MotoGP 800cc Round 1 – Ducati draws first blood

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Casey Stoner

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March 10, 2007 Ducati drew first blood in the 2007 version of MotoGP with 800cc engines at the first round of the 18-race series in Qatar today. Australian 21 year-old rising star Casey Stoner made a perfect start with the Ducati Marlboro Team, riding to a magnificent victory aboard his Desmosedici GP7. Stoner rode a perfectly judged race, leading the first lap and then battling with former World Champion Valentino Rossi throughout. The pair swapped positions several times, separated by just a few tenths for most of the 22 laps, Stoner crossing the finish line 2.8 seconds ahead after setting a new track record on the final lap. One of the highlights of the race was the speed of the four Ducati-engined machines in the field, sometimes with a margin of 20 km/h over the fastest of the others at the end of the kilometre-long Qatar front straight. Rossi’s Fiat Yamaha M1 was a clear second and Dani Pedrosa’s Repsol Honda RC212V was a narrow third ahead of the Rizla Suzuki of John Hopkins, indicating at least four different makes of machinery will be capable of winning a race this season.

Ducati’s President and CEO, Federico Minoli was understandably ecstatic. "This is an extraordinary day,’ he said. “We've won the first 800 race, just like we won the last 990 race. Ducati is enjoying a great start to the year, both in racing and commercially, because our new 1098 is going so well. The win is a testimony to Ducati, it shows the strength of our brand and technology. We have created something that's good for us, for motorcycling and for Italy.

“Our technology is second to none, it's entirely developed in Bologna by a group of dedicated engineers and shows the world that when Italians focus on something they can do it very well. Stoner was amazing, he's so young and he won so well, he didn't dare too much, he knew he had more speed on the straight and he rode a very intelligent race.

“We are extremely satisfied with today, the engine was beyond our expectations, the desmodromic system works so well. The tyres were also very good, so our thanks to Bridgestone, to our other technical partner Shell Advance and all our sponsors."

For the newly married 21 year-old first time Ducati works rider, race winner, and World Championship leader Casey Stoner, the outlook is obviously incredibly bright. After winning countless Australian titles as a youngster, Stoner’s parents “bet the farm” on their son by selling up and moving to the United Kingdom when he was 14 years of age. Though Stoner had won all his titles on dirt bikes, he was not legally old enough to race a roadracing bike in Australia and Casey always wanted to race on the tarmac. Given that Casey had been competitive in everything he’d attempted and usually won the title’s he sought, the family backed his remarkable abilities to ride a motorcycle. In doing so, they gave up a lot so their boy could chase his ambition - from an early age Casey’s focus had been solely on winning the World motoGP Championship - the title he now has a realistic chance of winning.

His first races on a roadracer were encouraging – we won close to every race he contested in the British 125 championships in 2001 between trips to Spain for the Spanish Championships where he was fast-tracked through the Movistar Alberto Puig school, and by the end of that year he did selected events in the 125 class on the World 125 championships.

His initial years in 125 and 250 saw him crash a lot – when he was upright he was as fast as anyone, but even though he crashed too much, experienced eyes knew he had the outright speed and talent that could be honed into a championship contender.

Even last year, his first in MotoGP, he crashed too frequently but his often blinding speed was recognised by Ducati and his first ride as a full factory rider began in Qatar.

Stoner must now be regarded as a genuine contender for the title, if not for his speed, then for the weight of money that has followed his win on world betting markets. Bookmakers still favour Rossi to regain his title, but Stoner’s odds for the title tumbled from 20/1 before the race to 5/1 in several books afterwards. Dani Pedrosa is seen as the only other viable winner at 4/1 – all others including 2006 World Champ Nicky Hayden are at long odds.

Casey’s web site contains more detail of his career.

