Local Hero Gibernau Win Michelin'S 50TH Consecutive 500 Gp
Gibernau braves treacherous conditions at Valencia to beat Barros and team-mate Roberts
Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) won today's high-tension Valencia Grand Prix, braving a damp and treacherous track to beat Alex Barros (West Honda Pons-Michelin) by just three tenths of a second. The Spaniard's team-mate Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) came home a close-run third after running with the leaders throughout much of the 30-lap race.
The result put the partisan 120,000 fans in party mood, a barrage of firework explosions greeting the first Spanish 500 win in 16 months. The success was also greeted by Michelin Group chairman and CEO Edouard Michelin, who witnessed his company's 50th consecutive 500 win on his first visit to a motorcycle Grand Prix. The last time Michelin didn't win a 500 GP was way back in August 1998 and the brand is currently on its way to scoring its tenth consecutive 500 World Championship success.
Tyre choice was everything in this race, with a rain shower soaking the track shortly before the start. Gibernau bravely chose slicks front and rear, like his team-mate, while Barros went for a slightly more cautious intermediate front/slick rear combination. "My recommendation was intermediate front/slick rear because our first priority is always safety," said Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli. "The guys who chose slick fronts must've had a scary first few laps, and my choice wasn't so bad, since Barros was up front throughout, though he couldn't brake so hard at the end. Rossi made a safer choice, because he couldn't afford to crash in the first laps when the track was quite wet."
World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin), did indeed lead the early laps, getting ahead at the very first turn moments after Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin) had fallen. Capirossi had started the race on his spare bike after sliding off on the warm-up lap, his fate proving the perilously low wet-weather grip offered by this track. With more reason to play safe than most, Rossi went for intermediates front and rear and though he quickly established a healthy lead in the super-hazardous first laps, Gibernau, Barros and Roberts closed rapidly as the track began to dry. Gibernau went ahead just before one-third distance and from then on he battled back and forth with Barros, Roberts watching and waiting in their slipstream, while Rossi slipped further back.
The pace got quicker as the race wore on and during the final few laps the racing line was mostly dry. In these conditions Gibernau's slicks made the difference and he made his final move past Barros, with just centimetres to spare, with two laps to go. "That really was one of the most difficult races because everyone was so tense and unsure," said the 28-year old who set the fastest lap on the very last lap. "I gambled on slicks and the first part of the race was chaos, there were people falling everywhere but in the end mine were the right tyres. When I closed on Rossi I could see he had a treaded rear, so I knew I just had to wait. My team was awesome today but I can't put this win into words right now."
Barros led more laps than Gibernau but the late-race track conditions weren't right for his intermediate front. "I tried everything but during the last laps I couldn't close in on Sete on the brakes," he explained. "The early laps were unbelievable, this track is so slippery in the wet."
Reigning World Champion Roberts was delighted with his first podium finish of the year. "I'm happy for the team, make no mistake we needed this," said the American. "But we still need to improve our machine, the team knows that and the factory knows that. We've had our backs to the wall and now we can move on from here."
Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) was possibly the most disappointed finisher. He slid off on the warm-up lap, like Capirossi, sand started the race from pit lane on his spare bike. Dead last into turn one, he rocketed through the pack, often the fastest man on track, but he couldn't quite catch the leading group. "I lost the race on the warm-up lap," said Checa, who ran slicks. "This track is like ice in the wet, unbelievable."
World 250 champion Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin) also rode a good race, coming through from 14th on lap one to beat Tohru Ukawa (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) for fifth by 0.054 seconds. Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3- Michelin), Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin) and Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Proton Team KR-Michelin) followed over the line just behind.
Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) was the last man to pass the faltering Rossi, snatching tenth place from his compatriot in the final laps. "The rain ruined everything," said Rossi, who had been a close second to Biaggi in qualifying. "We went conservative on tyre choice, so I had to accept the others passing me and just make sure I finished." The result reduces Biaggi's series disadvantage by just one point, to 42, with four out-of-Europe races to go.