Repsol Honda's Casey Stoner took over the MotoGP World Championship points lead by holding off Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo and Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa over 28 tense laps in the Portuguese Grand Prix in Estoril.
Stoner broke quickly out of the gate, passing early leader Pedrosa on the first lap and making the race his own. Lorenzo and Pedrosa stuck with him as long as they could, but towards the end of the race Lorenzo's strength waned while Stoner stayed strong. It was only on the 26th lap that Stoner grew the lead to over a second en route to winning by 1.421 secs. Pedrosa was 2.2 secs. behind Lorenzo in third.
Stoner said he was always aware of Lorenzo's lurking presence. "Not only could I hear him," he began, "but my pit board kept me well informed of how close he was.
"But in general we've been pretty happy with this weekend. Everything went well in practice and reasonably well in qualifying. But we always struggle a little bit more in the warmer conditions. We just found we couldn't get the tries to work properly, not so much for grip and turning capabilities, but just chatter. So in the race we had some real bad chatter, especially in the beginning with a full tank. And I lost the front a couple of times and thought, OK, let's just back it off a little bit here. And basically Jorge (Lorenzo) caught right back up to the back of me. And I was just holding on.
"Those middle laps, we didn't feel good, I didn't feel confident to push. I was trying a lot of different maps on the bike to try and get the bike working a little better on the exit so we didn't chatter so much. And I found a certain way to ride, I found a little bit different way to ride. So for the last sort of ten laps I started feeling a little better with the bike, started having a little less chatter and for the last few laps we tried to push a little bit more and we're able to just open up enough of a gap to bring it home comfortably."
The win was Stoner's first in Estoril, the only track on the current MotoGP calendar where he hadn't won. It was also his second in a row, following his victory last week in Jerez. Together that adds up to a championship lead of a single point, 66 to 65 over Lorenzo. Pedrosa is third with 52 points.
"I'm very happy with this second position, because it was a nightmare during all the weekend till the race," Lorenzo said. "We solve all the problems that we had, so the bike was very good. The only problem was on the start I burned the clutch, so in the first two laps Casey (Stoner) goes," because on the straight the clutch was slipping.
"But then after, the bike works very well. The only problem was that Casey have something more. He was with more energy and at the end of the race. I didn't have any energy to try to pass him. Only in the chicane I wanted to make the move, but was too risky, so I prefer to be second to get the points and be there in the championship."
Pedrosa admitted having a tough first lap because he couldn't get heat in the tire, "and from the first corner I had a big slide and then in the first lap I think I lost already like one second, or something like this. And then for the whole race I was 0.5, 0.6 behind Jorge. It was hard for me to manage because I was losing a lot in the corner speed. I didn't have any corner speed and I was trying to recover everything in the braking. But I was not comfortable riding like this. And, anyway, I tried to modify a little bit my style in the bike. But towards the end, I had, I don't know why, suddenly a lot of chatter. I tried to change the mapping a little bit." The changed mapping helped, but not enough to give him confidence to make a move on the leaders.
The podium was the 100th of Pedrosa's world championship career. He's the sixth rider to reach that milestone and the second youngest after Valentino Rossi.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 riders finished fourth and fifth, as they had in the first two races, but in the reverse order. Andrea Dovizioso finally got the better of teammate Cal Crutchlow, beating him by nearly three seconds after making the pass on lap five. Dovi was 10 seconds behind Pedrosa. Crutchlow sits fourth in the championship, Dovi fifth.
San Carlo Honda Gresini's Alvaro Bautista finished a lonely sixth. The Spaniard took over the spot on the third lap and saw the margins on both sides increase for the duration.
Ducati Marlboro's Valentino Rossi continued his progress by finishing a distant seventh; he was 27 secs. behind Stoner. Rossi, who'd finished 10th in Qatar and ninth in Jerez, was the first Ducati.
Yamaha's Ben Spies continued to struggle in Estoril. The Texan fought with MotoGP rookie Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda MotoGP) for most of the race, finally getting the better of the young German two laps from the end to finish eighth. The finish was an improvement of three spots on 11th, which is where he finished in the first two races, but well off where he should be finishing.
Tenth went to Pramac Racing Team's Hector Barbera (Duc), the Spaniard riding mostly by himself and finishing nine seconds in front of Ducati Marlboro's Nicky Hayden, whose 11th was his worst finish of the year.
NGM Mobile Forward Racing's Colin Edwards was forced to miss the race after breaking his left collarbone in qualifying. Edwards was cruising well off line when he was taken down by the sliding ART of Randy de Puniet, who'd crashed entering the left hand turn four. Edwards was flown to Barcelona, where he's expected to undergo surgery on Monday.
Estoril MotoGP Results:
1. Casey Stoner (Honda)
2. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)
3. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
4. Andrea Dovizioso (Yamaha)
5. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha)
6. Alvaro Bautista (Honda)
7. Valentino Rossi (Ducati)
8. Ben Spies (Yamaha)
9. Stefan Bradl (Honda)
10. Hector Barbera (Ducati)
11. Nicky Hayden (Ducati)