"We couldn't ask for much more,” said Stoner after the race. “It was my first time racing with Ducati and Bridgestone, a perfect start. I couldn't be happier with the weekend, the team worked perfectly and the bike and tyres were perfect in the race. We had a bit of a speed advantage and though we had some dramas in other parts of the track I played to the strengths of the bike and was able to do some pretty fast lap times. Valentino and I had a good battle, it was nice riding up front again. When he came by later on I decided to see how much further the bike can go and I was able to break a bit of an advantage. On the last lap I didn't realise I had a gap and rode the fastest lap, which shows how well the Bridgestones worked. I'm really happy with the way things are going and think we'll get stronger and stronger, but we'll have to see how the season pans out. I'm leading the championship which feels a little strange but it's only the first race of a very, very long year."

Rossi was magnanimous in defeat, which was a comfortable 2.838 seconds at the flag. “It was a great race today and a good battle, although of course we would have preferred to start the season with a win!

“After the practice this morning we were a little bit scared because we had some problems with the tyre, but we understood what to do and I definitely made the right tyre choice with Michelin, so I am happy for that. I got a great start and my M1 worked very well, I could ride it how I wanted on the limit and keep pushing.

“I wanted to push Casey and try to take the fight to him more, but in fact he was perfect today. He didn’t make a single mistake as far as I could see and he rode very well; he deserved to win so congratulations to him. I could see that he was faster on the straight and so I knew that if I got in front I was going to need to make a gap from him, but in fact he was too strong!

“In the last few laps we were getting faster and faster and I thought I still had a chance, but then he kept on going and my tyre started to slide a little bit so I wasn’t able to stay with him to the finish.

“Anyway, we only waved the white flag right at the end so I am happy about this!

“Of course it’s not perfect but my team have worked very hard and it’s much better to have 20 points like this than two like last year! Now we need to find a little bit more horsepower, but Yamaha is working very hard and I am confident that we will continue to improve.”

The race

Under sunny skies with an ambient temperature of 28 degrees and the track at 47 degrees the grid assembled for the first contest of an 18-race season. With new fuel regulations in place for 2007 – a 21-litre capacity reduced by one litre from 2006 – there were suggestions that some machines might be marginal on their ability to complete the race distance: 22 laps of this 5.4km circuit.

Rossi roared into the lead at turn one, but Stoner soon relieved the Italian of top spot with Pedrosa a close third on this opening lap. Stoner soon proved his intent setting an early fastest lap on the second tour with Toni Elias (Gresini Honda RC212V) and Marco Melandri (Gresini Honda RC212V) fourth and fifth.

But Rossi was never content to merely follow the 21-year-old race leader and the Italian then set a fastest lap on lap three as he bested the pace of the Aussie tyro. The pair sized each other up with a series of passes and re-passes at the front while Suzuki runner John Hopkins took a turn at holding the fastest lap with a 1m 57.278s effort. This record would be reduced considerably as the race unfolded.

On lap five Rossi edged past Stoner, but on the main straight Stoner demonstrated the outright power and pace of the red machine by simply leaving the Yamaha in his wake into turn one where Rossi desperately closed up under braking. The pattern was set for the race.

Stoner’s Ducati team-mate Capirossi set a fastest lap on lap six before crashing out of the race on lap eight at turn seven. Then it was Stoner’s turn to show the way as he led Rossi, Dani and fourth-placed Hopkins. This foursome had by now left Melandri, Colin Edwards (Yamaha) and Elias way out of contention.

Pedrosa, in third, wasn’t looking likely to make any inroads into the leading duo. He was fastest man in the morning warm-up despite a crash, but this honour was meaningless as the leaders set a pace that no one else could match.

Hopkins temporarily moved past Pedrosa at mid-race distance but the American couldn’t hold the place and the pair would finish with Pedrosa ahead as the leaders approached the final laps with a the crowd wondering if Rossi had anything left to offer by way of a challenge.

Stoner’s fastest lap of 1m 56.708s on lap 16 was quick enough, but didn’t show the pace he had left to burn in the closing laps. As Rossi moved into the lead at turn nine on the next lap, sliding neatly underneath the Ducati, Stoner simply blitzed him on the straight to lead again.

Rossi had another look at turn nine again but no matter how agile his machine was on the infield, he had no answer to the 20km/h top speed advantage enjoyed by the Ducati. Stoner won by 2.83 seconds at the flag. And set a fastest lap and race record of 1m 56.528s on that final blistering lap. Pedrosa in third was 8.5 seconds away from Stoner – too far away for consolation.

