Casey Stoner, the 22-year-old Australian who critics used to claim would crumple under Valentino Rossi's psychological pressure, yesterday defeated the MotoGP legend by maintaining inch-perfect control of his 240-horsepower Ducati on a streaming wet track here in Germany.
Stoner qualified his 800cc machine on pole in Saturday's dry weather, and then showed equal composure in appalling conditions on the 2.28-mile Sachsenring circuit to take the lead on the sixth of 30 laps and defeat Rossi by a relaxed 3.7 seconds.
"Three weeks ago we were being counted out of the championship, but now we believe that we can be in with a fight," Stoner said after winning his third consecutive race.
Rossi set a new record by starting in his 202nd consecutive grand prix since making his debut as a 17-year-old in 1996 – the Italian Max Biaggi was the previous record holder on 201 – and was reasonably content with his runner-up position after starting on the third row of the grid.
Yet Rossi admitted he has yet to get the best of his new Bridgestone tyres after storming away from Michelin last year. "On this type of track where we didn't test during the winter, it's very difficult for us," he said.
His second place did, however, restore him to the lead in the championship chase, although Stoner has now closed the gap to 20 points. The Spaniard Dani Pedrosa would have walked away from the Sachsenring with a handsome points cushion, but dropped his Repsol Honda while leading on only the sixth lap of the race. With a fractured finger and a suspected fractured right ankle, he may struggle to compete in next Sunday's US Grand Prix.
The Australian Chris Vermeulen achieved his first podium of the season by finishing third on his Rizla Suzuki. Britain's James Toseland might have been in contention for a top six finish – he burst through to fifth place on the first corner – but suffered from having a too-hard setting on his Yamaha.Reuse content