Motorcycling: Rossi roars back to threaten Stoner's early celebrations

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The Independent Online

Valentino Rossi yesterday gave a warning in practice for the Portuguese round at Estoril that he may yet delay Casey Stoner's ambitions to wrap up the MotoGP world championship.

Plagued by a lack of power and inconsistent grip from his Michelin tyres for much of the season, Rossi nevertheless blazed his Fiat Yamaha into third place in practice, only 0.170sec slower than Stoner, on his Marlboro Ducati.

Stoner produced his usual unflappable form to lap fastest in 1min 37.950 sec, benefiting from the flawless grip that Bridgestone has been able to provide all season. The 21-year-old Australian, in only his first year on a factory bike, has already won eight of 13 races and leads Rossi by 85 points in the championship table.

Stoner and Ducati will claim their first world championship if they win tomorrow's 28-lap race and Rossi finishes sixth or lower. But Rossi – who has won three races when he has had competitive rubber and a good setup – now looks likely to postpone the victory celebrations until at least the following round in Japan.

"I used a new engine and new tyres," he said. 2I was only four or five kph slower, which is not much at the end of a long straight like this.

"But the biggest improvement came from the tyres. I have more feeling from the front and a higher entry speed to the corners, and I also like the rear a lot. But we may have some difficulty in doing 28 laps at the maximum."

Stoner said: "The bike was bucking and weaving, and tomorrow we will try and go in a different direction. But I feel a lot more confident than I did here last year."

Makoto Tamada, of Japan, gave Dunlop a welcome boost finishing second fastest on his Tech 3 Yamaha.