Fortuna Yamaha riders Carlos Checa and Norick Abe rode home to fifth and ninth place respectively in today's Valencia Grand Prix, the final race of the 2003 season. Racing with a new evolution of Yamaha's Deltabox frame on his YZR-M1, Checa started well from fifth on the grid and raced with the leading group throughout the opening laps. However before the second half of the 30-lap race the front-runners had spread out and Checa rode a lonely race home.
MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi (Honda) underlined his dominance of the 2003 season with an emphatic win over nearest challenger Sete Gibernau (Honda). Rossi snatched the holeshot but had to take back the lead once from Loris Capirossi (Ducati) and later from Gibernau. However, despite close contact from Gibernau for much of the race, his lead was not challenged from lap 12 onwards. Rossi eventually took the chequered flag by only six-tenths of a second after wheelying the full length of the start finish straight. Capirossi followed Gibernau home a full ten-and-a-half seconds later with Max Biaggi (Honda) in fourth place ahead of Checa.
"I only had two hours on the new chassis this weekend, and not quite enough time to perfect the set-up before the race," explained Checa. "It was still a good race, I got some good lap times and I was the fastest of the Yamaha riders. I'm a bit disappointed not to have managed to increase my points standings by more, and I take seventh place in the championship. Anyway I can make more progress with the new chassis in our team test this coming week, and try some things we didn't try this weekend. There is still quite a way to go but I'm optimistic for next year."
Experienced and popular Japanese rider Norick Abe was drafted into the Fortuna Yamaha Team squad as a replacement for injured Italian Marco Melandri. Melandri underwent successful surgery on his injured shoulder in Italy on Monday in order to ensure that he is fully fit to start pre-season testing in January. Despite not having raced since a wildcard entry in July 's German GP, Abe put in a creditable performance to bring his YZR-M1 home in ninth place after a lonely race.
"I'm not especially happy because I made a bad start and my position at the beginning was not good," said Japanese Abe. "By mid-race my tyres were sliding, and I've never ridden under these conditions before. I tried a lot of different riding styles during the race and changes in my work with the throttle. Eventually I found a slightly better way to ride and I managed to stay in the same position. I really want to say a big thank you to my staff because they did a lot of work in not much time and all worked really hard this weekend."
Team Director Davide Brivio summarised the season and the weekend: "Today was a solid result for both riders. At the beginning of the race Carlos was able to stay with the top group and kept a good pace, and Norick was also very consistent with his times. We took advantage of the last race of the year by using the latest chassis development that we tried for the first time yesterday. However, without any real pressure it was good to be able to use it for the race and so get plenty of data to feedback to our engineers. It seems to have some positive points.
"Although this was the last race of the season we'll still be here working hard until Wednesday. Tomorrow we have a number of lucky journalists who will get the chance to try the Yamaha YZR-M1 and then we have a two-day test to work further on new developments for our winter test programme and for 2004.
"This season has been difficult and there have been tough times for everyone. However, I would like to thank each person in the team, and Yamaha and its engineers, for their constant hard work and professionalism."
1. Valentino Rossi ITA Repsol HONDA 47'13.078
2. Sete Gibernau SPA Telefonica Movistar HONDA +0.681
3. Loris Capirossi ITA DUCATI Marlboro Team +11.227
4. Max Biaggi ITA Camel Pramac Pons HONDA +16.293
5. CARLOS CHECA SPA Fortuna YAMAHA Team +20.868
6. Alex Barros BRA Gauloises YAMAHA Team +30.851
7. Troy Bayliss AUS DUCATI Marlboro Team +37.770
8. Colin Edwards USA Alice APRILIA Racing +38.922
9. NORICK ABE JPN Fortuna YAMAHA Team +40.229
10. Makoto Tamada JPN Pramac HONDA +46.500
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
1. Valentino Rossi 357
2. Sete Gibernau 277
3. Max Biaggi 228
4. Loris Capirossi 177
5. Nicky Hayden 130
6. Troy Bayliss 128
7. CARLOS CHECA 123
8. Tohru Ukawa 123
9. Alex Barros 101
10. Shinya Nakano 101
15. MARCO MELANDRI 45