Ducati’s Casey Stoner took his second MotoGP victory of the season, in as many starts, at Japan on Sunday but it was a brutal battle for third between Yamaha team-mates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo that stole the show.
Andrea Dovizioso, starting from his first MotoGP pole, held his lead into turn one, but was then almost instantly passed by Stoner’s Ducati. The pair remained first and second to the flag, with Stoner winning by 3.868sec.
But the race will be most remembered for the fight between outgoing champion Rossi and 2010 title elect Lorenzo.
Rossi held third through the first corner, but was passed by Fiat Yamaha team-mate Lorenzo into turn two. The Italian was stuck behind the #99 until he finally dived under the Spaniard at the hairpin on lap six.
By that point Stoner and Dovizioso were almost two-seconds ahead, and Rossi was unable to make an impact on the leaders. Instead, the Italian found himself facing a renewed attack from Lorenzo, who had stuck with Rossi after the pass.
With six laps to go Lorenzo briefly retook third, but the fight really came alive on the penultimate lap.
The pair changed positions several times with some daring moves from both riders — with Rossi literally barging past his young opponent in a type of move similar to that seen in the past against Stoner and Sete Gibernau.
It was hard racing, but certainly not over the line — although Yamaha might see things differently, given that Lorenzo (who did not use the latest Yamaha engine in the race) is riding for a world title.
Lorenzo tried again on the last lap, but Rossi used a non-contact block pass to once again thwart the #99. Rossi, who finished as the top Yamaha in his last Japanese Grand Prix as an M1 rider, described the battle as ‘funny’. It was Rossi’s sixth podium of the season.
Lorenzo may have finished fourth for the second race in a row, his only non-podiums of 2010, but he is now 69 points ahead of the absent Dani Pedrosa and can claim his first premier-class title by scoring just seven points next Sunday at Sepang.
Pedrosa missed the race due to a broken collarbone sustained at the circuit on Friday. The Repsol Honda rider underwent surgery in Spain on Saturday and his return date is not yet known.
Behind the top four, Colin Edwards enjoyed his best race of the season with fifth place for Monster Yamaha Tech 3, after re-passing rookie Marco Simoncelli (Gresini Honda).
Another rookie, Alvaro Bautista, was seventh for Suzuki, having inherited the position when team-mate Loris Capirossi suffered a mechanical failure while just in front of the Spaniard late in the race.
Capirossi was the only non-finisher, although Americans Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden ran off track almost simultaneously on lap two at the end of the back straight.
The incident dropped them both to the back of the 16-rider field. Future factory Yamaha rider Spies then rose back up to eighth for Tech 3 at the flag, while present factory Ducati rider Nicky Hayden reached 12th.
The Japanese Grand Prix had originally been scheduled to take place in April, but had to be postponed due to the Icelandic volcano grounding flights from Europe.
Japanese Grand Prix result:
9. de Puniet
Leading standings after the weekend’s Japanese GP:
1 Jorge Lorenzo Fiat Yamaha Team 297
2 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda Team 228
3 Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro Team 180
4 Andrea Dovizioso Repsol Honda Team 159
5 Valentino Rossi Fiat Yamaha Team 156
6 Ben Spies Monster Yamaha Tech3 139
7 Nicky Hayden Ducati Marlboro Team 129
8 Randy de Puniet LCR Honda 88
9 Marco Simoncelli San Carlo Honda Gresini 84
10 Colin Edwards Monster Yamaha Tech3 81