Phillip Island: Casey Stoner marked his 26th birthday by clinching the MotoGP world title with a fifth successive Australian Grand Prix victory Sunday but the celebrations were overshadowed by a sickening finger injury to Jorge Lorenzo.
The 24-year-old Spaniard was rushed to a Melbourne hospital for emergency plastic surgery after a finger on his left hand was severely injured in a crash during practice before the race at Phillip Island.
The injury ruled Lorenzo out of the race and ensured Stoner would only need a top-six finish to clinch the title, but the Australian had little intention of coasting to the line, eventually crossing more than two seconds in front of team mate Marco Simoncelli.
Stoner, who coolly closed out victory as gusty winds and late showers played havoc with riders’ concentration, had mixed feelings about his second world title after winning the first with Ducati in 2007.
“It’s not the way I wanted to win the championship but at the same time we felt we had the momentum, we had the best chance of winning the championship out of anyone,” Stoner told reporters.
“If it didn’t happen here, I do believe it would have happened in Malaysia,” he added, referring to the second-last stop in Sepang next week.
“As far I know Jorge should make a good recover from this and I don’t think it will affect his riding in the future so I’ll expect him to be strong.”
Stoner had said he had felt “sick” after seeing officials scouring around the track for the end of Lorenzo’s finger, but a Yamaha team spokesman later said that the Spaniard had not severed it, though it was badly injured.
“He is currently undergoing surgery … We will release a statement once we have a full medical report,” he said.
The injury continued Lorenzo’s roller-coaster record at the scenic seaside track. The Spaniard was a distant runner-up last year but crashed out on the first turn in 2009 to all but hand the MotoGP title to Valentino Rossi.
Lorenzo’s misfortune helped Stoner to an unassailable 65-point lead over the Spaniard, but the Australian’s second title following his 2007 triumph confirmed his class after his last few seasons with Ducati were marred by illness and mechanical frustrations.
“I don’t think I can fit too many more things in this today,” a beaming Stoner said.
“It was my birthday, it was my fifth win in a row here, my second world championship, my home grand prix. Everything — to win like this is something really special.
“It’s been pretty much a dream season for us, everything’s gone really well. We’ve had a few ups and downs, but the downs haven’t been too far down and the ups have been right up there.
“A big thanks to my team, a big thanks to everyone.”
“HEART IN MOUTH”
Pole-sitter Stoner had won his fourth qualifying in a row Saturday and underscored his mastery of the Phillip Island track by leading from start to finish.
After pulling safely away from the pack off the grid, the Australian pushed the lead to seven seconds halfway through the 27-lap race before Phillip Island’s notoriously fickle weather struck.
With off-shore gusts buffeting the circuit, showers doused the track twice in the last third of the race, leaving only 10 out of the 14 starters to finish.
Valentino Rossi’s dismal first season with Ducati continued, the seven-times premier class champion’s race ending on his 14th lap after a slide off the track.
Suzuki’s Alvaro Bautista, Honda’s Hiroshi Aoyama and Yamaha-rider Cal Crutchlow also retired after coming to grief in the wet on their 24th lap.
Stoner confessed to a number of “heart in the mouth” moments as team mate Simoncelli and third-placed Andrea Dovizioso clawed back the margin.
“I nearly came off the track … I was pretty lucky to stay on at that point because I think I was the first person to hit that wall of rain,” he said.
“I took it very gingerly the last lap just to bring it home.”
Much of the drama was reserved for the remaining podium spots, however, as Simoncelli and fellow Italian Dovizioso fought a spirited battle for second.
Simoncelli came out on top and held on grimly in the last lap to record his best MotoGP finish.
Earlier in the Moto2 category, Motobi rider Alex de Angelis passed Stefan Bradl on the last lap and survived a shunt from the German, whose second place gave him a three-point lead over Suter’s Marc Marquez in the championship race.
Aprilia’s Sandro Cortese edged team mate Luis Salom to win the 125cc category, with Derbi-rider Johann Zarco finishing third to close the gap in the title race behind Nicolas Terol to 25 points.