Casey Stoner returned to winning ways in emphatic fashion in yesterday’s French MotoGP race as a dominant performance saw him halve Jorge Lorenzo’s world championship lead. Stoner went into the 28-lap race with a 24-point disadvantage on the Spaniard but leaves France just 12 points off the series lead following a crushing victory. Once the 2007 world champion had fought his way by Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa on the second lap, Stoner barely put a foot wrong to end a weekend he dominated in impressive fashion.
The only real concern for the former factory Ducati rider was an overheating clutch on the startline and he said: “People were still on the grid and started to get a little hot. I couldn’t get it into neutral and when I went to start the race it was already too hot and I made a terrible start. I was pretty aggressive in the first couple of turns and got most of my positions back and was following Dani. He was riding pretty well but very conservative on the left side with the cold tire. My tire felt like it wasn’t too bad and he was a little slower than me mid-turn. I really wanted to get by but he was always stopping the bike in the middle of the corner. Once I got by Dani I wanted to pull a gap but he immediately matched whatever pace I did, so every time I went a bit faster he’d do the same. He kept matching my pace and I got to a pace and thought ‘this is more than I want to push with a full fuel tank.’ But I stayed at that pace for a few laps and Dani kept staying there. I started to take a bit of an advantage and from that moment the race became a lot easier and I could take some more advantage without pushing so hard. It was a fantastic weekend all round. We more or less came here with the same set-up as Portugal and just made a few little changes. We got the closest to the perfect set-up and this is what allowed us to win the race.”
Yamaha riders posed little threat to Stoner, with Lorenzo falling back to fourth place and Spies losing fifth just before the finish.
Stoner said he was surprised that he had not come under more of a threat from Jorge Lorenzo and factory Yamaha YZR-M1. Yamaha was unbeaten at the famous Bugatti circuit for the last three years but Lorenzo was blown away by Stoner all weekend and he added: “They say they have improvements from last year but I don’t think they really improved from the lap times of last year, so there is something strange there. It’s not that their bike went backwards and others forwards, they have actually gone slower at some tracks. I have no doubt that Jorge is fast enough to win races. You don’t need all the other Yamahas up front to say it’s a good bike, you only need one rider to do this and Jorge is strong enough. I have no doubt at the next races he’ll be strong, this was just a strange weekend for him.”
The Australian had made a point of mentioning the Yamaha Le Mans retrograde throughout the weekend, saying after a dominating pole position performance in qualifying: “It has been a great weekend for Honda and it has been really impressive. This has been known to be a Yamaha circuit in the past and the Yamahas have always been very strong here with every rider on board. It is surprising that they seem to be struggling and I don’t think it is that we’ve improved a lot. Looking at the lap times they seem to be struggling to reach the times they were doing last year. It is a strange case.”
Stoner Fined After De Puniet Punch
Stoner’s dominance in the Sunday GP was tempered by being hit with a 5000 Euro fine after he punched French rider Randy de Puniet following an incident in the MotoGP Warm-up session at Le Mans. Stoner was on a fast lap when he had to slow dramatically having encountered de Puniet’s Ducati GP11 on the approach to the second chicane.
TV replays clearly showed de Puniet looking back as he saw Stoner approaching at full speed, but he claimed he was adjusting his front brake and had not intentionally impeded the 2007 world champion. Stoner was forced to brake hard and as he drew alongside de Puniet, he punched the Pramac Ducati rider just below the left shoulder.
Both were summoned for a meeting with Race Direction and Stoner was booed by French fans as he walked down pitlane with HRC boss Livio Suppo. Former LCR Honda rider De Puniet escaped punishment, but he was understood to be against the fine imposed on Stoner.
Stoner Denies Baulking Rossi at Estoril Test
Entering Le Mans, Stoner had to deal with an earlier drama regarding Valentino Rossi. Stoner denied accusations from Rossi that he deliberately baulked the factory Ducati rider during the recent MotoGP test at the Estoril circuit. Rossi was quoted in the Italian press saying that he felt 2007 world champion Stoner had obstructed him during the post-Estoril GP test in Portugal. But Repsol Honda rider Stoner seemed genuinely shocked on Thursday in Le Mans when he was told about Rossi’s comments.
Stoner dismissed the suggestion of an on-track altercation and rubbished suggestions that he’d deliberately blocked Rossi’s line at Estoril’s Turn 6. Stoner said he had simply made an error in the braking zone and had done nothing to impede Rossi’s line.
Stoner denied any intentional blocking of Rossi at Estoril, attributing the incident to rider error.
“I wanted to see what the Ducati was capable of but I missed my braking marker,” said Stoner. “I didn’t want to overtake him but I ran a bit wide and I came past too quickly. I had to go inside and then I ran wide to let him pass. That’s it and then he started to think that I did it on purpose, so for me it is no problem. Maybe I could have made the corner but I didn’t want to get in the way of Valentino, so I went wide. Valentino slowed up the lap and was looking at me saying ‘what I did’. But for me it was just an accidental overtake and I ran wide. It was a small mistake from me.”
Rossi himself was reluctant to divulge any additional thoughts on the matter when he was quizzed during the pre-event press conference ahead of this weekend’s French Grand Prix in Le Mans. He avoided fanning the flames of his current spat with Stoner by declaring: “In reality nothing special, nothing, no problem. Nothing happened.”
The current bad blood between Rossi and Stoner stems from the Spanish Grand Prix earlier this season. The pair were dicing for the podium in a rain-hit Jerez clash when Stoner was wiped out by Rossi after the Italian made a hash of an overtaking move at the first corner on Lap 8.
The incident sparked the famous ‘ambition outweighed your talent’ quote from Stoner when Rossi went to apologize in the Repsol Honda garage immediately after the dramatic race.
And they exchanged verbal blows again prior to the Estoril race after Stoner was upset at Rossi’s desire to follow him in practice.
Stoner Excited by 2012 Honda Debut
On the topic of MotoGP’s return to 1000cc, Stoner says he’s keen to gauge the performance of Honda’s new 1000cc prototype MotoGP he will debut in Jerez after Le Mans. The Aussie will complete a one-day test on the RC212V 800cc replacement as Honda begins serious testing of the bike it will campaign in 2012. Stoner’s Spanish teammate Dani Pedrosa, was also expected to get one-day on the new bike at the Jerez track in Spain. No official word on who, if anyone, will fill Pedrosa’s seat time (we’re guessing it’s not Simoncelli!).
Ducati has already stolen a march on its rivals having had Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden assess the new GP12 machine in Jerez last month. Yamaha will only give its 2012 bike to Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies to evaluate for the first time during a one-day test session scheduled to take place immediately after the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello on July 4.
When asked how much he was looking forward to his first ride on the new machine from HRC, Stoner said: “I’m not that happy about testing a 1000 during a season in which we’re still racing 800s. I think it would be better to wait until the end of the season. But you can’t just develop a bike in a couple of months and have it out on track. They need a bit more time than that. It is kind of exciting to get on the 1000 but you might not want to get back on the 800! It is going to be fun I’m sure but I’m looking forward more to next year to ride the bike.”