German MotoGP Preview
Casey Stoner still leads the MotoGP world championship by 21 points heading into this weekend's German Grand Prix at Sachsenring, but Valentino Rossi's recent win at Assen will have given the young Aussie plenty of food for thought.
In previous head-to-head battles between the pair it has been Stoner that has emerged triumphant but a fortnight ago in the Dutch race Rossi hunted the 21-year-old down from a lowly 11th on the grid to eventually prevail.
Stoner held him off for 10 laps after Rossi had made his way through the rest of the field but the Italian had the last laugh when he made his move approaching the straight with just over three laps remaining and cleared away.
With Rossi flying and the race close to finished anyway, Stoner sensibly chose not to try and catch Rossi over the closing stages, preferring to ensure he would finish second and that Rossi would only close the gap in the standings by five points.
With the championship now set to resume for what will be the 10th MotoGP race at the Sachsenring and the first in the 800cc class, Stoner is keen to immediately get back to winning form as the second half of the season gets underway, even though his bike isn't yet at its optimum.
"The Ducati and the Bridgestones have been working well at pretty much every circuit, so when we get to Germany we'll just concentrate and keep doing what we've been doing," said Stoner, who didn't contest last year's race after crashing during the warm-up.
"I got my first-ever podium (second) at the Sachsenring (on a 125cc bike in 2003), the track is fun on a 125 but it's a little bit more difficult to negotiate some of those turns on a MotoGP bike."
Rossi has fond memories of his previous visits to Sachsenring, having won there three times in MotoGP - including the past two years - and five overall in all classes bar the 800cc, but he expects Stoner to put up just as big a fight this weekend.
"Casey will be strong again like he is everywhere this year," Rossi said. "With him performing at such a high level at every race 21 points is not a small amount so we have to be at the maximum."
"We've got work to do still, we're not perfect yet, especially in the wet, but we're going in the right way and we'll keep pushing. We still have half the season left. I'm feeling confident, the Yamaha works very well in Sachsenring and I've had a lot of good wins there in my career."
Stoner's compatriot Chris Vermeulen may not have been able to capitalize on his pole position at Assen, dropping back to seventh by mid-race before being taken out by Randy De Puniet.
Vermeulen bravely got back onto the track but the Rizla Suzuki rider had to settle for 16th place.
"I had a pretty strong race at Sachsenring last year, even though I found it a difficult track to learn," Vermeulen said. "That was the first time I had ever been there and got a seventh-place finish."
"I am still a bit annoyed about what happened in the race last week, but there is nothing I can do about that now, I just hope that somebody else doesn't want to crash into me this week because three times this season already is more than enough."
Reigning world champion Nicky Hayden may be a long way adrift of the leading pair but he had his best result of the 2007 season in the Netherlands when he finished third and will be out to make a much better fist of his title defense in the second half of the year.
As has been the case for much of the year though, this weekend shapes as a major battle between Stoner and Rossi, with Rossi out to make the most of his display at Assen to try and put a much bigger dent in the gap to Stoner.
But the young New South Welshman has been extremely impressive so far this year and won't be a pushover for his more experienced rival, with Stoner looking to also atone for the disappointment of not being permitted to race at Sachsenring 12 months ago.