Fiat Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo took a stunning second win of the season in Le Mans today, negotiating varying track conditions and a change of bikes to lead from the first lap to the flag and take the championship lead. It was a doom-laden day for his team-mate Valentino Rossi however as the world champion slid off early on and then had a ride-through penalty to compound his misfortune.
With the track still wet from a rainy morning all riders started the race on rain tyres, with the mechanics readying the dry bikes in pit lane in anticipation of an early change as the track dried out. Lorenzo, starting from second, slipped a place at the start but had passed both Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa by the end of the first lap to take the lead. By lap five a dry line had begun to appear and a few riders chose to make early pit stops to change bikes. The 22-year-old Spaniard however was feeling comfortable and had an excellent pace on his Bridgestone wets and so he stayed out, constantly stretching his lead. In the end he was the last of the front-runners to pit, a gamble which paid off brilliantly as he was by then nearly 34 seconds clear and was able to rejoin the race in the lead on lap 13. Once he had bit of heat in his slick tyres the youngster put his head down and kept his nerve for the remaining 15 laps and he eventually took the chequered flag an impressive 17.710 seconds clear of second-placed Marco Melandri.
It was a day of stark contrasts on the opposite side of the garage, with Rossi forced to make an incredible four visits to pit lane. The Italian was in second behind his team-mate when he elected for an early bike change, coming in to swap onto his second M1 on dry Bridgestones after just five laps. The change went smoothly but the track was still damp in places and he went down on the next lap whilst trying to warm his tyres up. He returned to the pits next time around to swap back onto his other bike, with the rules stipulating that he had to keep one wet tyre with the second bike change, but a problem with his pit-limiter meant he was penalised for speeding on exit and forced to return once again two laps later to perform a ride-through penalty. His final visit to the garage came on lap 11 when he changed once again onto a fully-dry machine, but by then he was some two laps adrift and he finished in 16th.
Lorenzo’s 25-point haul takes him into the lead by one point and he now has 66 points to Rossi’s 65. Stoner has the same points as Rossi but lies third as the Italian has more second places, and Pedrosa follow in the standings. With just nine points separating the top four the next round in Mugello is sure to be a thrilling spectacle.
1st – Jorge Lorenzo Speaks…
"Never in all my dreams did I imagine this situation today – winning the race and leading the championship. This season I have been much more calm and careful and so I was really upset after the crash in Jerez because I didn’t expect it! Today has made up for that though. I had a very good pace with both types of tyre and the strategy of our team worked perfectly. I felt happy to stay out on the wet tyres for such a long time and in the end I think we changed at exactly the right time for our race; there was some luck on our side but we were also strong, calm and careful and this paid off. It was the first time in my life that I’ve had to change bikes during the race and I was very nervous, but it went smoothly and I was able to rejoin in the lead. I’m sorry for Valentino because it was bad luck to crash, but now we are nearly on the same points and it seems like the championship is starting again! I want to thank my team because they were very clever today, I’m so happy to be here and to have won a third MotoGP race."
16th – Valentino Rossi
"I had difficulties from the start today and I really could not ride my bike to its best. Already by the fourth lap I felt that I was quite slow and that I couldn’t ride as I wanted. I decided to change bikes early because usually this strategy – being among the first to change the bike – pays off. Of course I knew that I had to warm the tyres up a little bit but I crashed anyway in that corner because at that point the track was still wet and I just didn’t ride into it in a calm enough manner. Luckily I was able to make it back to the pits and I changed again, but the rule says that if you change the bike again then you have to use one wet tyre, and so this is what we did. When I started that time, the pit-limiter on my bike was not on and so I was given a ride-through for speeding, but by that time it was too late for our race anyway. We’ve had problems throughout the entire weekend with the set-up of the bike and today I was just hoping that I could stay with the riders in front and get some important points for the championship. Now we go to Mugello, my home GP, where I will perhaps be even more motivated than usual!"
1. Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) Fiat Yamaha Team 47’52.678
2. Marco Melandri (ITA) Hayate Racing Team + 17.710
3. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Repsol Honda + 19.893
4. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA) Repsol Honda + 20.455
5. James Toseland (GBR) Yamaha Tech 3 + 30.307
6. Casey Stoner (AUS) Ducati Marlboro + 30.539
7. Chris Vermeulen (AUS) Rizla Suzuki + 37.462
8. Colin Edwards (USA) Yamaha Tech 3 + 40.191
9. Loris Capirossi (ITA) Rizla Suzuki + 45.421
10. Toni Elias (SPA) San Carlo Honda + 53.218
11. Alex De Angelis (RSM) San Carlo Honda + 53.550
12. Nicky Hayden (USA) Ducati Marlboro Team + 56.647
13. Yuki Takahashi (JPN) Scot Racing Team + 56.688
14. Randy De Puniet (FRA) LCR Honda MotoGP +1’11.299
15. Niccolo Canepa (ITA) Pramac Racing +1’15.385
16. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Fiat Yamaha Team 2 Lap
Mika Kallio (FIN) Pramac Racing
Championship Point Standings
1. Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) Fiat Yamaha Team 66
2. Casey Stoner (AUS) Ducati Marlboro Team 65
3. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Fiat Yamaha Team 65
4. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Repsol Honda 57
5. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA) Repsol Honda 43
6. Marco Melandri (ITA) Hayate Racing Team 43
7. Colin Edwards (USA) Yamaha Tech 3 35
8. Chris Vermeulen (AUS) Rizla Suzuki 31
9. Loris Capirossi (ITA) Rizla Suzuki 27
10. Randy De Puniet (FRA) LCR Honda 26
11. Toni Elias (SPA) San Carlo Honda 21
12. Alex De Angelis (RSM) San Carlo Honda 19
13. James Toseland (GBR) Yamaha Tech 3 16
14. Mika Kallio (FIN) Pramac Racing 16
15. Sete Gibernau (SPA) Grupo Francisco 8
16. Nicky Hayden (USA) Ducati Marlboro 8
17. Yuki Takahashi (JPN) Scot Racing Team 7
18. Niccolo Canepa (ITA) Pramac Racing 3
Le Mans: Record Lap
V. Rossi (Yamaha) 2008, 1’34.215
Le Mans: Best Lap
D. Pedrosa (Honda) 2008, 1’32.647