Rio Grand Prix, Jacarepagua
Race Day, Saturday November 3 2001
ROSSI SCORES LAST-GASP WIN AT LAST-EVER 500 GP
World Champion beats hard-riding Checa to win two-part Rio Grand Prix by a fraction of a second World Champion Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) took his 11th win of the year in dramatic style at Rio this afternoon, cheating Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) of victory at the very last turn.
The race was another thriller, results counted on aggregate from the first four-lap 'leg' and the second 20-lap 'leg' after rain fell in the early stages, forcing the race to be stopped and then restarted after riders had changed tyres.
The restart caused frantic activity in pit lane as teams and their Michelin engineers decided on the best tyre combination. With light drizzle falling, the decision wasn't easy, but most riders went for intermediate fronts and cut- slick rears.
Checa was the exception, choosing cut slicks front and rear, and his choice turned out to be best as the second 'leg' wore on. He took the lead from Rossi with nine laps to go and stayed there, just a fraction ahead of Rossi on aggregate time. But with Rossi enjoying a 0.195 second advantage from the first four laps, Checa needed a gap of two tenths at the finish line if he was to take his first win since Jarama '98. But the Spaniard found a backmarker in his way at the last corner of the last lap and that allowed Rossi to get close enough to win by just 0.143 seconds.
"I made a mistake with my front-tyre choice, I chose an intermediate when a cut slick would've been better," said Rossi, who had wrapped up the title at last month's Australian GP. "I was pushing very hard to stay with Checa and because the track was pretty much dry I started to have a few front-end slides, and I nearly crashed a few times. I didn't know I'd won until I found someone from my team on the slowdown lap. Now I'm looking forward to tonight's season-ending party - it's going to be a long night!"
Checa was understandably distraught with second place. "I saw the chequered flag and thought I'd won," he said after his third runner-up finish of 2001. "When I found out the result it was probably the worst feeling of my life. I've been chasing this win for three years with my team, the team did a great job here, the bike felt good and I thought I'd found my opportunity. This is such a frustrating way to lose and the people that run this sport must do something about the blue-flag system. On Friday I complained that there were no blue flags to warn lapped riders to move over, but it hasn't made any difference."
Checa's team-mate Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) completed the podium to secure second overall in the World Championship ahead of Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin), who could only manage fifth today. "This was a very tough weekend for me," said Biaggi, winner of three races this season. "This track is so bumpy that we couldn't get the bike set up to suit me. I couldn't use my speed because I wasn't getting enough feeling from the front, that's why I qualified tenth. I think the damp conditions helped today, though maybe my choice of an intermediate front wasn't perfect. It's great to get second in the championship. Okay, so second isn't brilliant but it's all I could do today."
Local hero Alex Barros (West Honda Pons-Michelin) also looked in the running for victory but slipped back to finish fourth, 19 seconds down on Rossi and just over a second in front of team-mate Capirossi, who beat Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-d'Antin-Michelin) for fifth by less than two tenths of a second.
Alex CrivillÈ (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) was next up in seventh, ahead of Jose Luis Cardoso (Antena 3 Yamaha- d'Antin-Michelin). Front-row starter Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin) was next and the last rider not to be lapped. He fell at the first turn of the first 'leg' after team-mate Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3- Michelin) crashed in front of him, forcing him into the gravel.
Today's race was the last 500 GP before 990cc four-strokes join next year's MotoGP World Championship.