Casey Stoner’s third successive victory put him on the brink of claiming a maiden MotoGP world championship crown in Misano this afternoon.
The Australian’s eighth win in 2007 saw him extend his series lead to a massive 85-points, with Valentino Rossi suffering a nightmare in front of his home crowd when Yamaha’s new pneumatic valve engine broke down after five laps.
With just five races to go, Casey Stoner can now clinch the world title at the Estoril GP in Portugal if he scores 15-points or more than dejected Italian Valentino Rossi on September 16.
Stoner has now led the last three races in Laguna Seca, Brno and Misano from the very first corner and hasn’t had to make one single overtaking move since the German MotoGP in the Sachsenring in early July.
He comfortably won again today with a winning margin over compatriot Chris Vermeulen just shy of five seconds.
Only the Suzuki’s of Vermeulen and John Hopkins threatened Stoner’s domination, but once the factory Ducati rider broke away it was a cruise.
Stoner has now won more races in his first season on board Ducati’s GP7 than he did in his entire 125 and 250 career.
Any Michelin threat to Stoner quickly evaporated with Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden taken out in a second corner pile-up involving Kawasaki’s Randy de Puniet.
Pedrosa crashed and vented his fury at de Puniet, while Hayden’s race was over as he kept his bike upright but rejoined in last place after a long excursion through the gravel trap.
It was another torrid day for the French tyre brand, with Carlos Checa first Michelin rider home in sixth place. He finished a massive 34.9s behind Stoner.
Stoner said: “I don’t wish these kind of results on anybody but we had a good start and we were away at the front. I had a lot of pressure from Chris and John for a lot of the race, just like the last two races actually and I just had to make sure I didn’t make a mistake.
“I knew if I did they’d be straight on me. But yesterday afternoon I wasn’t so confident. We didn’t feel like we had the best setting and not enough to win the race. We tried something in morning warm-up and just couldn’t quite get the right feeling so we basically went back to what we had yesterday morning and things seemed to work really well for the race. We did some pretty good lap times and were able to pull a small advantage.”
Stoner admitted the 28-lap race was one of the toughest of the season, with the punishingly hot conditions adding to the physical nature of the tight Misano track.
“This circuit is one of the hardest we race at. The style of corners and the pressure you have under braking seems to wear your body down quite quickly. Also those corners off the end of the back straight, towards the end of the race if your concentration is not right there you can make a mistake pretty easily.
"If you don’t go back the right amount of gears then things can be pretty fatal as we saw with Marco Melandri yesterday. But I’ve been training pretty hard this year making sure that when we get to races like this we don’t have any disadvantage," said Stoner, who said he would still try and divert his attention away from the championship for as long as possible.
He added: “We realise that each race in the past four or five we have been getting a bigger and bigger chance of winning the world championship but it is still not over. We will never give up and keep trying for these wins. If I finish second we’ll be happy but its still not quite first is it?
"We are just going to keep pushing as hard as we can to win races but at the same time I think I will know when it is time to back down and just take the points.”
The only problem Stoner had this afternoon was running out of fuel just before he entered the pitlane. He was helping team-mate Loris Capirossi return to the pits after the Italian had run out of fuel on the slowing down lap when his own GP7 ran out of fuel.
He said he wasn’t worried that fuel consumption posed a potential problem before the race, which he started from pole position from for the fourth successive race.
“You heard Valentino talking yesterday that they were also on the limit of the fuel. I don’t know what is causing the bikes to use that little bit extra but Loris’s also ran out and I was dragging him back to the pits. So my bike was having too work a little bit harder. Fifty metres out of pitlane mine ran out and I think that’s quite funny."