Casey Stoner certainly didn't look like a man coasting towards retirement as he took a hard-fought win in the US Motorcycle Grand Prix at Laguna Seca in Monterey, California, ahead of Yamaha factory rider Jorge Lorenzo and his works Honda team mate Dani Pedrosa, reaping the benefits of gambling on a soft rear tyre.
Lorenzo who took the hole shot into the tricky Turn 1 with Pedrosa and Stoner in tow. Stoner was the only one of the front-runners to have started on the softer option rear tyre, with the two Spaniards opting for the harder specification.
Stoner found his pace on lap two and moved past Pedrosa to begin chasing down Lorenzo at the front, while local hero Ben Spies on the second factory Yamaha headed up a battle for fourth that included the satellite. Yamaha Tech 3 duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow, as well as Stefan Bradl's privateer Honda.
By lap 11 Crutchlow was all over Dovizioso like a rash, as the pair continued their season-long duel, and Lorenzo was continuously having to fend off Stoner, who was all looking for a way past, while Pedrosa seemed content to hold a watching brief on third. Ducati's Nicky Hayden was finding his stride in eighth, as he and team mate team mate Valentino Rossi made up ground on the leading pack.
At the end of lap 12 Pedrosa had a huge wobble going into the final corner; he saved it but it cost him more than a second. With 14 laps to go Lorenzo had a moment going into the corkscrew, as Stoner looked to be chipping away at his lead once more.
STONER INTO THE LEAD
By lap 22 Stoner had caught up to Lorenzo and put in a move going into Turn 1, just as he did in 2011, to take the lead. That wasn't a good lap for Yamaha, as Spies crashed out of the race under power out of the Corkscrew, due to a technical fault with his swing-arm.
Stoner and Lorenzo were in a league at their own at the front, and with nine laps left were already starting to lap some of the back markers. On the same lap Dovizioso fought his way back past Crutchlow, as the pair continued their duel for fourth, while Hayden caught and passed Bradl, and set off after Crutchlow.
With three laps to go Stoner was showing no signs of slowing down, as he held off Lorenzo, staying just about a second ahead, with Pedrosa a further three seconds adrift.
There was drama on the second last lap when Rossi took a huge tumble going into the Corkscrew, for his first DNF of the season. Fortunately he was unhurt, but he'll head into the summer break with further doubts about the Ducati's competitiveness.
In the end it was Stoner's gamble on the soft tyre that paid off as he came home more than three seconds ahead of Lorenzo and Pedrosa. Lorenzo still leads the championship by 23 points from Pedrosa and 32 from Stoner.
Stoner said after the race that tyre management in the early laps was key to his ability run hard in the closing stages, while Lorenzo expressed surprise at the longevity of the soft tyre, admitting that the harder option may have been the wrong choice.
1 Casey Stoner (Australia) Honda - 43min45.961
2 Jorge Lorenzo (Spain) Yamaha +3.429sec
3 Dani Pedrosa (Spain) Honda +7.633
4 Andrea Dovizioso (Italy) Yamaha +18.602
5 Cal Crutchlow (Britain) Yamaha +18.779
6 Nicky Hayden (US) Ducati +26.902
7 Stefan Bradl (Germany) Honda +28.393
8 Alvaro Bautista (Spain) Honda +50.246
9 Aleix Espargaro (Spain) Aprilia +1min18.993
10 Karel Abraham (Czech Republic) Ducati +1min22.076
11 Randy de Puniet (France) Aprilia +1 lap
12 Yonny Hernandez (Colombia) Kawasaki +1 lap
13 Colin Edwards (US) Suter +1 lap
14 Ivan Silva (Spain) Kawasaki +1 laps
POINTS after 10 of 18 rounds
1 Jorge Lorenzo (Spain) Yamaha - 205
2 Dani Pedrosa (Spain) Honda - 182
3 Casey Stoner (Australia) Honda - 173
4 Andrea Dovizioso (Italy) Yamaha - 121
5 Cal Crutchlow (Britain) Yamaha - 106
6 Stefan Bradl (Germany) Honda - 84
7 Nicky Hayden (US) Ducati - 84
8 Valentino Rossi (Italy) Ducati - 82
9 Alvaro Bautista (Spain) Honda - 81
10 Ben Spies (US) Yamaha - 66