Valentino Rossi has won a lot of Grand Prix, but never here in the US of A. That all changed on Sunday in one of the best races of the season. It was an epic battle but The Doctor bested Casey Stoner, scoring his first career USGP win. The final podium position was snatched up by Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen.
The beginning of the 32-lap race did little to dissuade the belief that Stoner would be denied the win, the Aussie having dominated practice and qualifying – not to mention last year’s USGP. Stoner jumped off the line to snare the holeshot, with Rossi sneaking ahead of two-time USGP winner Nicky Hayden in the first corner. Lap 1 was a frantic endeavor as riders jockeyed for position, including the front-running duo, with Rossi sliding past his championship rival in the famed corkscrew.
Suzuki’s Vermeulen was another who managed to move up on Lap 1, from eighth to fifth, running behind Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso. Another rider making room for Chris V was Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, who suffered yet another violent highside in his 2008 season.
On Lap 3 the action up front ratcheted up further, as the two leaders ran side by side at multiple places. The close quarters racing got almost too close in the corkscrew, as after a couple lead changes Rossi ran briefly into the gravel down the steep vertical drop. Then it was side by side down the straight, with Stoner’s Ducati getting the upper hand. But Stoner’s advantage was short-lived, as Rossi once again brushed back into the lead.
Stoner continued to haunt the back wheel of Rossi, and once more the reigning champ got around Rossi on the straight. But Stoner’s extra push on the straight caused him to run wide on following corner giving the front spot back to The Doctor.
As the points leaders continued their thrilling duel, Stoner repeatedly attempting to pass on the straight, Vermeulen worked past Dovizioso and Hayden to secure third. By the halfway mark, the Rizla Suzuki ace was running a very lonely third, over ten seconds behind the front-runners and seven seconds ahead of Hayden in fourth.
Almost forgotten with the Italian and Aussie up front, American wild card entries Ben Spies (Suzuki) and Jamie Hacking (Kawasaki) were locked in a duel of their own over ninth-place – the elder Hacking pushing his younger friend and fellow AMA Superbike competitor.
The turning point for Stoner came with an off-track run-off. The Aussie was able to remount and finish second.
With nine laps to go, again Stoner challenged Rossi, but The Doctor refused to budge. The result was yet more side-by-side racing, but Stoner’s aggressive maneuvering resulted in a trackside run-off at Turn 11 – the reigning champ tucking the front end and forced to pick up his bike in the gravel. Stoner got back on the track, with eight laps to go and Rossi 16 seconds ahead.
Five laps remaining saw Rossi in firm command, with his first USGP in the bag. Stoner’s costly mistake killed his chances for a win but he was still all alone in second, with Vermeulen all by himself in third. The nearest battle up front was for fourth, with Hayden struggling to take the spot from Dovizioso (his expected replacement on the factory Honda).
Dropping down the corkscrew for the final time in 2008, Rossi rocketed past the finish line with a stand-up wheelie – The Doctor celebrating his first ever USGP victory. Taking his victory lap, Rossi made a pit stop at the corkscrew, getting down on his hands and knees to kiss the ground where he passed for the lead and almost kissed another USGP good-bye.
Rossi plants a wet one on the corkscrew, where he made a pass for the lead and later ran off-track – Laguna Seca
Stoner took second, followed by Vermeulen, with Dovizioso besting Hayden over fourth. Running a strong race was LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet in sixth, the Frenchman chased by Alice Ducati’s Toni Elias in seventh.
American Ben Spies was an impressive top-10 rider in eighth, the Texan leading Tech 3 Yamaha’s James Toseland and Gresini Honda’s Shinya Nakano, who rounded out the top 10.
Other notable finishes include the 11th-place result of Kawasaki’s Jamie Hacking, who beat six GP regulars, including Colin Edwards – the Texas Tornado having a dismal outing in 14th.
The first USGP now in the books, Rossi has not only regained the momentum from Stoner’s recent string of GP wins, The Doctor also owns an imposing 25-point lead over his rival in the championship. Dani Pedrosa, who opted to sit out the USGP due to injury, is in turn 16 points down on Stoner.
The MotoGP paddock now gets a well deserved month-long break before hopping across the Atlantic for the Brno circuit in August.
MotoGP Laguna Seca USGP Results:
1. Rossi (Yamaha)
2. Stoner (Ducati)
3. Vermeulen (Suzuki)
4. Dovizioso (Honda)
5. Hayden (Honda)
6. De Puniet (Honda)
7. Elias (Ducati)
8. Spies (Suzuki)
9. Toseland (Yamaha)
10. Nakano (Honda)
11. Hacking (Kawasaki)
12. Guintoli (Ducati)
13. De Angelis (Honda)
14. Edwards (Yamaha)
15. Capirossi (Suzuki)
16. Melandri (Ducati)
17. West (Kawasaki)
DNF Lorenzo (Yamaha)