Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) won a thrilling last-lap motorcycle racing battle for third place with teammate Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) at sun-soaked Moto GP Le Mans.
Dovizioso’s attack won him his second podium finish of the year while Pedrosa crossed the line in fifth behind Nicky Hayden (Ducati) after running wide four corners from the chequered flag.
Pedrosa had had the best of qualifying, taking the last spot on the front row of the grid, while Dovizioso had to be happy with seventh place, just one tenth off the second row.
In the race Pedrosa held third place from the first lap to the penultimate lap, Dovizioso diving past him as they funnelled into Le Mans’ first chicane for the 28th and final time.
Pedrosa did everything he could to counter attack, but ran wide at Le Musee and again at Les Esses Bleu, which allowed Hayden to sneak through.
Dovizioso’s late-race pace was super impressive, gradually closing the advantage that Pedrosa had held in the earlier stages of the race.
Last year the opposite happened between the team-mates at Le Mans – Pedrosa overtaking Dovizioso on the final lap.
Marco Melandri (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) scored his best result of the year so far with an impressive if lonely ride to sixth place, seven seconds ahead of Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V) who ran off the track in the late stages. Melandri made a crucial set-up change during morning warm-up which improved his race pace.
Rookies Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) and Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda MotoGP RC212V) played their part in an enthralling five-way skirmish for eighth place which lasted for much of the race.
Positions changed regularly, Simoncelli at the front of the group for much of the time until he lost two places in the last two laps to finish tenth. The former 250 World Champion wasn’t happy with that, but nevertheless it was his best MotoGP result thus far.
Aoyama had his work cut out after he decided to change his front tyre following the warm-up lap because the tyre he had fitted for the race didn’t feel right. That meant he had to take it easy during the first few laps while he scrubbed in the new tyre.
In the thick of the battle for eighth place, Aoyama made a mistake braking for the Chemin aux Boeufs chicane with five laps remaining, which forced him to take to the slip-road, dropping him to the back of the group.
Of course, the Japanese never gave up and he managed to pass Colin Edwards (Yamaha) with two laps remaining to secure 11th place.
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda: 3rd) says: "I’m so happy to have made the podium here. It was very important because I wanted to confirm that the result in Qatar was not a one-off. We are close to the leaders – though still not close enough because our target is to fight for wins. We’ll go to Mugello with a lot of confidence as this a special race for me."
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda: 5th) says: "Losing two places on the final lap is not a good feeling. Andrea rode well and pushed very hard at the end, so congratulations to him on the podium finish. It’s an important part of the season coming up with many races in a short time, so we must work hard and do better in Mugello."
Marco Melandri (San Carlo Honda Gresini: 6th) says: "We made a small change in the warm-up based on an idea that the team came up with and it worked well. I’m happy though because we were able to match the speed of the front guys at the start until I made a small mistake when Hayden stepped up the pace. I tried to catch him again but I couldn’t do it and decided that was a good time to ‘pull the oars in’ and bring home an important result after such a tough start to the year."
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda: 7th) says: "After Stoner’s crash I was 7th but could not close any further because my front tyre started to slip and almost crashed 10 times. So I had to slow down but seventh is not so bad. I am still 6th in the world standing and we are the best private team at the moment."
Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini: 10th) says: "I’m a little disappointed that I allowed Barbera and Espargaro to pass me in the last couple of laps because it would have been nice to finish eighth but it didn’t happen. It is important at this stage for me to finish races and I managed that today even though I wasn’t as fast as I’d hoped so that’s a positive thing. Now we’ll assess things and try to do better at Mugello. "
Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda MotoGP: 11th) says: "Of course I am not really happy with the result as I lost two positions because of a small mistake I did. I could have been further in front. I was able to attack the eighth position, but I think that this target was too big and I had to step back again not to risk anything. I think we gave our best here and I will try that again in the next race."
Next stop on the MotoGP calendar is Mugello for the Italian GP on June 4/5/6; then the World Championship hits top gear with three races on consecutive weekends: the British GP (June 20), the Dutch TT (June 26) and Catalunya (July 4).