Repsol Honda's Casey Stoner won his third grand prix of the season to renew his title challenge by leading from the second lap to the finish in front of 81,000 fans at the Catalunya Grand Prix north of Barcelona.Stoner was enjoying a perfect weekend until being pipped in qualifying by San Carlo Honda Gresini's Marco Simoncelli, the embattled Italian who took his first pole in front of a hostile crowd. Then in the race, Simoncelli got a horrid start while Stoner blazed into the lead starting the second lap.The Australian gradually stretched his gap over Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo and seemed certain to disappear when the first hints of rain began to fall around the midpoint of the race. Stoner's gap came down over a series of a few laps while the rain bikes were readied in case the weather worsened."I was starting to get very nervous," Stoner said. "There was more rain falling in some parts." By being out front, "I didn't know what pace to run. I didn't know what the conditions were.

"The rain held off and after a few exploratory laps Stoner upped the pace to break Lorenzo's spirit. By the end of the 25 lap race Stoner had a margin of 2.403 secs. Lorenzo was second with Yamaha's Ben Spies earning his first podium of the season in third, 1.9 secs. behind his teammate."It was a high pressure race and to keep at the front was very nerve-wracking," Stoner said. "It would've been easy to come down in the conditions, but we stayed on two wheels and brought it home today."Stoner chipped away at Lorenzo's championship lead to finish the day only seven points behind, 98 to 91. Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso, fourth today a second behind Spies, trails Stoner by 28 points."This race was very important for me to finish and keep leading the championship," Lorenzo said. "I think we have done our goal."Spies was happy to get his first podium for the factory after the team made a gamble in the race. He raced on a set of forks he'd never run and it took him a few laps to get used to them."It was a really important race," he said. "We needed to be there. We just had some bad luck in the beginning of the season. This weekend was good. We didn't have any great luck, but just nothing went wrong."It's great for me, great for the team. The team's behind me the whole time. They believe in me. At the end of the race it was just great to see the two guys in front of me. I could see them on the front straightaway."

The win was Stoner's 26th in the premier class, breaking a tie for sixth overall with Kevin Schwantz. Stoner trails only Valentino Rossi, Giacomo Agostini, Mick Doohan, Mike Hailwood, and Eddie Lawson in premier class wins.Ducati Marlboro's Valentino Rossi finished alone in fifth, 7.37 secs. behind the winner and 4.46 secs. up on Simoncelli. Simoncelli was roundly booed in Catalunya for being involved in the crash that broke Dani Pedrosa's right collarbone in Le Mans two weeks ago. He was escorted throughout the paddock by two security guards on the weekend. The Italian wasted his pole position, getting swallowed up by the pack in the first few corners, and never recovered.Monster Energy Yamaha Tech 3's Cal Crutchlow had a career best finish of seventh as the lone representative of the team. Teammate Colin Edwards missed his first GP after 141 consecutive starts when he broke his collarbone in Friday practice. Edwards' fitness for next weekend's race at Silverstone isn't known. No replacement has been named, if he can't ride.Ducati Marlboro's Nicky Hayden was alone in eighth, well in front of the battle for ninth that went to veteran Loris Capirossi (Pramac Racing Team Ducati) over MotoGP rookie Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Motoracing Ducati).The final three finishers were Spaniards, Hector Barbera (Mapfre Aspar Team MotoGP Ducati), Rizla Suzuki's Alvaro Bautista, and LCR Honda MotoGP's Toni Elias.In the absence of Edwards and Pedrosa, there were only 15 starters and 13 finishers. San Carlo Honda Gresini's Hiroshi Aoyama crashed out along with Pramac Racing Team Ducati's Randy de Puniet.

MotoGP:

1. Casey Stoner (Honda)

2. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)

3. Ben Spies (Yamaha)

4. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda)

5. Valentino Rossi (Ducati)

6. Marco Simoncelli (Honda)

7. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha)

8. Nicky Hayden (Ducati)

9. Loris Capirossi (Ducati)

10. Karel Abraham (Ducati)

 


MotoGP Headlines

Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.

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