A last-minute technical breakthrough by Ducati today boosted Casey Stoner to his second straight Australian Grand Prix victory.
But the highlight of the race was the dazzling ride by MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi after a heavy dose of painkillers.
Stoner led the 27-lap race all the way from pole position, untroubled by his wrist injury, to seal his fifth win of the year.
He crossed the line 6.5 seconds ahead of Rossi who awoke this morning dazed from a heavy qualifying crash yesterday which left him starting from 12th on the grid.
The Italian knifed his Yamaha through the field until he caught American Honda rider Nicky Hayden, who had spent most of the race in second place desperately trying to match Stoner’s pace.
On the last lap, Rossi executed a masterful passing manoeuvre on Hayden to snatch second spot by seven tenths of a second.
Stoner’s win came after a mixed weekend. His bike fell off the pace during a wet practice session on Friday then relentlessly shredded tyres in the dry on Saturday before he managed to keep his last set intact just long enough to grab pole.
Today, the team managed to find a new rear setting that proved perfect during the morning warm-up run.
“We had some dramas and it was a hard weekend to try and find the right set-up,” Stoner said.
“Then this morning in warm-up we found something which gave us a little bit more confidence for the race … a little bit better for braking points and things like that.
“Once we got to two-thirds race distance I could actually ease off a little bit.”
Stoner said that his wrist injury, a five-year-old problem which flared last week in Japan, did not bother him as he did not have to deal with the constant change of direction with the bike that he did in Motegi.
Rossi, who won his sixth premier class world title in Japan, said he had to deal with a lot of pain following the crash that hurt his head and neck yesterday when he ran wide on a corner.
“This morning when I woke up it was a disaster because my head was exploding, a very bad feeling, more than the neck,” the Yamaha rider said.
“But in the mobile clinic they massaged me and I took some medicine for the pain and in the race I felt very good.”
Rossi had a long tussle for third place with Briton James Toseland before elbowing his way past to target Hayden.
“I saw Nicky coming bigger and bigger and I was not sure if it was possible (to catch him) but I tried very hard.
“One time I lost the front and came very close to crashing but the effort was important because I arrived to Nicky on the last lap and I think second place today was the best result possible,” Rossi said.
Queenslander Chris Vermeulen’s race was ruined when he ran wide off the track at the first turn and rejoined in last place, eventually finishing 15th on his Suzuki.
Compatriot Ant West managed 12th place on his under-performing Kawasaki, one spot ahead of American teammate John Hopkins.
Stoner will see out the remainder of the season and the first pre-season test on the new Ducati before having wrist surgery.
He will be joined at Ducati by Hayden for 2009 and said it was important to help the team and the American adjust to the new machine.