Stoner wins at Le Mans to close gap on leader Lorenzo

AFP, LE MANS, FRANCE

Mon, May 16, 2011 - Page 18

Casey Stoner won the French MotoGP in Le Mans yesterday in a fourth leg of the season that proved costly for his Honda teammates Dani Pedrosa and Marco Simoncelli.

Pedrosa had produced a flying start off the second row of the grid watched by a record 88,000 crowd to grab the lead from pole setter Stoner, but Stoner wasted no time in reclaiming the advantage, with world champion Jorge Lorenzo on his Yamaha tracking the duo in third.

Simoncelli then made a forward move, surging past Lorenzo to sit third.

By the midway point, Stoner, winner of the season opener in Qatar, had pulled more than two seconds clear of Pedrosa, the Spaniard who had shrugged off shoulder surgery to win in Estoril last time out.

Pedrosa’s race then ended spectacularly with 11 laps remaining after a high-speed crash as he dueled with Simoncelli, who had nipped past him, only for Pedrosa’s front wheel to then clip the Italian’s bike.

Pedrosa was reported by organizers to have broken his right collarbone.

Simoncelli did not escape from the spat scot-free as he incurred a ride-through penalty for what race stewards considered an illegal maneuver on Pedrosa, which resulted in him dropping down from second to sixth.

Valentino Rossi has had a quiet start to the season, but the Ducati star was the main beneficiary of Simoncelli’s punishment, the multiple former champion inheriting second place.

Rossi eventually came in third, his first podium for his new team, with Italian Andrea Dovizioso chasing Stoner across the line, 14 seconds adrift.

Stoner was adding this to his opening success in Qatar and the Aussie moved up to second place in the overall standings on 66 points, a dozen points behind Lorenzo, with Pedrosa in third on 61 points.

After his 25th Grand Prix success, Stoner told the BBC: “It’s been a fantastic weekend, it’s rare that a weekend goes so smoothly. In the race it looked like Dani was going to stay with me, then I pulled clear.”

French hopes of glory in their home Grand Prix were carried by Ducati’s Randy de Puniet, who started from 11th, but he only made it as far as the second lap before being forced to retire after crashing into the safety gravel.