there manage the race. I think everyone was struggling with tyres to some degree but the bike was fantastic and I don't mind the bike when it slides around a little! A big, big thank you to the whole team and to take this hundredth win for Repsol Honda is something special.”
Pedrosa was content with second place but would have liked to be able to fight with his teammate for the win, “We already saw in practice that Casey was very fast here and it was also like this in the race. I was loosing some tenths in the first sector and I was unable to reduce the gap in the other parts of the lap. The second half of the race I was sliding all the time and I had some fun, but it was a shame not to be closer to Casey, I had many problems with the rear tyre for the whole race. My priority was to control the gap to Spies and Jorge in the final laps and get another podium. We've been second in the last three races, which is not so bad, but we want to keep improving in the coming races,” he said.
Reflecting on his race and speaking about reataining his world champion status Lorenzo remains in a buoyant mood saying, “We struggled a lot from the beginning of the race, losing positions and having to recover step by step. We couldn’t get more than a podium; that is the best result we could get today! I didn’t have confidence in the rear and it is impossible to catch Dani on this track. It's a pity, but at least I got the podium I couldn't get last year. We are still fighting for the Championship and that's the most important thing, we are going to Japan with hope still alive.”
While Stoner began to push to gap his rivals there was lots of action right through the field. The Spanish crowd didn’t even have to wait until the second lap before seeing an incident involving Pramac Racing’s Randy de Puniet, who was racing in his 100th Grand Prix, and Cardion AB Motoracing rider Karel Abraham who appeared to crash by himself. As de Puniet was right in the path of the Czech rider he had to avoid Abraham, leaving no option but to run into the gravel. De Puniet rejoined the race but Abraham retired. Abraham was taken to hospital to be monitored after hitting his head hard following his crash.
Stoner and Pedrosa’s teammate Andrea Dovizioso also crashed out on the first lap and in turn damaging his own championship campaign. While Pedrosa worked hard to try to keep up with Stoner, the battle for third place was raging with Spies fending off Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini) who overtook Lorenzo early on and set his sights on Spies. Simoncelli made a number of passes on Spies but then ran wide handing the position back to Spies and letting Lorenzo through also.
Probably the biggest surprise of the day for the fans came in the form of seeing seven-time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi starting from pit-lane on the Marlboro Ducati due to the fact that the Italian is now using his 7th engine of the season when the rules only allow six per season per rider. Rossi seemed back to his old self somewhat on the GP11.1 that now incorporates an alloy front-end chassis and he began catching up with the field immediately and after passing the stricken Abraham and dePuniet re-joining he set his sights on breaking into the top 10.
While the gap continued to grow from Stoner to Pedrosa, Lorenzo began to make some headway in reducing the gap to Spies and as soon as he closed in he cut under his teammate to grab third position. Meanwhile behind Simoncelli the battle for sixth saw Spanish compatriots Alvaro Bautista (Rizla Suzuki) and Hector Barbera (Mapfre Aspar) chasing down Nicky Hayden (Marlboro Ducati) with Rossi now into 9th place after passing Cal Crutchlow (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini).
Hayden battled hard to keep ahead of Bautista and Barbera but he couldn’t hold off the Spaniards for long and while repelling pass after pass for a couple of laps, Hayden was eventually passed by both riders who were intent on beating each other in front of their home fans. Meanwhile, at the front and nearing 10 laps to go Stoner had now edged the gap out to 4 seconds ahead of Pedrosa.
Lorenzo continued to lead Spies who then started to drop off his teammates pace that seemed to move up a gear in his efforts to catch the front two Hondas. Spies would then fall off the back of Lorenzo and into the clutches of Simoncelli who had re-grouped and wasted no time in picking up the fight with Spies. The latter stages of the race also saw an incident involving Loris Capirossi (Pramac Racing) and LCR Honda’s Toni Elias who got hit from behind from Capirossi after failing to make his braking point, both rides had to retire. Elias was unhurt in the crash but Capirossi dislocated his shoulder leading to doubts over his time to be fit before the Japanese Grand Prix in two weeks.
Rossi Continued to push hard but he began to get caught again by Crutchlow and Aoyama and not before long Crutchlow passed him and then by Aoyama but he eventually got back passed Aoyama to finish in 10th place. Hayden and Barbera continued to push until the end and the pair touched as Barbera made a move on the American but Hayden got passed once again to finish in 7th. Randy de Puniet eventually crossed the line and managed to beat Colin Edwards into 12th.
Stoner would eventually wheelie across the line to clock up his eight win of this year’s championship ahead of Pedrosa who received massive cheers as did Lorenzo while taking third place. Simoncelli was thrilled with his 4th place finish while Spies finished in 5th who was followed by a delighted Bautista who was given a massive cheer by his Rizla Suzuki crew.
Stoner now leads the championship by 44 points to Lorenzo with Dovizioso in third as they move into round 15 at the Japanese GP at Motegi that takes place from 30th September until 2nd October. The situation surrounding the Japanese GP, and whether the entire MotoGP field will travel to the Island that was struck by a devastating earthquake followed by the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, is still in doubt. Yamaha Factory Racing became the first factory team to confirm its attendance of their riders Lorenzo and Spies while Tech 3 and Aspar have also officially announced their participation. As have Repsol Honda, announcing that the team will actually field two extra Japanese riders for the race. The rest of the teams are expected to announce where they stand within the next week.