Rossi edges Pedrosa in Portuguese thriller

The slow and bumpy Circuito do Estoril may seem like an unlikely place for the revival of excitement in MotoGP, but Valentino Rossi's 0.175-second victory over Dani Pedrosa had all the thrills one could ask for, perching fans on the edges of their...

The slow and bumpy Circuito do Estoril may seem like an unlikely place for the revival of excitement in MotoGP, but Valentino Rossi's 0.175-second victory over Dani Pedrosa had all the thrills one could ask for, perching fans on the edges of their seats as the two battled through the final corner and to the finish line.

"This is a very important victory for us in every way, it's the fourth one of the year so the numbers are starting to look a little bit better," said Rossi, who had been shut out of the podium since his victory at TT Assen in June. "It's a great, great emotion to win again after so long without even a podium. Today my Yamaha and my tyres worked very well. Our new engine is better and today I was able to keep in the slipstream of the Honda and the Ducati on the straight, and even to go alongside them at some points, so this is very important."

Still, the celebration was muted, as Rossi, always passionate about rallying, dedicated his victory to the memory of Colin McRae, who died in a helicopter crash yesterday near his home in Lanark, Scotland (see separate story).

"I want to dedicate this victory to Colin McRae, who sadly died yesterday," Rossi said after the victory. "Colin is one of my idols from when I was very young and it's because of him that I have my passion for rally. It's a very sad day for motorsport and I am glad that I could win for him today."

The victory was all but easy, though. Rossi had one of his best starting positions in recent races, starting his FIAT Yamaha from second, next to polesitter Nicky Hayden. Dropping back to fifth into the first turn, the five-time MotoGP champion showed his form on the first lap, picking off riders one by one to move into third by the end of the lap, behind Casey Stoner's Marlboro Ducati and Pedrosa's Repsol Honda.

The three steadily pulled away from the main pack, but held position until the seventh lap, when Pedrosa drafted Stoner on the main straight, pulling abreast and passing him under braking. Two laps later Rossi, too, made his way past Stoner -- who was looking for his fourth straight victory -- with a late-braking pass in turn one, and then followed up by wresting the lead from Pedrosa on the following lap.

It was no runaway, though, as Pedrosa and Stoner both fought back, though Stoner began to fall back slightly after the halfway point of the race, with what subsequently was revealed to be a clutch problem.

"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," Stoner explained. "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."

Rossi and Pedrosa swapped positions several times over the remaining laps, but as the riders were making the penultimate tour around the track, it was Pedrosa in the lead -- something that Rossi was determined to change. A pass on the inside into turn one was too late, and Rossi ran wide recovering from the attempt, but another precision attempt on the same lap stuck, giving the Italian a 0.170-second lead as the leaders began the final lap.

Pedrosa, too, wanted a victory badly, but could not find his way past "Il Dottore" as the two made their way to the chequered flag, giving Rossi his fourth victory of the season.

"It was a good race and I had good fun after three races with no fun at all," Pedrosa recounted. "We worked very hard to improve our bike for the last part of the race and this time we could keep the lap time until the end. I tried to re-pass but he was very fast on the last lap. It was a difficult moment but I enjoyed it."

Stoner, then, was third, 1.302 seconds behind Pedrosa. Hayden, in the second Repsol Honda, was unable to capitalize on his pole position, and finished in fourth, some 10 seconds behind Stoner. Marco Melandri rode his Gresini Honda to a fifth-place finish, 4.5 seconds behind Hayden, and was closely followed by John Hopkins (Rizla Suzuki).

Carlos Checa (LCR Honda), Toni Elias (Gresini Honda), Loris Capirossi (Marlboro Ducati) and Colin Edwards (FIAT Yamada) made up the rest of the top ten.

With but four races remaining in the 2007 season, Stoner now takes a 76-point lead into next week's Japanese Grand Prix. The Australian can clinch his first MotoGP title by simply finishing ahead of Rossi on the weekend.

This morning Sylvain Guintoli was named as one of the riders for Parmac d'Antin next season. The Frenchman will pilot one of the Ducati Desmosedici GP8 in 2008.

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Nicky Hayden , Carlos Checa , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Colin McRae , Colin Edwards , John Hopkins , Marco Melandri , Toni Elias , Sylvain Guintoli , Dani Pedrosa