World Champion Casey Stoner scored a fabulous victory at Laguna Seca to win the Red Bull US Grand Prix from Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa to take his 4th victory of the season and relight his championship charge. The 26 year old Australian made a brave rear tyre choice, taking the softer option and made it work for him.
He had to fight all the way though and as the sun was clearly cooking the track temperature almost all the top runners felt they had to use the harder option as the softer was said to be unlikely to go the distance without a severe drop off in performance.
Stoner had just failed to keep Lorenzo from pole and lined up in the middle of the front row with fellow Red Bull Athlete and Honda team mate Pedrosa on his left. As usual Pedrosa made a great start, swapped to the right of the track and was 2nd into turn one behind Lorenzo.
Behind the front row men Lorenzo's Yamaha team mate Ben Spies lay 4th holding off the Tech 3 Yamaha riders Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow with Laguna newcomer Stefan Bradl 9th.
It seemed that Stoner had to make use of the soft rear before it faded and onto lap 3 he went inside Pedrosa at the right hand turn 3 to take 2nd. Bradl had charged up to 7th and pressuring Crutchlow.
Lap 4 saw Stoner try to repeat the move on Lorenzo but the Yamaha rider closed the door on him. The leading trio raced away from the pack, they were 3 seconds ahead of Spies at the end of lap 5 as he fought off Dovizioso, Crutchlow and Bradl. That 4 were well clear of the Ducatis of Hayden and Rossi who had got past Bautista leaving the Spaniard 10th
Stoner continued to look to the right or to the left at almost every turn, testing Lorenzo. Pedrosa sat back, just 2 bike lengths behind and watched, looking comfortable as he closed right up on the lead duo at the end of each lap, very quick through turn 11 and across the line.
The battle for 4th continued with Spies still holding Dovizioso and Crutchlow at bay with Bradl having to work hard to keep with them and soon to be pressured by Hayden who was towing Rossi towards the 22 year old German.
At one 3rd of the way through the 32 laps Lorenzo looked to have taken the edge off Stoner's attack and had an advantage of over half a second. Similarly Pedrosa had faded slightly and was a full second behind Stoner.
While the gaps at the front increased the battle for 4th intensified, Bradl was back on the tail of the Tech 3 Yamahas as Hayden continued to catch him. Rossi did not look as threatening.
At half distance the Stoner was managing to keep Lorenzo from getting the lead up to 1 second but Pedrosa was clearly not comfortable and well over a second further back. Then there was a gap of over 8 seconds to Spies, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Bradl and Hayden who each had about half a second between them.
It was not all over though, Lorenzo had a few nasty moments and Stoner cut his lead to half a second with 14 to go. The Australian took another 2 tenths out of the Spaniard on the following lap and the battle for the win was alive again. Only the lead trio were still lapping in the 1m 21s.
With 12 laps to go Stoner had a lunge for the lead but just could not get past, onto the next lap though he got superb drive out onto the start and finish and just blasted past Lorenzo. The theory that the soft rear tyre option would not last the distance was unfounded for the tyre looked to be working perfectly to deliver the power.
As Stoner established a slight lead, Spies crashed out down The Corkscrew leaving Dovizioso 4th, 14 seconds behind Stoner.
Lap 24 saw both Stoner and Lorenzo slip into the 1m 22 second bracket as both found their tyres fading, still less than half a second between them. A lap later though Stoner found something extra and got back into the 1m 21s and pushed his advantage out to 0.8 seconds.
Lorenzo responded and took 2 tenths back the following lap as he too went back into the 1m 21s.
As the advantage ebbed and flowed between the two leaders, Pedrosa was almost 3 seconds back in 3rd and Bradl lost 6th to Hayden on lap 27 leaving The Corkscrew.
With 3 laps to go though Stoner had done the hard work and the gap was over a second, a fault free run would give him the win. Rossi crashed out at the top of The Corkscrew, dropping the Ducati on the brakes for his first DNF of the year.
Stoner romped home to win by 3.429 seconds and claim his 3rd victory at laguna making him the most successful rider ever at the Californian circuit. An impressive record and crucially his previous wins in 2007 and 2011 came in his World Championship winning years. He has been on the podium 5 times in 7 years, finishing either 1st or 2nd.
Stoner said he felt that the tyre choice presented no gamble at all. “It was fairly calculated, we were struggling with the harder tyre, we just can't get it up to temperature. That's been our problem at the last few races. With the softer tyre we knew that we couldn't go spinning it up or it wouldn't last. It would have been good to get away in the lead early but it didn't happen, Jorge was running some good lines and it was a bit tricky to try and get off line to make a pass. So we just eased off a little, let the tyre cool and then had another go. It worked out.
Pedrosa said that the softer tyre was not really an option for him. “Neither tyre really worked for me and I just rode as hard as I could. Then I had a big moment, I don't remember where it was exactly but I almost crashed and I lost touch with the two ahead. I had some more moments, I didn't want to give up so I just pushed as hard as I could to the end.”
Lorenzo still leads the title chase with 205 points, Pedrosa is 2nd with 182 and Stoner 3rd on 173. There are 8 more races in the championship, the next being the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix on August 19th.