The US Grand Prix turned into a one-man show on Sunday, and the star was an unlikely winner — Dani Pedrosa of Spain.
Pedrosa led from first lap to last on his Honda for his first MotoGP victory of the year, holding off Italy’s Valentino Rossi on a dramatic final lap.
Pedrosa’s winning time was 44 minutes, 01.580 seconds for 32 laps on the 3.61km track.
Rossi, who increased his margin atop the championship standings, was second on his Yamaha, 0.344 seconds behind Pedrosa. Pole starter Jorge Lorenzo of Spain was third on a Yamaha despite painful shoulder and foot injuries suffered in a qualifying crash on Saturday that nearly knocked him out of the race.
Pedrosa, who now has seven career grand prix wins, had failed to finish two of the previous three races and finished sixth in the other — and has struggled all year with a series of injuries.
“It’s been a long, tough year for me. I’m happy to be back and win a race,” Pedrosa said.
Pedrosa jumped into the lead on the first lap despite starting fourth on the grid and gradually built his lead to three seconds halfway through the race. He maintained that lead until the final lap, when Rossi nearly overtook him on the final turn.
“Perhaps the only mistake was on the last lap when I was too slow,” Pedrosa said. “I thought I had more of an advantage.”
Rossi, who earned his 100th career win last weekend at the Dutch MotoGP, was seeking his third straight victory.
“I didn’t expect Dani to be so strong today,” Rossi said. “I was pushing a lot on the final lap and I saw Dani slow down. I got close, but not close enough.”
Australian Casey Stoner was fourth on a Ducati and his teammate, Nicky Hayden of the US, was fifth.
It was the first MotoGP race this season not won by Rossi, Lorenzo or Stoner, who have dominated the class all year.
The second-place finish allowed Rossi to increase his lead atop the championship standings as he seeks a ninth world title and seventh in MotoGP. Rossi now has 151 points, followed by Lorenzo on 142, Stoner on 135 and Pedrosa on 92.
Rossi matched a record on Sunday with his 158th consecutive grand prix start. Rossi, who has never missed a GP race since moving up to that class in 2000, equaled the record set by Alex Barros in 1992-2003.
The 250cc and 125cc categories had the weekend off.
The withdrawal of Yuki Takahashi from motorcycling’s premier class this past week made the Laguna Seca race the first MotoGP without a Japanese rider since 1991.
Stoner said he would undergo a series of medical tests in the US to try and determine the cause of a mystery illness that has left him feeling fatigued.
He has been suffering from the problem for the last month and is now seeking medical help after feeling dizzy at the end of Sunday’s race.
The 23-year-old Stoner said he was also experiencing recurring problems with his left wrist, which he broke in 2003 but needed additional surgery last year because it never healed properly.