|By Jake Leech
The Misano World Circuit is an Italian racetrack located next to the town of Misano Adriatico, a province of Rimini. Originally designed in 1969 consisting of 11 turns and at a length of 3.488 kilometres, it hosted its first event in 1972. In 1993, the track length was increased to 4.064 kilometres and the facilities were upgraded.
The first MotoGP race held on the circuit after further heavy modification in 2006 was completed last year and was won by Casey Stoner aboard his home town bike, the “Ducati” GP7. Stoner would be starting the 2008 edition from pole for the seventh successive race of the season; the longest sequence of successive poles in the premier-class since Mick Doohan started from pole at twelve successive races in 1997.
Joining Stoner on the front row after Saturday’s qualifying session were championship leader Valentino Rossi and his teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Rossi started from the front row for the eighth time in 2008 and should he go on to win, it would be his 68th in the premier-class and would equal Giacomo Agostini’s record for the most victories at the top level of GP racing.
Meanwhile Lorenzo would be starting from the front row for the first time since he claimed pole at round three in Estoril. It was a welcome return to form for the fiery young Spanish rookie.
Randy DePuniet, Toni Elias and Dani Pedrosa constructed the second row of the grid and would all be ones to watch during the race. Pedrosa would be extremely wary off the line and hoping for better luck than last year at Misano, where he did not finish the first lap as he was knocked off by DePuniet at turn two.
Away from the line and it was pole-man Casey Stoner who got the best jump into the scorching Rimini sunshine. He continued to lead through turns one and two and was followed closely by Spaniard Dani Pedrosa. Stoner immediately opened a gap over the opening lap as Rossi in third closed in on Pedrosa ahead of him.
At the conclusion of the first lap, Stoner’s lead stood impressively at over one second. In contrasting fortune, Randy DePuniet crashed out of the race in familiar fashion on the opening lap. He had equalled his best qualifying result of the year which he achieved at the Grand Prix of Catalunya in June, shame the result failed to live up to the potential of his qualifying performance.
Rossi meanwhile continued his forward momentum on lap two craftily manoeuvring past Pedrosa and snatching second place. He now had a lot of work to do in order to bridge the gap to Stoner in first.
Alex DeAngelis joined Randy DePuniet in the kitty litter and crashed out during the early stages of the race.
Pedrosa in third was now coming under real pressure from his countryman and bitter rival Jorge Lorenzo. Tucked in behind Lorenzo was yet another Spaniard in the rejuvenated Toni Elias, it was proving to be a titanic three-way tussle for third place.
As the laps ticked away Stoner continued to streak away at the head of the field. With 24 laps remaining the margin back to Rossi stood at an ominous three seconds. However, on the same lap Rossi set the fastest lap of the race so far.
Lorenzo took the upper hand in the battle of the three Spaniards, shoving past Pedrosa and taking over the final podium place on track.
Pedrosa continued to slip down the order as Elias followed Lorenzo through, the satellite Ducati pilot moving up to fourth and continuing Pedrosa’s misery.
Rossi went about setting another fastest lap of the race with 22 remaining. ‘The Doctor’ had managed to close the gap to around about two and a half seconds and was pushing ever so hard to make a race of his ‘home’ GP.
Just as Stoner responded to Rossi’s pressure, increasing his gap back to an even three seconds, the Australian world champion crashed out of the race in amazingly similar style to two weeks ago in Brno.
With 20 laps to run Rossi had yet again inherited a comfortable race lead, holding an ironic three second margin over his teammate Lorenzo in second place.
Rossi would merely have to finish the race to just about wrap up a world championship and set about etching his name further into the MotoGP history books.
With 15 laps to run the race had well and truly settled into a rhythm and spread itself about the Misano World Circuit. Rossi’s margin was being maintained at a healthy three seconds as Lorenzo held Elias off by around two seconds. Elias in turn headed Pedrosa by an even second.
Further down the order Chris Vermeulen was making steady progress through the field after a dreadful start. He had moved into seventh place past Shinya Nakano after running as low as 13th and now had James Toseland firmly in his sights.
Vermeulen finished second last year at Misano after starting in eighth place on the grid, he would have his work cut out for him to come anywhere near equalling that result today.
Rossi continued to maintain a steady yet relentless pace as he set about taking a cherished home victory. His teammate Lorenzo was looking safe in second place. However, the same could not be said for Elias in third as Pedrosa stalked all over the rear of his countryman with 11 laps remaining.
With 10 laps to run Rossi still lead the top 10 handsomely from Lorenzo, Elias, Pedrosa, Dovizioso, Toseland, Vermeulen, Capirossi, Nakano and Guintoli.
The battle for fifth place between Dovizioso, Toseland and Vermeulen was providing the bulk of on track entertainment. Toseland moved by Dovizioso with nine laps to run as Vermeulen was looking eager to follow his fellow ex-WSBK rider through.
The Australian Vermeulen did so a lap later, barging past Dovizioso at turn two and then setting after Toseland ahead of him.
With seven laps to run the podium places were all but decided. Rossi continued to lead by around three seconds from Lorenzo who in turn had a four second advantage over Elias in third.
Pedrosa, who had looked threatening during the middle stages of the race, was now fading away, trailing his countryman Elias by over two seconds. He had appeared to have settled for fourth place.
Elias had started from his best grid position since he was 5th on the grid at the Japanese Grand Prix last year and was well and truly capitalizing on this stellar performance.
In the battle for fifth Vermeulen had managed to bypass Toseland who in turn was passed by Dovizioso and would feel the pressure from Capirossi in eighth.
Rossi had ridden a calm and measured race with three laps remaining, holding his advantage over Lorenzo behind him and clearly capitalizing on his main title rival Stoner’s misfortune.
Onto the penultimate lap and it was done and dusted. Rossi would cruise home to a decisive and emphatic victory. Lorenzo was set to return to the podium in impressive style as Toni Elias would surely take back-to-back podiums after his second place in Brno two weeks ago.
The fieriest on track battle during the last lap was taking place for sixth place. James Toseland was doing his all to hold off home riders Capirossi and Dovizioso. Capirossi and Toseland were swapping positions at every twist of turn of the Misano circuit.
Rossi wasn’t worried in the slightest about battles taking place further down the order as he stormed to an amazingly significant home grand prix victory. His teammate Jorge Lorenzo took a determined and impressive second place while Toni Elias continued his strong form at the right time of the year to round out the podium places.
Pedrosa, Vermeulen, Toseland, Capirossi, Dovizioso, Melandri and Edwards rounded out the top 10 placings.
Rossi had all but wrapped up the 2008 MotoGP World Championship after taking a supreme victory which sees him equal the all time record for wins in the premier class, held by his countryman and legend Giacomo Agostini.
He now leads the championship by 75 points from Stoner and will head to Indianapolis in two weeks time with a full head of steam. It is now Rossi’s championship to lose, something that the vastly experienced and wily Italian is highly unlikely to do.