Marco Melandri got the mix just right in the dry-wet-drying Australian GP, the 14th round of the 2005 FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix (MotoGP). Stealing the lead from Sete Giberneau with ease just past the halfway mark, Melandri motored off into the distance on his Fortuna Honda to take the chequered flag with a margin of more than eight seconds.
That was the easy part, though.
At the start, the skies were threatening, and drops of rain were falling, but the entire field gambled on it staying dry, and chose to start on slicks. In retrospect, not a good choice, but no one had the foresight to know the skies would indeed be opening ...
So with the track still essentially dry, Shinya Nakano slipped his Kawasaki past Nicky Hayden to take the lead into the first corner, followed by Colin Edwards. Nakano showed that his strong qualifying performance -- second between Hayden and Valentino Rossi -- was no fluke, as he pulled away to a five-second lead from the rest of the field,
"Switched bikes, in MotoGP?" one might ask. Indeed, this was the new rule enacted for the 2005 season, allowing riders to switch to a bike shod with either full rains or intermediates whenever conditions so dictate, and removing the need to red-flag the race. Only this was the first time anyone had needed to take advantage of the new rule.
Most riders pulled in to do the swap and to jump on their rain-shod bikes on the eighth lap, but Nakano made the mistake of staying out for an extra lap. By the time the conditions were getting close to what the Australian olympic swimming team practises in, and the slick tires really didn't work any more.
Giberneau was able to resist their attacks as long as the rain kept up, but as the downpour eased, a dry racing line developed, and things changed once again. Giberneau was forced to seek wet track to manage his tire wear, while Spaniard Carlos Checa made the doomed decision to it to switch back to a dry-weather bike.
On lap 15, there was enough dry track that Giberneau was clearly struggling on his Ducati, and Melandri drove around him with ease after having passed Vermeulen.
Vermeulen, too, made is way past Giberneau, but both were caught by the troika of Rossi, Hayden and Casey Stoner, whose Michelin tires were working better than Vermeulen's and Giberneau's Bridgestones late in the race.
"Once I found my rhythm I realized my M1 was in good shape and I was able to push more," Rossi recalled. "I saw the red dot getting bigger and bigger, and to pass him in the last corner was excellent. I would have liked to win for the sixth time here but at least I got to celebrate on the podium in front of all these wonderful fans."
Vermeulen, then, took a well-deserved second place just one year from his MotoGP debut, shining in wet conditions once again, and finishing less than a second ahead of Rossi and Giberneau.
I'm obviously very happy to get my first MotoGP podium at my home Grand Prix," the young Australian rider said. "We did no testing in the rain and used a brand new Bridgestone wet that we didn't have any experience of -- in hindsight I probably would have chosen a harder tyre but we didn't know that at the time."
Hayden's lead in the standings is now reduced to just 21 points. With three races to go, there are a maximum of 75 points available, giving Rossi every opportunity to make a charge for a seventh championship at the top level.
"I'm a little disappointed with third place because I know that in dry conditions we had a very good set-up and I think the result could have been better," the Italian expressed. "Anyway, we can't do anything about the weather and in these circumstances I have to be thankful for third place because we have pulled some more points back on Nicky (Hayden). Now we are 21 points behind -- it is a lot, but not impossible."
Stay tuned for a thrilling finish to the MotoGP season as the Continental Circus moves to Japan in one week's time.