Motorcycling: Stoner surfs through the wet as he speeds towards second title

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The Independent Online

The 25-year-old Australian Casey Stoner took a casual surf ride towards his second MotoGP world championship at Silverstone yesterday, when he won a wet and dangerous British round by an easy 15.159 seconds on his Honda RC212V.

Stoner looked as relaxed as a Sunday morning wave-rider at Bondi Beach as he claimed his fourth victory in six rounds of the 18-race championship, while his main rival Jorge Lorenzo plunged into the gravel when he was caught out by the rain.

Fastest in all three practice sessions and the qualifying period, Stoner rode as confidently as when he scorched to 10 race wins to claim his first world title in 2007. He now leads Yamaha's reigning world champion Lorenzo by 18 points, and seems set for a year of domination in the final season of 800cc bikes in MotoGP.

Italian Andrea Dovizioso, 23, finished second on another Honda, while the best Yamaha belonged to the Texan Colin Edwards, a 37-year-old veteran of MotoGP street wars who rode with a titanium plate and 13 screws in his shoulder only nine days after breaking a collarbone in Barcelona.

"I was behind at the start and got drenched," Stoner said. "When I got into first place I got some water inside my visor, and for the next five laps I couldn't see where the wet patches were or where I should be on the track. For the last seven laps it was torture. My hand was freezing and I couldn't understand what brake pressure I had."

Edwards said: "I also separated the muscle from my ribs at Barcelona, and that's what's hurting. After 10 or 11 laps I thought, 'OK, can we throw the chequered flag now? Because we all know where we're going to finish'."

The American Nicky Hayden was Ducati's best finisher in fourth place, while Suzuki's Alvaro Bautista scored his best result of the year in fifth place. Given that he started in 13th place, Valentino Rossi's sixth place might seem a considerable achievement, but in reality it was a disaster.

The Ducati technicians were lost at Silverstone, and couldn't provide their expensive new signing with a bike that handled. Rossi finished 1min 4.526sec behind Stoner, in a sport in which a mere second can be an eternity.

"I'm slow on the entrance to corners, and I can't ride the line that I want," the nine-times world champion complained. His team manager, Vittoriano Guareschi, was honest enough to admit: "We can't put enough heat in the front tyre, whether we use the hard or the soft compound, and it doesn't give Valentino the confidence to push."

Even though Rossi has now climbed to fourth place in the championship, one can't wondering whether made-in-Bologna toys will start to fly soon if this supposedly all-Italian dream team doesn't achieve regular podiums soon.

Lamentably, only 15 riders started the event and only 12 finished what was mainly a tedious race. Fans are desperately awaiting the 2012 season, when MotoGP will be thrown open to 1,000cc bikes in an attempt to boost the grid to between 20 and 24 riders.

British hope Cal Crutchlow did not race here after fracturing a collarbone in qualifying for the MotoGP race, but the 20-year-old Oxford rider Bradley Smith thrilled the home fans by storming from 28th place on the grid to finish second in the Moto2 race.

Smith recorded his first podium only six races into his Moto2 career, by guiding his 600cc Tech 3 machine through rain and spray to finish 7.601sec behind the race winner, the 21-year-old German Stefan Bradl.

"After qualifying yesterday I wanted to pack up and go home, but when I saw the rain this morning I felt better because I knew we had a great bike for the wet," Smith said.

He began his scythe through the field on the first corner, when the Spaniard Esteve Rabat ran wide. "That sat lots of people up, and I got past them, and I got past another five on turn three," Smith said.

He was already in 13th place at the finish of the first 3.67-mile lap, and he needed only eight laps to reach third place. "There was so much spray," Smith said. "I just hoped that no one was in front of me, and I kept the throttle pinned open. But, with 10 laps to go, I knew I couldn't close any more."

Few riders have ever passed so many rivals in the history of grand prix racing, but Smith's storming progress doesn't count as a record. In 1983 another Briton, Alan Carter, raced from 31st place on the grid to win the 250cc French Grand Prix at Le Mans.

But Moto2 is a feeder category for the premier MotoGP class, and team managers will have noted Smith's speed and coolness under pressure.