Pedrosa said, “I’m happy with the result today and to start the season with a third place is pretty useful. We had a fair few problems this weekend, so to finish on the podium is good for us. I made a great start, which I was happy with because my practice starts this weekend weren’t as good as this. In the race I was trying to ride at the maximum and then I made a mistake in the last corner and lost the slipstream to the riders in front. The next race is very important and Jerez is a good track, so I hope we can move on from the good result today and do great job there.”

Rizla Suzuki MotoGP racer John Hopkins battled to a superb fourth place, missing out on a place on the podium by only half a second.

Anglo-American Hopkins has been suffering all weekend with the after-effects of a heavy crash at Qatar last month, but he overcame the pain to equal his best-ever MotoGP result. He got off to a good start and consolidated his sixth place starting position in the early laps. Hopkins then moved up the field to third place at one point – setting one of the fastest laps of the race in the process – where he then became involved in a race long battle with Dani Pedrosa. Although Hopkins tried to make an overtaking manoeuvre on the last lap, he was unable to get past Pedrosa and had to settle for fourth.

Hopkins said : “I am really happy with the way the race went after coming to this event in quite a bit of pain. I was never sure how I’d ride or even if I’d ride! I got off to a good start but lost a couple of places on the first few laps, I soon got them back and from there on I just tried to keep myself up towards the front.

“It was important not to lose any positions, but unfortunately Rossi and Stoner had a great pace and it was difficult to keep up with them. I stayed with Pedrosa and pushed him all the way till the end. I tried to get past him on the last lap but he’s so little he gets out of the corners so quick that I just couldn’t get past him! I’ve got to say thanks to the Team Physio Dean Miller and my trainer Johnny Louch for getting me fit enough to race here this weekend. It was also great to have my Mum here and my girlfriend Ashleigh, as they both helped me cope with the injury well. I am now ready to go to Jerez and hope to take that step up onto the podium!”

Melandri in fifth said, “I tried to hang on to fourth place because I felt confident but we were losing time in the straight and I had to brake really late to make up time. That put a lot of stress on the front tyre and forced me to slow down. In the second half of the race when the fuel load started to lighten the bike was more balanced and I was able to push again. The race was tough and the pace was really high. We still have a lot of work to do – the bike is new and we need to develop it.”

Rossi’s Yamaha Fiat teammate Colin Edwards had been consistently the fastest in practice but had a bad race, finishing a distant sixth from the winner ( +18.647 seconds). “I spun off the line on the dirty part of the track and so my start wasn’t great, which was annoying. I had a bit of a feeling just before we went out that we would be slower in the first few laps as the tyre was going to take time to heat up and unfortunately that was the case; I just couldn’t push hard enough in those vital first few laps. Anyway after that I was holding pace okay and thought I could stay with the top group but then I had a near crash on lap seven or eight coming into turn seven, to the extent when I was holding the bike up on my knee and elbow! I somehow figured out how to get it back up after 30 metres but we lost quite a bit of time. From then on my rhythm was okay and honestly the race as a whole wasn’t so bad, but the tyre felt a bit greasy and I was lacking some front grip, which was strange after it had been perfect all weekend. We definitely need more power – that was obvious today, so that’s priority number one for Yamaha I guess! Anyway, we’ve learnt a lot this weekend so let’s go forward from here.”

Chris Vermeulen’s seventh place on the Rizla Suzuki gives Suzuki its best team result yet and Team Manager Paul Denning had his best press conference in ages. “It has been a great day’s work by the Team, by Suzuki and by Bridgestone. John did everything – and more – that we wanted of him and I am sure he would have loved to have been on that podium. He had a good go on the last lap, but it wasn’t going to happen without a massive risk and it was good to see him show maturity and bring the bike and himself home safely.

“Chris has had a difficult weekend but showed what an asset he is by bringing the bike from 16th on the first lap to a very creditable seventh. That result will give him great confidence for the next few races and when he improves on his qualifying positions I am sure he will be challenging right up there.

