Valentino Rossi has equalled Angel Nieto’s 90 wins in a stunning performance at Le Mans today to take his second successive victory of the season.
The Fiat Yamaha rider finished 4.997secs ahead of team-mate Jorge Lorenzo and was then given a lift back to the pits on his Yamaha YZF-M1 by Nieto, which he described as 'unforgetable'.
Colin Edwards made it an all Yamaha podium and thrilled his Tech 3 Yamaha team as he took the final podium spot at their home race in France.
Stoner flew into the lead from the first corner but he had Dani Pedrosa hot on his heels. James Toseland was up to fifth on lap one while his team-mate Colin Edwards was third.
But Toseland's race was over when he crashed out on lap three.
Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi was on a charge and took both Colin Edwards and Pedrosa within two corners on lap four.
Lap seven saw Rossi make his first move on Stoner but it didn’t stick. But a lap later the Italian moved to the front.
With Rossi now half a second ahead of Stoner on lap nine, his injured team-mate Jorge Lorenzo had managed to pass Nicky Hayden to move up to sixth.
On lap 12 the real battle was on for second with Casey Stoner just hanging on from Repsol Honda’s Pedrosa and Colin Edwards. But Pedrosa, one of few riders on the grid without a pneumatic valve engine, out-braked Stoner on the Ducati GP8 to sit in the runner-up spot.
With the battle for second commencing Rossi managed to extend his lead to 2.695secs. And Stoner was in trouble again as Edwards looked to move up to third. Also under pressure was 2007 Le Mans winner Chris Vermeulen who has Lorenzo on his exhaust pipe and then alongside him. And the heroic Spaniard, riding with two broken ankles, made his move stick on the Aussie.
Going into lap 16 the white flags were shown as there was rain in the air and the riders had the option to go into the pots and change onto their spare motorcycles set up for the wet. This had worked for Vermeulen last year, but would the riders take the gamble?
Up front Rossi was taking it a little steadier and his 3.6sec advantage had closed to 3.1secs.
Kawasaki’s John Hopkins suffered an unusual mechanical failure on lap 18 as his chain broke off and went flailing across the circuit in front of Rizla Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi. It was the end of the race for ill-fated Hopper.
On lap 19 the rain was evident at the front of the circuit by the start / finish area, but there was no rain at the back of the circuit so the riders were staying out on their dry set-up machines.
Marco Melandri, seemingly struggling with the half wet half dry track went to the pits to swap to his other Ducati GP8.
Jorge Lorenzo had joined the battle for second by lap 19 and took Colin Edwards and Casey Stoner was next to suffer a problem handing Lorenzo his third place. Pedrosa was next on the rookie’s list and ignoring all the pain in his battered body he moved up to second to the amusement of his mechanics.
Making slow progress back to the pits, Stoner decided he might as well have another go and as the white flags had been shown he went back out on his wet motorcycle and headed back out for the final six laps.
But the man of the moment was Valentino Rossi, on the way to his second victory of the season and second in succession after his storming win in Shanghai. And wheelchair-bound Jorge Lorenzo took a well-earned second ahead of Colin Edwards who took a podium for Tech 3 Yamaha at their home race.
Defending champion Stoner finished out of the points in 16th.