In a thrilling display of...
In a thrilling display of determination (or recklessness, depending on your rider preference), Rossi completes a pass on Stoner in the Corkscrew by taking to the dirt on the exit of the turn. This was just part of the all-out battle the two engaged in at Laguna.
Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca has been the site of some epic battles over the past few decades, but there's no doubt that the recent MotoGP race this past July will go down in the history books as one of the best ever. And it only further cemented Valentino Rossi's reputation as one of the greatest racers of all time.
In a race that appeared for all intents and purposes beforehand to be another Stoner runaway (he continually set a new lap record in each of the practice sessions-on race tires-and then absolutely obliterated his 2007 qualifying pole time by more than 1.5 seconds in grabbing his fifth consecutive pole position of the year, almost a half second quicker than the next rider), Rossi simply demonstrated that heart can still make up for a lack of machine performance in MotoGP, at least on a track that places more emphasis on the rider. Although Stoner grabbed the holeshot, Rossi quickly made his way past by turn five, and from then on frustrated Stoner by quickly repassing the reigning World Champion every time he managed to use his Ducati Desmosedici GP08's superior speed to pass the Italian on a straight. Rossi's strategy was clear: to throw off Stoner's rhythm by forcing him to ride the Italian's race and necessitate passes around the outside, not an easy task at a twisty track like Laguna. Such was Rossi's determination that his lap times during the race were over a half-second quicker than his qualifying time.
This cat-and-mouse game continued to build to what was appearing to be a final-lap climax. But with seven laps remaining, Stoner made a mistake braking for the final turn leading onto the front straight, and ran off the track, tipping over in the gravel and handing the win to Rossi. Incredibly, Stoner managed to pick the Ducati up and not lose second place.
Stoner's frustration was evident after the race, as he refused to shake Rossi's hand in the parc ferme, and launched a verbal attack on what he felt was overly aggressive riding by the Italian. "Today, I've lost quite a lot of respect [for Rossi]," remarked Stoner, "I knew he was going to come barreling up the inside and wipe us both out. We're here to try and score points, not to end [up on the ground]." Rossi was nonchalant. "After a battle like this, also with all the pressure and the emotion of the race, is quite normal," said Rossi, "and for sure, the overtaking-we make a lot of overtaking, quite aggressive, but we never touch each other. So anyway, I enjoy the battle."
Lost in the excitement and controversy of the Rossi/Stoner battle was the fine rides put in by wild card/substitute riders Ben Spies and Jamie Hacking, and the disappointment suffered by Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards at their problems caused by Michelin's poor judgment in the tires brought to the Laguna Seca round.
After finishing 14th in a hasty introduction to MotoGP at Donington, Spies finished a very impressive eighth at Laguna, and he also rode the AMA Superbike event an hour after the MotoGP race, finishing second to Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Mat Mladin. Hacking was called up to replace the injured John Hopkins on the Monster Kawasaki MotoGP squad, and finished a notable 11th in his first-ever MotoGP race; like Spies, he also did double-duty by finishing fourth in the AMA Superbike race afterward.
By contrast, Hayden and Edwards had homecoming weekends they'd rather forget. Fearing the oppressive heat and tire-shredding new tarmac from the 2007 Laguna Seca event, Michelin only brought hard compound tires to this year's event. Unfortunately, the temperatures were much cooler and the year-old pavement much easier on tires, and Hayden and Edwards were never able to get their tires to work. Hayden finished a frustrated fifth, while Edwards came home in an even more disappointed 14th place. -K.K.
Stoner suffered this embarrassing...
Stoner suffered this embarrassing tipover in the gravel after overshooting turn 12, handing the victory to Rossi. Stoner still managed to pick the bike up and finish second.
Nicky Hayden suffered the...
Nicky Hayden suffered the same tire problems as Edwards, although he was able to salvage a fifth place finish.
Spies (11) finished an impressive...
Spies (11) finished an impressive eighth in only his second appearance on the Rizla Suzuki GSV-R800. Edwards (behind Spies) suffered major tire problems and dropped back to 14th.