Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo splashed to a runaway win in the French Grand Prix at Le Mans, but his victory will be overshadowed by the rider who finished second.
One year since his last podium in this same race, Valentino Rossi scored his best finish for the Ducati Marlboro team with a last-lap pass of World Champion Casey Stoner and his Repsol Honda. Rossi had probed and passed Stoner twice prior to the last lap, but couldn't make it stick. But on the final lap he came through in the chicane, blocked Stoner on the exit, then pulled away to finish second. Stoner was a secure third.
"I want to race in places where rain a lot, especially," Rossi joked after finishing second for the first time since the Portuguese Grand Prix in Estoril on Halloween 2010. "No, in this condition I know have a special chance to try for the podium, so it's very important I try to be quiet and ride at the maximum."
Rossi did ride at the maximum, but his best was no match for Lorenzo. Lorenzo took the lead from Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa on the first lap and by the end of the second had 1.2 seconds on Stoner. The lead continued to grow until the eighth lap, when Stoner began taking out tenths. He continued to gnaw away at the lead to close to 2.715 seconds on the 13th lap. Then Lorenzo upped the pace to run the lead to over ten seconds.
The margin of victory was 9.905 seconds.
"Yes, very difficult race, because the conditions especially at the beginning were very slippery," Lorenzo said. "So my plan was to stay in third position from the first lap, because I prefer to stay alone and to keep more the concentration; you are with more riders, maybe you can lose your concentration.
"And has been difficult, because always on wet, very long race, especially when Casey [Stoner] was catching me was very difficult to keep the concentration and not to try to went faster, when the good thing was to keep the pace, no?"
Rossi had the pace from the start. He said he was "behind Casey in the perfect position," with company from Monster Yamaha Tech 3 teammates Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow, the trio fighting over what would be the first podium for any of them this season and Crutchlow's first-ever MotoGP podium. "But after I had a problem with my visor, I lose two or three seconds because I have a fog inside. And also [Andrea] Dovizioso and Crutchlow come back. But I can open the visor...so I started to see.
"I had a very good pace, so I overtake the two Yamahas. But after Dovi and also Cal come with me, so I have to push in the last ten laps at the maximum. And at the end I arrive also to Casey." And by then both Yamahas had crashed, Crutchlow out of fifth on lap 19, Dovi out of fourth six laps later.
"Was a great battle, like always, and I'm so happy to be here in the second place, especially for all the Ducati team, all the guys, my team also, so is an important result," Rossi said.
Stoner knew before the race started that a wet race would be difficult. He'd found in the wet morning warm-up that "our bike just didn't seem to warm the tires up very quickly. We just couldn't get the rear working well enough. So it was the same at the beginning of the race. Myself and Dani [Pedrosa] were really struggling to get the tires warm and get them working and Jorge [Lorenzo] used that opportunity perfectly to pull a huge lead, and after that I was just trying to stay in second. I was getting pressure from behind and I'm just sort of waiting for the bike to start working and start getting a little bit of edge grip. Then I got some edge grip and a little bit more confidence, decided to try and push and chase down Jorge. We got quite close, everything was looking good. Then the rain stopped, the water went away, the water levels dropped and we just overheated the rear tire.
"We had nothing left at the end. We were spinning from first gear through to sixth. We just couldn't get any traction whatsoever out of the corners. I'm sitting up as far as I can to get it and struggling. So Valentino [Rossi] had the pace over us at the end there. And I fought, did everything I could to stay in front. But in the end, I couldn't even stay with him on the last lap; I think he pulled a second and half almost on me.
"So it was nice for me to be on the podium, to be honest. Halfway through that race it wasn't looking so good for us and I'm very happy to be up here."
With his flag to flag win, his third at Le Mans and second of the year, Lorenzo retakes the top spot in the MotoGP World Championship standings. The Majorcan has 90 points to 82 for Stoner, with Pedrosa, a distant fourth place finisher on the Repsol Honda, third at 65.
Pedrosa was running well behind the lead five when he was gifted two spots when the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 teammates crashed out in front of him. Both riders remounted, with Crutchlow rejoining the race in eighth, which is where he'd finish. Dovi got back going and finished seventh.
LCR Honda MotoGP's Stefan Bradl finished fifth, his best MotoGP result in his first full rain race. Bradl appeared to be comfortably behind Pedrosa until the second half of the race when Ducati Marlboro's Nicky Hayden closed down on him. Hayden was nearly nine seconds behind Bradl with nine laps to go when he began cutting into the deficit. It appeared he might have a chance to overtake him, but came up short by .365 sec. Still, Hayden matched his season best finish; he was sixth in the season-opener in Qatar.
Pramac Racing Team Ducati's Hector Barbera was 2.7 seconds behind Crutchlow at the end with 5.3 seconds on San Carlo Honda Gresini's Alvaro Bautista, the final finisher in the top 10.
Under threat of replacement, Brit James Ellison not only scored his best finish of the season, but was also the top CRT rider. Ellison responded well to the rumors that he'd be replaced by fellow Brit Shane Byrne with a strong race in the rain to finish 11 and score his first MotoGP points of the season.
Yamaha's Ben Spies had a shocking 16th-place finish. Spies got off the line badly and finished the first lap in 18th. He was making progress until the seventh lap when he ran off the track, then pitted for what appeared to be a helmet issue. Spies rejoined the race at the back of the field and finished 16th.
1. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)
2. Valentino Rossi (Ducati)
3. Casey Stoner (Honda)
4. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
5. Stefan Bradl (Honda)
6. Nicky Hayden (Ducati)
7. Andrea Dovizioso (Yamaha)
8. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha)
9. Hector Barbera (Ducati)
10. Alvaro Bautista (Honda)
16. Ben Spies (Yamaha)