Valentino Rossi's appetite for wins is insatiable. Just two weeks ago, the Italian living-legend won his eighth win of the season and retained the MotoGP world championship crown. The feat was so huge, Rossi is being hailed as the greatest-ever motorcycle rider. For most of us, accomplishing anything even remote to what he did in Phillip Island two weeks ago would have been enough to throw in the towel, not for Rossi.
Makoto Tamada qualified on pole position, but when the lights went out, it was his teammate, Max Biaggi that got into turn one first. Troy Bayliss shot himself from the second row to take over third. Rossi, who started from the first row, appeared to have missed the start, though in the post-race press conference he said his bike slid, and as a result the roaring bikes of Sete Gibernau and Nicky Hayden swallowed the world champion. Gibernau did not waste anytime, and within a few corners the Spaniard was past Bayliss for third.
Tamada knew his only chance of winning would be to put the hammer down and lay down record-pace laps. One lap down and 29 to go and Tamada's advantage was of over half a second. Biaggi chased in second place, followed by Gibernau, Bayliss, Hayden, Rossi, Shinya Nakano, Carlos Checa and Colin Edwards. Hayden has not been on the podium this season since the Sachnsenring and the former AMA SuperBike champion was hungry for one more. Going into turn four, Bayliss left the door open, just enough for Hayden sneak past him for fourth. By the next right-hander, Rossi was also past the Australian for fifth. But Rossi's next victim was Hayden himself and the place to take over fourth was on the brakes and into turn 12. Up front, Tamada continued to work on enlarging his advantage to Gibernau who had now past Biaggi for second place.
At the start of lap three, Biaggi fired back as he slipstreamed past Gibernau into turn one. Gibernau returned fire with an inside maneuver into turn two. However, as Gibernau pushed Biaggi wide, the two riders ended up opening the door for Rossi and Hayden to get through. Rossi said "thank you very much" and began his quest of reducing Tamada's lead of now over a second. Gibernau only gave up two spots, but Biaggi gave up three spots as Bayliss also got past the Italian. Biaggi's Italian temper could not deal with three spots being lost and his aggressive attack on Bayliss came two corners after, the same place where Hayden had overtaken him on the previous lap.
Rossi took to the task of diminishing Tamada's advantage and by the fifth lap it was down to zero. Luckily for American fans, Rossi brought Hayden along for the ride. Back in battle for fourth, Biaggi fired the last and fatal shot as he again out-braked Gibernau into turn one to take over fourth place duties.
Rossi has gained a reputation as a bully of sorts. He'll ride behind and put massive amounts of pressure on his rivals in an effort to cause them to make a mistake. Tamada was no different and into turn 11, the Japanese ace made a mistake that allowed Rossi to take over first place duties. Tamada tried to counterattack on the brakes into turn one, but Rossi is a hard person to out-brake.
Tamada attempted the same maneuver on the next lap and this time the Camel-Honda rider managed to get his Bridgestone tires to stick and move back into first place. While Rossi was out in the front fighting for the lead, his Yamaha teammate, Checa was building gravel castles with his M1.
Racing battles may be awesome entertainment for fans, but they tend to lower the lap times of the participants. With Rossi and Tamada fighting for the lead, Biaggi continued to string fast laps together as he cut the gap down to Hayden to less than half a second.
While Checa may have begun the Spanish crash fest, Ruben Xaus made sure not he was not left behind. While lapping on 13th place, Xaus put his Ducati GP3 in the kitty litter and out of the race. Melandri followed suit and the Italian crashed out of twelfth place.
Back in the battle for fifth place, Bayliss got tired of chasing Gibernau and made his move on the brakes into turn one. His move was not smoke and mirrors, as the Ducati Corse rider began to dip into the 33 second range soon thereafter; the leaders only running in the 34 second range.
Up front, Tamada continued to lead Rossi, followed by Hayden and Biaggi. Rossi biggest threat was Biaggi and as long as Hayden continued to hold the four-time 250cc world champion all would be fine in Rossi's world. However, Hayden's attempt to hold Biaggi in fourth crumbled on lap 15; Hayden overtaken into turn two. This was enough of a signal for Rossi to pass Tamada into turn 12 and to set his authority as he began to create an advantage to Tamada.
All the while, Bayliss matched Rossi's pace up front as the trio of Biaggi, Tamada and Hayden fell into his clutches. Hayden was the first to react to the Ducati Red threat and chose Tamada as his cushion with 12 laps to go. Tamada's fade appeared to be related to his tires, worn out after his earlier record-breaking pace. Tamada tried in vain to keep Bayliss at bay, and by the 19th lap Bayliss had made his move.
Realizing his cushion to Bayliss was gone, Hayden attempted a valiant move on the Roman Emperor. Hayden tried to go around the outside of Biaggi into turn one, only to lose control of his rear tire. Though Hayden regained control, his mistake caused him to run wide and open the door to Bayliss and Tamada. Hayden now needed to re-focus and work on passing Tamada to challenge Bayliss and Biaggi.
With only eight laps to go, Bayliss was now close enough to apply real pressure to the Camel-Honda rider. Oddly, the powerful Ducati was not able out-drag the V5 and had to settle with following Biaggi around. The battle for fourth between Tamada and Hayden ended in defeat for Hayden; the American losing the front-end of the bike. Hayden's desire to race was evident as the on-board camera showed him hanging onto the bars until the bike came to a stop. He tried to return to the race but the four-strokes are very hard to start.
Up front, the gap from Rossi to Biaggi was 1.5 seconds, and with only six laps to go, time was running out for the Roman Emperor. Biaggi's only hope of closing the gap was when the leading pack got into traffic. However, this is MotoGP racing, and traffic hardly ever plays a factor in a race; when it does, lapped riders understand the meaning of the blue flag and make way for the leaders. Sadly for Tamada, traffic altered his race pace, and with failing tires, Gibernau caught up to the Japanese ace. Smelling blood, Gibernau went for the kill on the 28th lap when he took advantage of the sliding Japanese.
Biaggi tried to close the gap to Rossi, but with only one lap to go and an advantage of 1.5 seconds, Biaggi's late charge only gained him half a second, enough to get within eight tenths to Rossi at the end of the race. Bayliss may be leaving Ducati, but he's certainly doing it in style; giving Ducati their second podium of the season.
Today's win gave Rossi his ninth win of the season, and he scored more points than any other Yamaha rider ever has.
The 2005 MotoGP season will begin tomorrow, Monday, as teams begin testing new parts to get them ready for April 10, 2005 in Jerez, Spain.