Valentino Rossi revived his campaign to retain his MotoGP title with a stunning victory on his Camel Yamaha in the Italian round at Mugello yesterday.
The 27-year-old Italian, who has suffered a disastrous start to the season, qualified for the front row for the first time in eight races, and used this advantage to power into the lead on the first lap.
Rossi tried to open a lead over his rivals in the Honda and Ducati camps, but they refused to submit to his pressure. On lap two Rossi drifted wide and bounced along the rumble strip at the edge of the track, allowing the pole-sitter Sete Gibernau to ease past. Then Marco Melandri forced his Fortuna Honda by on lap four, and by the fifth lap 1.1 seconds covered the top six riders, with Casey Stoner (LCR Honda), and Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden on the factory Repsol Hondas, following the three leaders.
Stoner disappeared when he suffered a huge crash, fortunately without injury. Rossi forced his way back in front, but then made another error and slipped back to fifth in the space of a couple of corners.
Ducati's Loris Capirossi had started badly in eighth place, but now he forged to the front. Rossi characteristically declined to buckle. The pair swapped places at up to 205mph, as Rossi led into the last lap. Capirossi cut inside but then ran wide, Rossi sliced back inside, and the race was his. Hayden finished third from Pedrosa, Gibernau and Melandri.
"It was a great race, a great battle," Rossi said. "At one moment I started to think I had problems with the rear of the bike, but the other riders started to move around as well." The result leaves Capirossi leading the championship table with 99 points, jointly with Hayden, while Rossi is now 34 points behind with 11 races left.
* The Spaniard Gregorio Lavilla stretched his lead in the British Superbike Championship to 62 points over his Airwaves Ducati team-mate Leon Haslam at Mallory Park yesterday, scoring third and first places in the two races. HM Plant Honda's Ryuichi Kiyonari won the other race.