Portuguese MotoGP preview
As Casey Stoner heads into this weekend's Portuguese MotoGP at Estoril, he needs to extend his lead over Rossi in the Championship by 15 points or more to secure the world title. Stoner maintains he is taking it one race at a time, and he can afford to be patient, he has a vice-like grip on the championship. His growing legion of fans can't wait for the 21-year-old to get the job done.
Ideally they'd like him to do it in front of his home fans at Phillip Island on October 14, two days before his 22nd birthday, but he can seal the title this weekend at Estoril if he gets 15 points more than Valentino Rossi. That will happen if Stoner takes his fourth straight win and Rossi finishes sixth or worse. The Ducati rider can even win the title if he finishes second and Rossi worse than 11th.
Those calculations won't have been bouncing around the Ducati garage this week, but there is a real sense of history for the team after the success at San Marino. There is no doubt Stoner has been the most skilful rider on the grid this year, but luck fell his way in the last race with Rossi failing to score a point for the second time this year, and Dani Pedrosa crashing out at the start.
Still he deserves all that has come his way, with fifth the worst of his efforts this year. He won on this track on 250cc in 2005, but failed to finish in his MotoGP debut year in 2006.
But it's not Yamaha and Honda which are likely to threaten Stoner's dominance in the final few races of the season, but Suzuki, which has had an astonishing year. Chris Vermeulen started the year with lofty expectations, but the Queenslander could not have imagined that he would have a win, three podiums, and 144 points after 13 races.
He and team-mate John Hopkins are the only ones who have looked like getting close to Stoner over the past three races and the reliability and consistency of the Rizla Suzuki set-up has improved as the season has worn on. Stoner has said he won't ease off after he secures the title, but he is only human, and the door is certainly open for the second and third best bikes on the track to secure victories late in the season.
Rossi is not interested in consolation victories, and will not be happy that his hopes for the title have been all but taken out of his hands. He could win the remaining five races, and as long as Stoner finished better than eighth in all of them, the Australian would still win. Rossi is still a legend of the sport, but the Yamaha and his tires have let him down too often this year. As he found out last year when Nicky Hayden took his crown, consistency is king. However, it should be remembered that Rossi has never missed the podium in Estoril in his seven previous visits here in the premier class. He had four consecutive Portuguese GP wins between 2001 and 2004.
This track has developed a reputation for upset results over the past couple of years. Alex Barros won in 2005 after going nearly three seasons without a win, and has not won a MotoGP race since. Toni Elias prevailed last year after going two and a half seasons without a podium. The Spaniard has only had one podium since.
Those results give some hope to those back in the pack that Stoner might not just ride away from then this week. That may be the only hope they have.