BRITISH GRAND PRIX, DONINGTON PARK
Race Day, Sunday July 8 2001
ROSSI WINS `BEST EVER' VICTORY AT DONINGTON
Valentino Rossi inflicts crucial defeat on title rival Max Biaggi in battle of Britain World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) scored a vital victory at Donington Park today, midpoint of this year's enthralling 500 World Championship.
Once again the two main men in the race were Rossi and arch-title-rival Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team- Michelin). The pair are running one-two in the championship and have finished one-two at the past three GPs, Rossi winning at Catalunya, Biaggi at Assen last weekend and Rossi back on top here.
This was a stunning victory, possibly the youngster's best ever, for he came through from a third-row start, the result of a 200kmh fall on Friday and further set-up problems during yesterday's rain-hit practice sessions. Biaggi did his valiant best but ended the encounter 1.794 seconds down, with third-home Alex Barros (West Honda Pons-Michelin) a further two tenths back.
"I think this is my best win ever," said Rossi, who made risky but crucial changes to his set-up following this morning's warm-up session. "To win from 11th on the grid is very good. We've had problems here, and not only the crash. The set-up wasn't right so we checked the data this morning and tried something very different. It was a bet but it worked.
"The bike was good but I didn't want to push too hard in the early laps because it's always risky with a full fuel tank. Then the rear started to spin but the tyre settled down and I started to push harder."
Eleventh at the end of the first lap, while World Champion Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) set the early pace, Rossi made steady progress through the pack, picking off most of his rivals as he braked from 250kmh into the Fogarty Esses. Sensing his rival's progress, Biaggi got the hurry-up at one-third distance, moving ahead of Roberts, who was quickly relegated to third by Barros and then to fourth by Rossi.
Rejuvenated Superbike hero Noriyuki Haga (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin) also put in a strong mid-race run, hounding Barros in third before easing off to safeguard fourth, his best result since commencing his full-time GP career. Haga has struggled to get to grips with 500s but is now on the pace, running a unique tyre choice.
"Haga used a new front which he first tried in tests after Catalunya," said Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli. "He has a very special style, flicking the bike on to its side incredibly fast. The new front gives him more feedback as he goes to maximum lean. He also uses a different rear from the other guys, with a different profile to help him flick into turns, but it doesn't seem to suit the other riders so much."
But after half distance there were only three men in it: Rossi, Biaggi and Barros. The trio all chose medium- compound 16.5 rears, Biaggi and Barros also agreeing on medium fronts, while Rossi went it alone with a harder front. In the closing stages it was Rossi who had the pace, opening a two second gap over Biaggi, who had his hands full holding off Barros in the final laps. "I played my own game," said Biaggi. "Barros and Rossi were both running a very quick pace. When Rossi overtook me it was difficult to stay with him, I was losing a little time at a few points around the track. He started from 11th and won, so you can see the potential of him and his bike. It's a hard combination to beat."
Barros might have had a go at Biaggi if the Brazilian hadn't made two costly mistakes in the latter half of the race. Every time he looked capable of getting close enough, he lost crucial time. Nevertheless Barros was happy enough with his first top-three finish since he won the Italian GP five weeks ago.
Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) was also in positive mood after crossing the line five seconds down on Haga, his best result since May's French GP. "We've had a few tough races but we're making progress again," said the Spaniard. "Last week we made some important improvements to the bike and here we improved the chassis too."
Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin) was just half a second down on Checa at the flag with Alex Crivillé (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) seventh, just over three seconds off the Japanese. Roberts ended up eighth, still unable to find the second-half performance to match his speed in the early stages. Reigning 250 champ Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin) scored his best 500 result in ninth, finally on the pace after a long fightback from pre-season injury, despite a high-speed practice fall. Second fastest in qualifying, Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin) ended up tenth, suffering arm cramps from a fall at Craner, the same corner that claimed Rossi and Jacque.