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Fiat Yamaha's Valentino Rossi tore up the script at Laguna Seca this evening in the thrilling US MotoGP, engaging Ducati's Casey Stoner in 25 laps of unarmed combat – and took his maiden win at the California track.
In what is the best MotoGP race for some years, Rossi barged his way past Stoner at the top of the Corkscrew on lap one, lit the blue touch paper but forgot to stand well back.
The pair swapped places and paint, with both riders off the track at the Corkscrew again on lap three. Rossi went into the dirt as he flipped from left to right and recovered but Stoner had to run wide and lose ground.
Time and again, Stoner tried to go past over the start/finish line but Rossi kept it tight, making it impossible for Stoner to get in front on the brakes. After seven laps, the pair were already eight seconds in front of Repsol Honda's Nicky Hayden.
With 24 laps to go, Stoner had a massive moment at the bottom of the Corkscrew trying to get enough drive to set up a move off the last turn (which is three corners laters). Four laps later, Stoner was still riding pillion with the Italian. By this time, they were 11 seconds in front of Chris Vermeulen, who had passed Hayden.
One more lap passed and Stoner again tried a move round the outside as the pair went over the start/finish straight. Rossi anticipated it and moved over a fraction to the right, forcing Stoner to run wide on the brakes into turn two and lose half a second.
It took Stoner only two laps to get right back on Rossi's rear Bridgestone and with 12 laps to go, they were 22 seconds up the road from Vermeulen.
With nine laps to go, Stoner was again lining up Rossi to get drive out of the last corner, but he ran into the turn too hot, had to avoid the back of the Fiat Yamaha and ended up running into the gravel and toppling over. It was a testament to Stoner's pace that he still managed a 1'24 lap even though he had crashed.
By this time, Rossi was 16 seconds up the road and he eventually crossed the finish line 13 seconds ahead.
Britain's James Toseland ended the race in ninth after running as high as sixth for most of the race. Rossi's team-mate Jorge Lorenzo had a massive high-side on the first lap.
Rossi said: "For me it has been fantastic. It´s the first time that I´ve been able to win here, and it was an unbelievable race. The crew made some modifications and I was able to take a much better pace. I had a good start, then a great battle with Casey, which was a lot of fun. It´s an important victory –very emotional- and now in the summer break we will relax, because the championship is so long."
Stoner said: "The mistake I made past halfway was mine; I ran a little wide and lost the front on the turn as I tried to get back on track. It was race over after that. I enjoyed a lot of the race, but I felt that some of the passes a bit too much for me. I´ve been racing for a lot of years and have come through a lot of different ranks, and for me just a couple of passes were a little too much. I would have liked to have had a little bit of a cleaner battle, but anyway we are happy with the result. We´re still at the front of the championship and not too far off."
1. Valentino Rossi ITA Fiat Yamaha Team (B) 44min 4.311 secs
2. Casey Stoner AUS Ducati Marlboro Team (B) 44min 17.312 secs
3. Chris Vermeulen AUS Rizla Suzuki MotoGP (B) 44min 30.920 secs
4. Andrea Dovizioso ITA JiR Team Scot MotoGP (M) 44min 39.212 secs
5. Nicky Hayden USA Repsol Honda Team (M) 44min 39.974 secs
6. Randy de Puniet FRA LCR Honda MotoGP (M) 44min 41.979 secs
7. Toni Elias SPA Alice Team (B) 44min 45.940 secs
8. Ben Spies USA Rizla Suzuki (B) 44min 46.238 secs
9. James Toseland GBR Tech 3 Yamaha (M) 44min 47.330 secs
10. Shinya Nakano JPN San Carlo Honda Gresini (B) 44min 48.702 secs
11. Jamie Hacking USA Kawasaki Racing Team (B) 44min 50.569 secs
12. Sylvain Guintoli FRA Alice Team (B) 44min 59.584 secs
13. Alex de Angelis RSM San Carlo Honda Gresini (B) 44min 59.832 secs
14. Colin Edwards USA Tech 3 Yamaha (M) 45min 6.691 secs
15. Loris Capirossi ITA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP (B) 45min 12.518 secs
16. Marco Melandri ITA Ducati Marlboro Team (B) 45min 15.273 secs
17. Anthony West AUS Kawasaki Racing Team (B) 44min 34.872 secs

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