MONTEREY, CA, JULY 20: Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi gave an epic performance to win the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix in what was easily the best race of the MotoGP season. Under a cool sun, and before a crowd of about 50,000, Rossi and Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner went straight to the front, the pair battling in every corner. The first five laps were the best of the year, Stoner passing Rossi, Rossi quickly finding his way back past. There was little between them. The difference was that Rossi was controlling the pace, denying Stoner the chance to get into the lead and break away. Every time Stoner struck, Rossi answered. Stoner took the lead on the 23rd of 32 laps just past the finish line, but Rossi came back in turn two. Stoner went by in the turn three entrance, then Rossi took it back with a brave move on the outside of the same turn three right. That was the order when they came into the 90 degree turn 11, the final corner of the 24th lap. Stoner made a move on Rossi, but the rear began to slew as he went hard to the right, possibly hitting some bumps. His momentum forced him to take evasive action on Rossi's right that carried him off the track, and into the dirt. The front tire folded and he was down. But just briefly. Stoner picked up the bike and crossed the line over 13 seconds down. The race was Rossi’s. "Yes, for me this race is fantastic," Rossi said after his first ever win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. "Is first time, first victory in Laguna Seca and the race was unbelievable, because for me we make some modifieds together with the team before the race and I’m able to take some better race pace, so I’m very fast in the race. "I make a good start and after a great battle with Casey (Stoner) with a lot of overtaking. So was fun, was a lot of fun. And is an important victory for sure. Is an emotion the first time in Laguna. And now we have the summer break and we make some holiday to relax, because the championship anyway is so long." Stoner was happy to take second in the championship, but not happy with some of Rossi's passes. "Yeah, well, you know the mistake I made sort of a bit past halfway through the race, it was my mistake," Stoner said. "I ran a little wide in the last turn and as I went to come back on the track I just lost the front, so it was race over after that. "I mean during most of the race, I was enjoying a lot of it. I felt some of the passes were a little bit too much for me. I’ve been racing for a lot of years and come through a lot of different ranks of racing and just a couple of the passes were a little too much. I would have liked to have had a little bit cleaner battled, but anyway, we’re happy with the results. We’re still in the front in the championship and we’re not too far." Rizla Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen was a distant third. "Yeah, of course, it was difficult starting from the third row of the grid and these guys got away a bit early," Vermeulen said of Rossi and Stoner. "I had a bit of a battle with Nicky (Hayden) and (Andrea) Dovizioso for a few laps. And once we got past them we had more pace than everyone else, but these two were too quick for us today. "But I think being back on the podium in the dry proves that the Suzuki is improving and we had a good set-up for the weekend and the team did a great job and I’m looking forward to going to Brno now." The victory, Rossi's fourth of the year, gives him a 25 point lead on Stoner, 212 to 187 as the series heads into the summer break. Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, whose injuries forced him to fly home on Saturday, sits third with 171. JiR Team Scot’s Andrea Dovizioso took fourth, the first of the Michelin runners after Bridgestone swept the podium for the second year in a row. Dovizioso edged out Repsol Honda’s Nicky Hayden, who ran third in the early going, and LCR Honda’s randy de Puniet, two seconds back in sixth. The battle for seventh went to Alice Team’s Toni Elias (Duc), who passed Rizla Suzuki’s Ben Spies on the final lap. Tech 3 Yamaha’s James Toseland dropped to ninth in front of San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Shinya Nakano. Jamie Hacking finished 11th as John Hopkins’ replacement on the factory Kawasaki. Then came the second Alice Team Ducati of Sylvain Guintoli, with Alex de Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) close behind. A gap of nearly seven seconds ended with Tech 3 Yamaha’s Colin Edwards in 14th, the Texan unhappy about Michelin's performance on the weekend. MotoGP: 1. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 2. Casey Stoner (Ducati) 3. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) 4. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 5. Nicky Hayden (Honda) 6. Randy de Puniet (Honda) 7. Toni Elias (Ducati) 8. Ben Spies (Suzuki) 9. James Toseland (Yamaha) 10. Shinya Nakano (Honda) 11. Jamie Hacking (Kawasaki) 12. Sylvain Guintoli (Ducati) 13. Alex de Angelis (Honda) 14. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 15. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki) 16. Marco Melandri (Ducati) 17. Anthony West (Kawasaki)

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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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