Rossi clinches MotoGP Title; Checa persists to finish fifth
Honda rider Valentino Rossi today claimed his third consecutive MotoGP World Championship title after a dominating performance at the Malaysian Grand Prix. The flamboyant Italian was in a confident position for the title, as it would only have taken a second place finish behind a win from his main championship rival Sete Gibernau (Honda) to clinch the number one plate. Yet Rossi steamed past the competition including Gibernau to cross the line 2.042 seconds ahead of the Spaniard. Rossi finished today's race with a 63-point lead over Gibernau, with just two rounds of the championship remaining.
Having qualified second behind pole-sitter Rossi for today's 21-lap race, Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa produced a solid start and entered turn one in third place. He trailed Gibernau and Ducati rider Loris Capirossi on the opening lap before fending off a challenge from the champion elect Rossi. Checa maintained his focus and made a string of fast and consistent laps but eventually relinquished second to the determined Rossi. Undeterred, the soon to be 31-year-old Checa continued to chase race leaders Gibernau and Rossi, before coming under the attack of Honda riders Max Biaggi and Nicky Hayden. Checa finished a respectable fifth and retains his eighth place in the championship standings.
"I had a reasonable start but immediately noticed I had much less grip than I have had all weekend," said Checa. "I'm not sure why but we think it was probably because of the rain earlier today and the change in track temperature. I didn't have enough traction with the rear, or enough front feeling. It became more and more noticeable during the race. I managed to hold out in fourth position as long as possible, but then Hayden overtook me right at the end. There was also a bit of chatter when I was braking hard, especially towards the end of the race. We don't yet know exactly what the problem was but it's a shame as we've had one of our most positive weekends of the season. Thanks anyway to my crew, who have worked so hard in these three days."
Fellow Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Marco Melandri was not so fortunate after suffering from a lack of grip for the duration of the race. In addition to a poor qualifying result and a difficult start to the race, the 250cc World Champion concluded the 14th round of the season with a disappointing 11th place.
"Today was just a continuation of the problems I've been having all weekend," said the despondent Melandri. "I never really found any grip and today I had a few engine problems. It was a constant battle for eleventh place with Haga on the Aprilia, who overtook me on the straight on almost every lap. In the end I managed to keep in front of him. Anyway I'm not happy with eleventh place, especially after a fifth place in Motegi last weekend. We have to look ahead to Phillip Island and make sure that this grip issue is resolved for there."
Davide Brivio, team director, commented, "I think we have showed some good progress this weekend, with Carlos able to qualify and race up front. The changes in track conditions since yesterday stopped him from achieving his qualifying pace, and he suffered from a lack of traction but he held out until the end. Anyway the bike is generally more competitive now and with just two more races to go I think Carlos can aim for a podium finish. Marco couldn't find any grip, the same problem he had in Rio, and we're still trying to work out why. This weekend has been incredibly tough on the team so well done to everyone for their perseverance."
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
1. Valentino Rossi 307
2. Sete Gibernau 244
3. Max Biaggi 215
4. Loris Capirossi 141
5. Troy Bayliss 119