Marlboro Yamaha Team rider Max Biaggi scored a vital victory at Assen today, the Italian declared winner of a race stopped four laps early due to rain. The Dutch GP was turning into an all-time classic as Italy's triumvirate of 500 stars fought for advantage around the twisting Assen track, quickest venue on the GP calendar, Biaggi just ahead of title rivals Valentino Rossi (Honda) and Loris Capirossi (Honda). Team-mate Carlos Checa was less lucky, he crashed out on lap three while running well.
"I'm 100 per cent happy for Max but with Carlos crashing, I can't be 100 per cent happy about the team's day," said Marlboro Yamaha Team director Hiroya Atsumi. "Max rode a great race, he was riding so close with Valentino, it was exciting to watch. Some corners Max was faster, some corners Valentino was faster, just different riders and bike characteristics, I guess. But Max seemed faster through the final section, which might've given him the advantage in the final laps, though we'll never know. The result is great for Max's World Championship challenge. Now we go to Donington aiming to get great results for both Max and Carlos."
BIAGGI WINS TO CLOSE TITLE GAP
Max Biaggi this afternoon won his second GP of the year to close the gap on race runner-up and World Championship leader Valentino Rossi to just 21 points. The pair were involved in a tension-packed contest for victory with third Italian Loris Capirossi, Biaggi leading from lap seven until the premature finish. Rossi did lead briefly on lap 16, the lap when the rain came, but Biaggi was soon back ahead. The final few laps promised to be breathtaking but rain denied the 92,000-strong crowd a thrilling finish.
"I feel like I'm riding at the top of my form, my best ever," said Biaggi, who turned 30 years old last Tuesday. "Also, we've improved the set-up of the bike at the last two or three races, the team is doing an excellent job, so big thanks to them. Anyway, I'm pleased, that was a very, very tough race. Barros was pushing hard in the early laps but then he seemed to lose some speed, I got ahead and then Capirossi and Rossi came, it was very, very close."
Biaggi appeared not to have seen the red flags, racing on while the others slowed, but he was just making absolutely sure before easing off. "Sometimes you see fans waving red flags, so you never know, I kept pushing for three more corners, then saw the red stop lights, so I knew it was okay to slow down."
Today's success was the former 250 World Champion's seventh 500 win and his 36th GP victory.
LUCKLESS CHECA BOWS OUT EARLY
Luckless Spaniard Carlos Checa was looking good for his best result since he took second place at May's French GP but his hopes ended with a tumble on lap three. The Marlboro Yamaha Team man was lining up to pass Norick Abe (Yamaha) when he lost the front into Stekkenwal, taking Abe out with him. The Japanese is receiving treatment for a knee injury sustained in the fall.
"My start was okay but I didn't feel as comfortable with a full fuel tank as I'd felt during qualifying, so I decided to wait a little before pushing on," said Checa, who was unhurt in the tumble. "Then I saw the leaders getting away so I tried to pass Abe but I was pushing too hard, I had to brake harder and lost the front. When I went down the bike hit Abe. I'm really sorry about that and I'm very angry with myself, it was my own mistake."
ROSSI TAKES CLOSE-FOUGHT SECOND
Championship leader Valentino Rossi was second when the red flags appeared, and was credited with second place, just 0.126 seconds down on winner Max Biaggi. "My rear tyre started spinning very early, when I was with Capirossi, Barros and Biaggi," he said. "So I decided to wait, and when theirs' started spinning up, my tyre seemed to be nice and constant, so I attacked Barros then Capirossi and Biaggi. When the rain came I had a little bit of fear - we were going through a very fast corner, so it was dangerous, but I think they could've left it a couple more laps."
CAPIROSSI THIRD AGAIN Loris Capirossi started today's race from a pole position secured with the fastest ever lap of the Assen circuit but had to work hard to stay with his rivals. The Italian only led one lap. "The race was difficult for me," he said. "I pushed hard to make the break but I was struggling with grip, so I decided to follow the others and then give 100 per cent over the last few laps. But they never came." <pre>
RESULTS 1. MAX BIAGGI (ITA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 30'56.346 2. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Nastro Azzurro HONDA +0.126 3. Loris Capirossi (ITA) West HONDA Pons +0.732 4. Alex Barros (BRA) West HONDA Pons +1.231 5. Shinya Nakano (JPN) Gauloises YAMAHA Tech 3 +9.844 6. Kenny Roberts (USA) Telefonica Movistar SUZUKI +10.622 7. Sete Gibernau (SPA) Telefonica Movistar SUZUKI +14.259 8. Tohru Ukawa (JPN) Repsol YPF HONDA Team +18.620 9. Jurgen vd Goorbergh (NED) Proton Team KR +18.857 10. Noriyuki Haga (JPN) Red Bull YAMAHA WCM +22.557 CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team FELL ON LAP 3
CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS 1. Valentino Rossi 136 2. MAX BIAGGI 115 3. Loris Capirossi 97 4. Norick Abe 74 5. Shinya Nakano 74 6. Alex Barros 73 7. Alex Criville 62 8. Tohru Ukawa 53 9. Sete Gibernaus 49 12.CARLOS CHECA 36