ROSSI ONE STEP AWAY FROM 500 CROWN AFTER MOTEGI WIN Rival Max Biaggi tumbles to give Valentino Rossi eighth win of 2001 and a clear run to the title World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) scored a crucial ...
ROSSI ONE STEP AWAY FROM 500 CROWN AFTER MOTEGI WIN
Rival Max Biaggi tumbles to give Valentino Rossi eighth win of 2001 and a clear run to the title
World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) scored a crucial victory at Motegi this afternoon, leaving the dazzling Italian youngster within eight points of securing his first 500 crown. Rossi's day was made a lot easier when title-rival Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) slid off while just ahead and leading the race. The Italian was uninjured in the 160kmh tumble. Biaggi's exit left his compatriot ahead of Alex Barros (West Honda Pons-Michelin) who chased hard but eventually settled for second. Team-mate and pole-sitter Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin) finished third. The race had been building into an enthralling duel until Biaggi went down. He had gone against the grain and chosen a Michelin 17in rear while Rossi stuck with the more generally favoured 16.5. It would have been fascinated to see how the contrasting tyre choices performed in the closing stages, though so far this year every GP has been won by riders using the 16.5. "Myself, I'm sure that the 16.5 was the better choice because it has better endurance, though the 17 is good in the early laps," said Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli. "Max likes the 17 because he finds it hard to ride with chatter, and the 16.5 sometimes causes chatter because it gives so much grip at maximum lean. Of course, Max didn't crash because he chose the wrong rear, he was pushing very hard to get away from Rossi and he lost the front." Today's race reversed this year's trend for much faster race times. Since the longer-lasting 16.5 took over as the dominant 500 tyre, the race pace has risen dramatically at most GPs Suzuka 2001 was 25 seconds quicker than last year, Welkom 35 seconds, Le Mans 16, Brno 32 and Estoril 42 but Motegi has lost somehow lost a lot of grip since last season. The 500s were nine seconds slower than last year here, but the 250s were 33 seconds slower than in 2000 and the 125s were also off their 2000 pace. "This track has lost a lot of grip and no one is sure why, but today's race would've been faster if Rossi had been under more pressure," added Morelli. "Barros knew he was going to run short of fuel, in fact his bike ran out on the slow-down lap, so I don't think he was pushing absolutely as hard as he could have done." Regardless of his race time, Rossi was ecstatic at his eighth win of the year which gives him a massive 67-point advantage with the Australian, Malaysian and Rio GPs still to go. All he has to do to secure the crown is score one eighth-place finish from one of those races. "I knew it was important for me to get a good start because Biaggi had chosen a 17, so I knew he'd try and make the break in the early laps," said Rossi. "I did get a good start and my tyres were good so I could stay with him. While I was behind him I noticed that I was faster at some points of the track while he was faster at others, though overall we were about the same. For sure, I'm nearer to the title now but it's important to stay focused for the last three races." Barros finished 2.6 seconds down for his second successive runner-up result. "I tried to reduce the gap on Valentino but in the end I knew the only way I'd win was if he made a mistake and I didn't expect that to happen," said the Brazilian. "I didn't get the best start, and I think the race would've been better for men and the fans if I'd got away better." Capirossi wasn't disappointed with third, despite the fact that he'd started from pole position. "Third is good after my crash at Valencia, it's important for the championship," said the Italian who currently lies third, 20 points behind Biaggi and 16 ahead of his team-mate. "I didn't get a good start today, then I had some chatter but I'm happy with third." Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin) took fourth, four seconds further back, after a concerted effort to close the gap on Capirossi came to nothing. He finished well ahead of the best battle of the day, fought out between Tohru Ukawa (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin), Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin) and Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin). Ukawa won the contest for fifth ahead of Nakano while Gibernau ran short of fuel on the final lap to fade to ninth behind Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) and Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin). If Rossi finishes in the top eight at next Sunday's Australian GP he will give Michelin its tenth successive 500 crown and 21st 500 title since 1976. Last month Troy Bayliss (Infostrada Ducat-Michelin) won Michelin's eighth consecutive World Superbike title.