“I guess today’s result and the potential we have shown demonstrates how far we have come since the race here last year. It’s a solid start to this season and we are really looking forward to getting to Jerez and carrying on with the good work.”

Chris Vermeulen had an equally impressive race finishing in seventh after starting back on the fifth row in 13th place. He got relegated back to 16th on the first lap, but fought his way up the field to record valuable points for himself and the Team.

“It was a difficult race starting so far back and I ran wide on the first turn and lost some more places,” said Vermeulen. “I started to get through the field even though it’s not easy to pass on this track. I had a lot of work to do and was passing people quite hard and pushing the front tyre, which might have used the tyre up a bit too much early on, but I had to get past! In the end I was trying to catch some quick guys and just couldn’t get up to them. I ended up seventh which was obviously a lot better than last year, but we still have a lot to do. The plan is now to go to Jerez and win, but irrespective if we can go there and improve on this position it will be a good result.”

Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V) finished a distant eighth. The reigning World Champion said, “I tried to learn as much as I could in the race. I really felt like I rode my hardest and had some good dices with a few of the guys – I just about caught Vermeulen on the last lap and I got faster as the race went on. My last two laps were my fastest laps of the race and that’s the positive thing. It’s been a tough weekend but I’m not going to whine and make a bunch of excuses. I qualified ninth and finished eight and, compared to the top boys, we we’ve just been off the pace for the whole weekend.”

Shinya Nakano (Konica Minolta Honda RC212V) was tenth and said, “Well I at least did what I said I would do and crossed the line to get some points, which is so important in such a long season. My start was not so good, but I soon got into a good rhythm. I benefited from a number of people crashing out and soon spent most of the race battling with Nicky Hayden and Chris Vermeulen. I so wanted to catch and pass both of these riders but unfortunately I didn’t have the lap times to do it.”

Olivier Jacque was the sole Kawasaki survivor in Qatar, bringing his Ninja ZX-RR home in twelfth place after his young teammate, Randy de Puniet, crashed out of contention after just seven laps. Jacque was forced to change his riding style after one-third distance, after the hard compound rear tyre he opted to use in the race started to slide under acceleration. Despite the lack of traction, the 33-year-old Kawasaki pilot maintained a consistent pace to close onto the back of Kenny Roberts and Toni Elias at the start of the final lap.

Jacque waited until the final corner to slingshot past the two Honda powered machines to steal a hard fought twelfth place finish at the line, and to claim Kawasaki's first championship points of the new season.

Olivier Jacque: "Considering how hard the practice sessions were, I was not expecting to finish like this. Twelfth position is not where I want to be, but the rhythm and the fight have been satisfying. Following my team’s advice, I took it easy at the beginning looking for my pace. I felt good and had a nice fight with Elias and Roberts. On the last lap I was behind Elias and he surprised me, making me go wide. Roberts overtook me but at the last turn I braked later than them and exited the corner faster, allowing me to finish in front. It was great to come back to racing and understand the bike better."

Elias wandered off track on lap 17 while ninth and returned to the tarmac to finish 14th. He said, “I’m disappointed with this result because I was expecting something much better. We worked well and I got a good start but lap after lap I started to suffer. We need more consistency and have to work hard to find a good setting over race distance.”

Kenny Roberts (Roberts KR212V) was deeply unhappy about his 13th place and said, “I honestly don't have anything positive to say about this race. We just need to continue making progress at Jerez.”

Carlos Checa (LCR Honda RC212V) crashed out on lap nine. The veteran Spaniard said, “It is a great shame to crash in the first race after all the hard work by the team and. I had just passed Nicky Hayden and was settling into a good rhythm but I had too much brake and lean angle, and lost the front-end. I felt like I had the pace for some good points today but now it’s done, I must look forward to next race at Jerez and fix this mistake.”

Loris Capriossi, DNF: "It's a real shame because I got a great start but someone touched me in the first turn and I lost a few places. After that I was recovering, pushing hard, then I lost the front in the last corner. It's a pity because I could have got a good result, as Casey proved our whole package is strong, and it's good that a Ducati won. I always said that Casey is a great talent, a good guy, and he deserved to win."

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