I remember reading a quote from Wayne Rainey about Valentino Rossi signing with Yamaha. "The Yamaha is about 10 km/h slower than the other bikes," Rainey is reputed to have said. "Your job is finding the extra speed somewhere else". Rossi must have read this article and hired an investigator because he definitely found the speed.
The front grid, made up of Sete Gibernau, Nicky Hayden and Rossi quickly integrated itself with Loris Capirossi, Marco Melandri, Max Biaggi and Makoto Tamada. In the first lap the order was Rossi, Biaggi, Capirossi, Hayden, Melandri, Tamada, and Gibernau on seventh.
As soon as Rossi and Biaggi got to the front straight, the race pattern emerged: the Hondas would pull away on the front straight and the Yamahas had to catch them on the brakes into turn one.
The top six, after disposing of Capirossi, quickly imposed their pace on the rest of the field as a gap began to emerge. For the first couple of laps it was the Italian show, with Melandri as Capirossi's replacement. However, someone must have forgotten to email the memo to Tamada as he battled with Melandri for third. With the Camel Honda boys chasing him, Rossi tried to give himself some space. But Mugello's straight played to the Honda's power and any gap he could muster quickly evaporated itself.
Gibernau rode a great and quiet race. He got past Hayden and Melandri to take fourth on the fifth lap, and Tamada took over first on the next. Cheered on by his Italian compatriots, Rossi swapped paint with Tamada to take over first within a few turns.
By lap seven, Hayden had crashed and Melandri had lost touch of the leading four. Gibernau continued to chip away places on his way to the front. His victim for third was Biaggi as the Spaniard overtook Biaggi on the brakes into turn one.
Lap eight was no slouch as all three Hondas, Tamada's, Gibernau's and Biaggi's, swallowed up Rossi on the straight and demoted him to fourth.
As if on a timer, Rossi got past Biaggi, Gibernau and Tamada in front of his thousands of fans who had parked themselves in strategic locations of the track.
Laps 10 and 11 saw Americans Kenny Roberts and Nicky Hayden retire from the race. If the racing in the front was not exciting enough for the fans on the front straight, Shinya Nakano solved that; or perhaps credit should go to his Bridgestone tires. With only 10 laps to go, the Japanese suffered from tire failure. Tire failure happens in racing, but riders always hope when it does happen, that it doesn't happen in the faster sections. Nakano's tire exploded in Mugello's front straight -- the fastest straight on the calendar -- at about 200 mph. As he tried to recover the bike from what appeared to be an high-speed high side, Nakano was thrown off like a rag doll. In fact, his leather's zipper split open from the impact of the crash. Luckily, the Japanese rider came to a halt within meters of a bare concrete wall.
The corner workers at Mugello are said to be some of the best in the world, and they proved their worth as Nakano's Kawasaki was quickly cleared off the track without the need to stop the race.
The front four became the front three with ten laps to go as Tamada retired from the race, suffering from a relatively rare engine problem with his Honda.
Back in the pack, Colin Edwards, Norick Abe and Troy Bayliss had things going just as exciting, as the trio were battling it out for sixth place.
A few weeks ago Alex Barros was asked whom he considered his favorite riders, and one of them was Valentino Rossi. Barros said that you can never do just enough when you race against Rossi, because he always comes back. Sure enough, with only eight laps to go, Rossi came back to take the first position from Gibernau.
With only seven laps to go the pace proved too much for Max Biaggi as he lost touch of the front two. Fewer riders must mean less excitement, not in MotoGP. Gibernau knew he had to beat Rossi, and Rossi knew he had to beat Gibernau. In war and in love anything goes and this is war. After Rossi overtook Gibernau in one of the chicanes, Gibernau stuck to the inside of Rossi as the two made contact in the short straight.
As if the race was not exciting enough, after 18 laps, the Italian Gods decided to make it a little more interesting. Rain, which had been forecasted for Sunday, showed it ugly face. While leading, Rossi raised his hand in acknowledgement of the rain. In racing, the leader decides whether or not to continue the race. The outcome of his action could not have been better.
Since the race was stopped due to rain, a restart of the race is in the rules. The rules also state that once a race has been stopped (and restarted) due to rain, it cannot be stopped a second time. This means that tire choice is critical. Another new rule is the elimination of aggregate time. In other words, the grid would be formed based on their standing on lap before and their time margins would evaporate, which means a new six lap shootout was in the cards. The delay on the race was of some 20 minutes, which is like hell for the riders after they had been going at it for 18 laps.
The new starting grid was made up of Rossi, Gibernau and Biaggi on the front row. Alex Barros, Melandri and Troy Bayliss completed the second row. They were followed by Norick Abe, Colin Edwards and Ruben Xaus who rounded up the top nine.
The new shortened race got started with all the previous leaders, except a couple of wild cards were added. Like an Australian named Troy Bayliss, a Spaniard named Ruben Xaus, a Japanese named Norick Abe, a Brazilian named Alex Barros and a Brit named Shane Byrne. Yes, you read right, I did not make a mistake on the names.
Abe led the first lap of the second race, followed by Biaggi, Rossi, Barros and Gibernau. Rain drops continued to fall on the track and the pace of the front runners showed it. On lap two, the leadership had been borrowed by Barros, which was soon taken by Xaus and then by Bayliss.
On lap three of six, Rossi took over second place and soon over first place from Bayliss. Rossi was to maintain first place, while Gibernau would take over second followed by Biaggi for third.
Next week we head to Catalunya, and you can bet the racing will be just as close.
1. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
2. Sete Gibernau (Honda)
3. Max Biaggi (Honda)
4. Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
5. Ruben Xaus (Ducati)
6. Alex Barros (Honda)
7. Norick Abe (Yamaha)
8. Loris Capirossi (Ducati)
9. Marco Melandri (Yamaha)
10. Shane Byrne (Aprilia)
11. Neil Hodgson (Ducati)
12. Colin Edwards (Honda)