Gibernau is The Man at Le Mans
Spanish star scores hard-fought victory to stretch World Championship lead
Michelin riders dominate fastest-ever Le Mans GP, filling first eight positions
Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) scored the first back-to-back victory of his career at Le Mans today, announcing his World Championship intentions with a superb ride under serious pressure. The Spaniard beat compatriot Carlos Chec a (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) by 1.6 seconds, Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin) taking third a further three tenths down after resisting a strong end-of-race challenge from World Champion Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Y amaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin). Michelin riders totally dominated in the heat, filling the first eight places, the first non-Michelin rider finishing 33 seconds down on Gibernau.
"That's was another really good race for us," said Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "Biaggi set the fastest lap on the last-but-one lap, at the same pace as the quickest guys were doing on race tyres in qualifying, which is impressive. I'm also happy because all our guys are now working in the same direction, using our 16.5in front and our new profile rear. There were just some very small differences in rear compound between the top guys -- Max and Valentino used the same rear, which was slightly softer than Sete's, which was slightly softer than Carlos'."
After the race Gibernau paid tribute to Michelin's input during crucial tests at Jerez following the Spanish GP, which he had won in soaking wet conditions. "I have to thank Honda and Michelin for their efforts," said Gibernau, who started from pole. "They helped us to understand some of the problems we'd had at the first two GPs, so we're now working in a good direction. It was a very hard race. I have a fever but I was able to race 100 per cent, it's only now that I can feel it. Carlos was very fast but I was able to pass him just before half distance, then open a gap, doing fast laps all the way to the finish."
Checa was out front for 11 laps, until he ran slightly wide at the Garage Vert hairpin, and held second from there to score his first podium of the year. "I already felt good at Jerez and we were very close to the front today," he said. "I feel that we will soon have the chance to win."
Biaggi had a thrilling race, lagging behind in the early stages but coming on strong as his tyre choice came good. He zeroed in on Checa during the closing stages, bringing Rossi with him. The pair collided on one occasion, but Biaggi stayed ahead, establishing a new lap record on the penultimate lap. "It was an up-and-down race for me," said the Roman. "I chose a softer rear and it was spinning up in the first few laps. I was two seconds down at one point but I closed the gap. Rossi got me once, but I got him back, I really wanted this podium."
Rossi, who started a race off the front row for the first time in more than a year, was strongest after mid-distance when he was the fastest man on the track. Fighting to catch the three men ahead of him, he made a mistake five laps from the finish when he removed a tear-off visor and ran wide at the next corner. He came back from that to attack Biaggi but had to be happy with his second fourth-place in as many races.
Colin Edwards (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) won a fierce duel for fifth spot with Marco Melandri (Fortuna Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin), the pair finishing well ahead of Alex Barros (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), who started from 11th on the grid. Troy Bayliss (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici GP4-Michelin) rode a gritty race to eighth. Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici GP4-Michelin) raced with Michelin's 16.5in front tyre for the first time to finish t enth. All Michelin's riders now use the 16.5.