Loris Capirossi knows and loves Motegi, and there was no denying him a victory in the Japanese Grand Prix today. The Ducati rider followed up last year's maiden victory for the team with a convincing flag-to-flag win, his third victory of the year in the FIM Road Racing World Championship (MotoGP).
From Saturday on, it had been all Capirossi at the top of the time sheets: fastest in Saturday practice, on pole position in qualifying, quickest in warmup -- and now on the top step of the Japanese GP podium for the second consecutive year.
"It all started on Friday when my team immediately found a good setting," the Italian explained. "I was able to find a good rhythm in practice and we were very fast in warm-up, so our target was to get a great start and just go."
And he did get the start he wanted: he bolted into the first corner in the lead, followed by third-place man Marco Melandri, who had slipped past Valentino Rossi. Melandri made a passing attempt on the first lap, but could not find his way past the Ducati.
Six laps later, though, Rossi had picked up his pace, and was ready to make his move. He slipped by Melandri to take second, and set his sights on the red Ducati up the road.
"At the start my M1 was a little bit hard to ride," Rossi recounted. "Slowly I found my rhythm and then bit by bit I started to come closer to Marco. Once I passed him I started pushing to try to reach Loris and made the fastest lap, but once he realised I was coming closer he opened the throttle again and he was just too fast for me to catch."
Rossi's quick lap had brought "Il Dottore" to just over a second behind Capirossi, but this time Capirossi had something in reserve, and was not about to allow the Yamaha man to slip by for victory the way he did in Malaysia.
And that he did: a few tenths here, a few there, and five laps later the gap was over two seconds, and still growing. In the end, Capirossi took the chequered flag -- on his rear wheel -- five seconds clear of the seven-time champion.
Behind them, Melandri was another 3.3 seconds behind the leading duo, and Capirossi's Ducati teammate, Sete Giberneau, took fourth, some 1.3 seconds behind Melandri.
It was a close call for the Spaniard, though, as Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano was on his rear wheel on the final lap, looking to take the fourth position on his home track.
The presence of the tens of thousands of Japanese fans spurred Nakano into some uncharacteristically aggressive driving, and tried to out-brake Giberneau at the end of the back straight, putting his front wheel inside the Ducati's rear wheel. Giberneau didn't see the Kawasaki, though, and as he turned in, the two touched wheels, and Nakano spun off the track and out of the race.
For Rossi, the critical competitor was further behind. Championship leader Nicky Hayden crossed the line in fifth place -- having inherited that after Nakano's crash -- 12 seconds off the pace, and never a threat to the leaders.
"Twenty points is a great result for me at this track, which isn't one of my favourites, and now we're only 12 points behind in the championship," Rossi smiled afterwards. "We have two races left and if we can continue in this way then it's possible!"
Indeed, the championship fight is now wide open with only Portuguese and Valencian GPs left on the calendar, and Hayden will clearly have to pull up his socks if he is to stop Rossi's charge to yet another championship. Melandri (27 points back) and Capirossi (31) still have an outside chance, as well.