LE MANS  - Spain’s 2010 world champion Jorge Lorenzo won the French MotoGP here on Sunday and took the overall lead in the championship in front of an astonishing crowd of over 80,000 who braved the heavy rain. The 25-year-old Yamaha rider, recording his second win of the season and 19th MotoGP in all, came home clear of Italian great Valentino Rossi on a Ducati while defending world champion Casey Stoner of Australia was third on a Honda.

For 33-year-old Rossi it was only his second podium finish in two years and could not have come at a better time as Stoner is due to retire at the end of the year and the Italian suggested he would be interested in the ride. “The race went extremely well for me,” said Lorenzo, who will take his lead to his home Grand Prix in Barcelona in a fortnight.

“I got a lead and though Casey closed on me he suddenly dropped off and I was able to relax and coast home. I admit my only problem was to keep my concentration alone up front.” Rossi, a seven-time 500cc/MotoGP champion, was delighted with his result which came in front of an admiring seven-time Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher.

“I would like to only race when it rains,” grinned the rider known as ‘The Doctor’. “It was very important to stay calm in these wet conditions and even when I had a problem with my visor and had to drop back a bit I kept my composure. I got back into a good rhythm and then got involved in a really good battle with Casey which was like old times! This is an important result for us.”

Stoner, who had surprised many when he announced earlier in the week he was retiring at the end of the season at the age of just 26, admitted it had been a tough race. “It wasn’t the best day for us,” said Stoner, who has two wins under his belt this season. “We struggled today. I gave it my all in the middle part of the race but then we lost grip and I had to just try and hold on. I’m quite pleased really with third.”

Lorenzo made a great start and quickly established a four second lead over Stoner while the latter’s team-mate and pole sitter Dani Pedrosa’s hopes of winning his first ever French Grand Prix quickly disappeared as he slipped to sixth. It was Rossi and Cal Crutchlow who made the most progress to move into third while Crutchlow, quickest in the morning warm-up, came from fifth row on the grid to overtake team-mate Andrea Dovizioso to go fourth with 19 laps to go.

Rossi, though, was riding brilliantly and overtook Dovizioso and set off in pursuit of the first two. Lorenzo, though, was making no mistake up front as he hammered home his advantage and with eight laps remaining he was over six seconds ahead and away with the fairies.

Stoner eased up acknowledging that Lorenzo had the race in the bag, but Rossi had not given up hope of taking second and reduced the Australian’s lead to two seconds with six laps remaining.

With four laps to go the charismatic Italian was right on Stoner’s shoulder while disaster struck Dovizioso as he like Crutchlow went into the gravel, restarted but came back on in seventh spot. Rossi’s thrilling duel with Stoner came to a head entering the final lap when he feinted one way and then went the other to pass Stoner and fended him off for the remainder of the lap.