Rossi takes imperative victory at Sepang

Valentino Rossi took his seventh victory of the season by masterfully winning today's Malaysian GP at the Sepang circuit. A week and a day ago, celebrations, and controversy revolved around his championship rival, Sete Gibernau, after Rossi was...

Valentino Rossi took his seventh victory of the season by masterfully winning today's Malaysian GP at the Sepang circuit.

A week and a day ago, celebrations, and controversy revolved around his championship rival, Sete Gibernau, after Rossi was forced to start from the back of the grid and crashed out as he crawled himself from 23rd to 4th place. By Thursday's pre-race press conference, Rossi, though he did not retract his accusations, seemed to be back in control. On Friday, the Italian dominated most of qualifying, and by Saturday, he'd set a new world record on his way to taking pole position. Gibernau struggled, and only managed to qualify fourth, four tenths behind the Italian.

The weather could not have been better for the race, the usual Malaysia weather, unpredictable, hot and humid.

As the lights went out, Alex Barros, who started second on the grid, took the hole-shot into turn one, as he led Rossi, followed by Nicky Hayden, Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi. Barros had an electrifying pace, and even though Rossi tried to pressure the Brazilian, Barros held firm.

Hayden's bike must have been underpowered because the American was relegated to fifth place by Checa and Biaggi as they crossed the start-finish line for the first time. Gibernau tried to take advantage at the end of the straight, but Hayden fought back to retain fifth. By the end of the second lap, Rossi made his intentions known, as he tried to out-brake Barros from 200mph into the last turn. Barros's being the last of the late-brakers, did not make it easy, which caused Rossi to run wide, but not to lose any running spots.

Rossi's maneuver must have caused Checa to slow down, which allowed Biaggi to pass the Spaniard for third. Checa regained third place from the Italian, only to lose it again at the end of the back straight.

For at least, the second time this season, American John Hopkins had to retire from the race with engine problems. As expected, Hopkins looked angry, as the American had some strong chances of another good performance this season.

Up front, Rossi tried again to out-brake Barros, but again, ran wide. However, Rossi's whole race strategy was based on breaking away from the pack. To help him accomplish this he chose a soft rear tire and a medium front. Knowing that if he stayed with the pack, fighting, he'd wear-out his tires too quickly, he made one more attempt on the entrance the chicane, this time retaining first place form Barros. In the process, the Italian broke the lap record by almost three tenths of a second with a time of 2:03.548.

Gibernau must have seen Rossi move, because within a few corners, he'd gotten past Checa, who was now running fifth.

Current rumors have Barros retiring at the end of the season, after a long and illustrious GP career. Perhaps this is the reason the Brazilian is riding so well, as he may no longer have the pressures of having to worry about next year's plans.

Biaggi on the other hand, is not retiring (at least anytime soon) and needs results if he's to share the Repsol-Honda tent with Hayden in 2005. With 15 laps to go, Biaggi made his move, out-braking Barros into turn one. Though the Camel-Honda rider ran it wide, he recovered it into turn three.

Rossi's plans remained unchanged; lead and let the rest fight it out, and perhaps even have them take points away from Gibernau. And with 14 laps to go, the plan seemed to be working out perfectly, as the Yamaha rider broke the lap record for the second time; this time by over half a second.

Hopkins was not the only rider to retire with engine problems, as James Haydon on the Proton, Neil Hodgson on the D'Antin Ducati and Alex Hoffman on the Kawasaki suffered form similar luck.

Hayden may have lost touch with the leading trio, but managed to keep a respectable gap to Gibernau, he still struggled in fifth and whose gap to sixth place kept diminishing.

The 10th lap of the race saw its first faller, Marco Melandri, the protagonist of a front-end tuck at the end of the back straight.

Rossi may have disappeared at the front, but the action was in the battle for fifth place, now a three-way battle between Gibernau, Checa and Capirossi. By the 14th lap, Capirossi was past Checa, and Tamada joined in the fun to make a four-way battle for fifth. Capirossi was not happy with sixth, and though he tried to out-brake Gibernau into turn one, he failed. But Capirossi is a pit-bull and does not give up, and by turn four the Italian and the Italian bike were in fifth place.

Biaggi tried to close the gap to Rossi, but by the last lap, Rossi's gap to Biaggi was at over three seconds and his victory was inevitable. Biaggi came in second place, followed by Barros, Hayden in fourth, Tamada, Capirossi, Gibernau, Nakano, Checa and Bayliss.

Rossi's win gives him 254 points, a 30-point advantage to Gibernau. In order for Rossi to secure the championship all he has to do is finish behind Gibernau. Even if Gibernau wins at Phillip Island, and Rossi finishes second, Rossi would still retain the title without having to race at Valencia because the Italian has more wins than Gibernau. Lastly, if Rossi wins at Phillip Island, he'd break the record for most wins by a Yamaha rider in a season. At the moment he's tied with Lawson and Rainey with seven.

Phillip Island is in one week. Who knows, Rossi could just be doing something no one though possible, leaving Honda and winning the title with a different manufacturer.

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Nicky Hayden , Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Valentino Rossi , Alex Barros , Sete Gibernau , John Hopkins , Neil Hodgson , James Haydon , Marco Melandri , Phillip Island