Motorcycling: Stoner's lack of experience lets Melandri steal victory

The 20-year-old Australian Casey Stoner, riding in his third MotoGP event, yesterday came close to becoming the joint youngest winner in motorcycle racing's premier class.

Stoner grabbed the lead in the Turkish Grand Prix on lap 18 of 22 on the 3.3-mile Istanbul circuit. He still has pitifully little experience of his LCR Honda, but he looked confident as he held off Italy's Marco Melandri.

However Melandri, a veteran of 50 MotoGP starts at 23, coolly slid his Fortuna Honda under his rival's bike and sprinted to the line to win the third MotoGP race of his career.

"I tried to close the door on him, but I was struggling with my brake markers," Stoner said. "These bikes are so unstable, everyone is cutting and changing lines, and you can't pick the bikes up in the corners very easily."

If Stoner had won he would have tied with the American Freddie Spencer, who won in Belgium in 1982 at the age of 20 years and 196 days.

The Turkish race was a dramatic event that shattered the hopes of the Bridgestone-shod Ducati and Suzuki teams that had dominated qualifying.

Sete Gibernau was the early leader on his Marlboro Ducati but slumped to 11th place, while his team-mate Loris Capirossi, the points leader before Turkey, came in sixth. Chris Vermeulen dropped from pole to seventh on his Rizla Suzuki.

Others were luckier. A tyre warmer melted on to the front disc brake of Nicky Hayden's Repsol Honda on the start line, but the 24-year-old American battled into third. His reward was the championship lead, by one point from Capirossi.

Valentino Rossi started from the fourth row, ran off the track and dropped to 14th place. Characteristically, he fought back to fourth. Spain's Dani Pedrosa crashed out of third place on the final lap.

* Airwaves Ducati's Leon Haslam will start from pole for the fourth round of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship at Oulton Park today. The 22-year-old Derbyshire rider beat HM Plant Honda's Karl Harris and championship leader Gregorio Lavilla, on an Airwaves Ducati, in yesterday's qualifying in Cheshire.

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