Gibernau wins vital Qatar GP

Gibernau wins vital Qatar GP

Sete Gibernau crawled himself back into the championship hunt of his first MotoGP World Championship title at the Losail circuit in Qatar. The Spaniard not only won Saturday's GP, but also cut 2/3 of his championship-points deficit to Valentino ...

Sete Gibernau crawled himself back into the championship hunt of his first MotoGP World Championship title at the Losail circuit in Qatar. The Spaniard not only won Saturday's GP, but also cut 2/3 of his championship-points deficit to Valentino Rossi, from 39 points to just 14.

Carlos Checa leading Sete Giberneau.
Photo by Yamaha MotoGP.
The Losail circuit is the first premier-class motorcycle facility in the Middle East. Located in Qatar, it played host to the 13th round of the MotoGP World Championship. Because there had not been any racing of any sort at the facility prior to this weekend's event, the track was smooth and lacking any of the bumps F1 cars are famous for hammering into a circuit. However, it also lacked grip, something all the riders got to the task of solving during Thursday and Friday practice/qualifying. By Saturday morning, there was a visible blue racing line, not much wider than a meter and half. As long as you could stay within this path, you would have no problems, but trail off it and it was certain "suicide" as American Nicky Hayden put it. This meant there would be very little, if any, passing around the circuit, other than on the long front straight were riders and bikes reached over 200mph.

Saturday morning arrived and there were bad news for two teams on the grid. On Friday night, the Gauloises and Camel teams tried to give their respective riders an advantage on the starting grid. The teams got scooters and completed burn-outs on the 8th and 13th starting positions of the grid, hoping to give their riders, Rossi and Max Biaggi respectively, additional grip at the start of the race. They say in racing, the only people that break the rules are those that get caught. With the heated battle between Honda and Rossi, the Repsol-HRC garage protested the action to Dorna. Dorna in turn, penalized each rider six seconds, which sent both riders to the back of the grid; Rossi 23rd and Biaggi 24th.

Rossi knew he had to focus, and focused he was as the lights went out and the race got under way. By the end of the front straight, Rossi had come from 23rd to 9th position, just behind Hayden. Within three corners, Hayden was relegated to 9th, as Rossi took over the 8th spot. By the next turn, fellow American Colin Edwards had also gone past Hayden, as he pushed the number 69 wide. Edwards's qualifying pace showed, as he got past Rossi and Capirossi in one fell swoop. Rossi did not wait very long behind Capirossi, as he got past on the inside of the red Marlboro Ducati. Edwards in turn, got past sixth place, Troy Bayliss on the exit onto the front straight.

As the second lap go underway, Carlos Checa led, followed by Gibernau, Ruben Xaus, Shinya Nakano, Alex Barros, Edwards, Capirossi, who overtook Rossi on the front straight, Bayliss and Hayden. But while the Ducatis may be more powerful than the Yamahas, the Yamahas proved to be more stable under braking, at least on the hands of Rossi, going into turn one and Rossi retook seventh place from Capirossi. Gibernau, with a 39-point deficit, knew he had to win the race, or say good bye to the 2004 World Championship. Gibernau quickly disposed of the Checa on the front straight with the extra grunt of the Honda. Checa tried to out-brake Gibernau, but he was no match for the number 15. The first sand-surfer of the race was Bayliss, who quickly came back onto the track with no problems.

At the start of the third lap, Gibernau still led, followed by Checa. Half a second behind, Nakano got past Xaus for third, and Edwards passed Barros for fifth. Rossi remained seventh, not able to match to top speed of the Hondas. Edwards did not settle for fifth, and his next victim was Xaus, who was also overtaken by Barros, who relegated the Spaniard from fourth to sixth in the span of one lap.

Feeling the pressure from behind, and using the power of the Desmosedici 2003 Ducati, Xaus darted past Barros to take over fifth place. Using Xaus's slipstream, Rossi got sucked into turn one, faster than he expected. Not able to slow the bike down, Rossi pushed Barros wide; as the two collided into turn one. Knowing he was at fault, Rossi quickly raised his hand, apologizing for the incident. Up front, Nakano's bike began to let out a huge cloud of blue smoke, an indication of engine trouble. Two weeks ago, at the Pacific GP in Motegi, the Kawasaki Gods smiled upon Nakano as he and Kawasaki took their first-ever MotoGP podium, not Saturday. Nakano pulled off, but the incident increased Edwards's gap to Checa from two seconds, to four seconds.

17 laps to go and Gibernau led Checa, followed by Edwards and Rossi a further two seconds behind. Behind Rossi followed Xaus, Melandri, Capirossi, Hayden, Hopkins and last place starter, Biaggi.

Rossi's amazing start was not meant to end on a high note. As the riders began the sixth lap, Rossi appeared to be losing touch with Edwards. On the exit of turn 14, Rossi ran out rumble stripping and onto the artificial grass. Any other time, Rossi would have recovered with a slight head-shake, not this time. With his rear tire off the track and the front tire on the racing line, the chassis flexed; this caused the rear tire to violently snap back, causing a small, but fast, high side. Rossi quickly got up to his feet uninjured, but the damage to his championship lead was massive, as it diminished to just 14 points with only three races to go.

Rossi gone, and fourth place was gifted to Melandri who was in a heated battle with Xaus. Edwards continued his electrifying pace, setting the fastest laps of the race as he chased Checa for second place.

The pressure proved too much for Checa, as Edwards took advantage of a small gap the Fortuna Yamaha rider left open. Farther back, it was all fun and games between Melandri and Xaus, as the young lions battled for fourth place. With 12 laps to go, Xaus had taken over third place as he slid his way past Melandri on the brakes into turn one.

Biaggi may have started dead last, but this did not keep the Roman Emperor from putting up a show, as he worked himself from 24th to sixth place. Up front, Edwards closed the gap to Gibernau and got within two seconds, but with both riders riding for the same team, Edwards was expected to soldier off to second place.

Yamaha's luck, or lack thereof, did not stop after Rossi's crash. On the 13th lap Melandri retired with what appeared to be mechanical problems, and with three laps to go, Checa followed with a fuel pump issue. Ducati had similar luck, as both of its riders retired from the race; Bayliss with rear tire problems and Capirossi with mechanical issues.

Gibernau maintained a healthy gap to Edwards, who kept an even healthier gap to Checa and Xaus, but the action was in the battle for fifth place. The protagonists were Biaggi, Barros and Hayden, all three separated by less than half a second. Biaggi tried to preserve fifth place, but was not able to handle Barros's pressure who overtook the Italian on the entrance of a left-hander.

Biaggi's tires paid the price during his ascendance to the front and eventually gave away on the last lap. Though the Italian did not crash out, he did run off track and gifted fifth place to Hayden

Gibernau took his fourth win of the season, Edwards his second, second place of the year and Xaus his first-ever MotoGP podium.

Gibernau's victory cannot be overstressed. Had he not won, and Rossi not crashed, it would have been conceivable that Rossi would have wrapped up the championship as early as Sepang. However, after today's result, it is possible we could be in line for a race at Valencia similar to the WSBK 2002 Imola round, where the winner of the last race of the season could become the World Champion.

The next round will be in Malaysia at the Sepang circuit. Weather forecasts are calling for scattered thunderstorms throughout the weekend. If you thought Qatar was a cracker, just wait for Sepang. Stay tuned for more.

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Nicky Hayden , Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Valentino Rossi , Troy Bayliss , Colin Edwards , Alex Barros , Sete Gibernau , Shinya Nakano , Ruben Xaus