Rossi nears seventh heaven

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PHILLIP ISLAND, October 19- Defending world champion Valentino Rossi is closing in on a seventh MotoGP title and could wrap it up at the Sepang track in Malaysia next weekend.VALENTINO_ROSSI_Casey Stoner, on his Ducati, was too fast for Rossi in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix but the Italian still extended his championship lead over his Fiat Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo to 38 points with just two races left.

Lorenzo miscalculated and ran up the back of Stoner’s American teammate Nicky Hayden’s Ducati, careering into the gravel trap on the first bend and bombing out of the race without a point.

Lorenzo, who injured his nose and finger in the spill, has virtually handed the world title to Rossi, who was careful not to jeopardise his 20 runners-up points behind Stoner over the final laps at Phillip Island.

"With three laps to go I was very close (to Stoner) but anyway there was no way for the victory and these 20 points are like gold for us," Rossi said.

"Now we have an important advantage on the championship."

With only a maximum 50 points left in the final two MotoGPs in Malaysia and Spain, Rossi is on the cusp of his seventh world premier-class title.

"I like Sepang, it is one of my favourite tracks so we’ll try to get the result next week," he said.

Rossi, 30, has now finished on the podium from all 10 starts he has had at Phillip Island in the premier-class, including five victories.

"I think it was a high-level race which I enjoyed a lot following Casey. I think it was one of our best races together," he said.

Lorenzo is licking his wounds after his huge error of judgement and is regrouping for a crack at the season’s final two races.

"I have a bit of damage to my nose and my finger, but it could have been a lot worse," he said.

"Although I am disappointed about the race, the most important thing is that I am not badly injured.

"As for the points, the title was a long shot anyway and now I just want to look forward to the final two races."

Stoner, who registered his 19th MotoGP victory, said his break to recover from an illness which had fatigued him for much of the year was the right decision.

"I think without taking that time off I wouldn’t be anywhere near Sunday’s podium," Stoner said. "Things would have been too difficult for me physically and definitely I wouldn’t have been able to last the race.

"It’s just been fantastic to come back and get a second in Portugal and come here and have the pace to win. I can’t ask for more. I definitely made the right decision to take that time off and find my way."

Stoner leapfrogged Dani Pedrosa into third place in the championship standings and leads him by six points heading to Malaysia.

"Casey and Valentino were going super fast and I just couldn’t keep pace with them," Pedrosa said.

"Malaysia is a track that I like, so I’m looking forward to next weekend and I hope I can get another strong result."

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