Stoner back on Rossi's tail and looking to engineer late assault on title

For three successive races in the MotoGP world championship, Valentino Rossi has been left behind by Casey Stoner's blaze-red Ducati. On the Laguna Seca track in California tomorrow, Rossi may suffer that fate again as he tries to hold on to his 20-point lead in the series.

Stoner and Ducati emerged from nowhere to capture their first world titles in 2007. This year, they won the opening round in Qatar, leaving most observers fearing another procession. Then, however, team and rider lost their touch and Stoner slipped to fourth in the standings. But Ducati's engineers tweaked a control on the engine mapping and suddenly the 22-year-old Australian again had usable power. Stoner now has eight races left in which to overtake Rossi and stop the 29-year-old Italian winning his eighth world title.

In the Czech Republic tomorrow, the 25-year-old German Max Neukirchner, on an Alstare Suzuki, will attempt to cut a 49-point deficit to Australia's Troy Bayliss, on the Xerox Ducati, in the World Superbike championship. In Britain another Ducati rider, Shane Byrne, on the Airwaves machine, will defend his 97-point lead over Honda's Cal Crutchlow in the British Superbike Championship race at Oulton Park.

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