Rossi fastest in Barcelona Test to win BMW Z4 2.2i
Italy's Valentino Rossi sped to a terrific first position during a special 40 minute MotoGP 2004 test session this afternoon at the Circuit de Catalunya, and the keys to a brand new BMW Z4 2.2i that was the prize for the opening round of the BMW Award 2004 MotoGP Test. In what was the opening salvo to what promises to be a classic season ahead in the premier class of motorcycle racing, Rossi's Yamaha stunned the world to be faster than America's Colin Edwards' Honda by a mere 0.082 of a second during his first major ride for his new team. For Rossi it was the perfect start to the season.
BMW ambassador and previous BMW works Touring car driver, Prince Leopold von Bayern, handed the keys to the 35,000 BMW over to Rossi immediately after he pulled up in parc ferme. "It's fantastic to win this!" said a laughing Rossi as he took his crash helmet off. "I owe this to the team because they've all put in so much work over the winter. It's not the race in South Africa yet, so we're going to have to see then what happens for the rest of the championship."
Former World Superbike Champion, Edwards, in only his second year of MotoGP, showed he is a strong contender for Rossi's number 1 plate together with his team-mate Sete Gibernau who was just 0.098 seconds behind Rossi. Winner of a BMW 330cd at this same test 12 months ago, Loris Capirossi, left seasoned MotoGP commentators stunned when en-route to fourth position he rocketed through the speed traps at the end of the 1km long straight at an incredible 347.4 kph (215.9 mph). This set a brand new top speed record in the MotoGP class, but one that, amazingly, looks sure to be broken during the 16 race 2004 season.
There was immediate drama with five riders falling at the same corner early in the test when oil on the track toppled Jeremy McWilliams (Aprilia), Troy Bayliss (Ducati), Carlos Checa (Yamaha), Alex Barros (Honda) and Capirossi, but all fortunately without injury. There was a 10 minute break whilst the spillage was tended to quickly by the marshals, but that only heightened the tension before the final few laps of 'shootout action'.
Rossi's time now goes forward to the BMW Best Qualifier Award 2004 which accumulates competitors times from this session today with the 16 grid times for the 2004 season. The prize for the least time taken to complete those sessions is a brand new BMW 645Ci worth 80,000. Only after the last qualifying session of the year in Valencia will we know who is the fastest qualifier of the year. Rossi won the Award last year ahead of arch-rival Max Biaggi by 4.7 seconds.
Today's thrilling action was held under perfect blue skies after torrential rain on Saturday when conditions were so bad many riders did not even venture out onto the track. All of the MotoGP teams now move on to Jerez in the south of Spain to continue their preparations before the opening MotoGP at the Welkom circuit in South Africa on April 16 - 18.
BMW continue to supply the MotoGP Championship with safety cars which this year are made up of a stunning BMW M3 CSL and a BMW 645Ci. The BMW Motorrad BoxerCup 2004 will continue to be a support race to the MotoGP championship at seven of the ten European races commencing at Le Mans on May 15.