<pre> SOUTH AFRICAN GRAND PRIX, WELKOM Race Day, Sunday April 22 2001 </pre> Italian Honda riders Rossi and Capirossi dominate South African GP with a record-busting duel Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) and Loris ...
<pre> SOUTH AFRICAN GRAND PRIX, WELKOM Race Day, Sunday April 22 2001
</pre> Italian Honda riders Rossi and Capirossi dominate South African GP with a record-busting duel
Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) and Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin) played out a thrilling duel at Welkom this afternoon, Rossi smashing the lap record time and again as he rode the outer limits to stay ahead of his compatriot.
The two Italian Honda riders gained control of the race at two thirds distance after reigning World Champion Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) had led the early laps while Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin) showed out front at mid-distance. Until the final ten laps it was a seven- way contest, Rossi and Capirossi ducking and diving with Tohru Ukawa (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin), Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin), Abe, Roberts and Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin).
Rossi eventually crossed the line just 0.660 seconds ahead of Capirossi to secure his second successive win and stretch his World Championship lead. But the world number two claimed that this victory had been much tougher than his season-opening success in Japan two weeks ago.
"That was much more difficult than Suzuka, I had more of an advantage with my settings in Japan," said Rossi. "Both me and Loris made good starts but Loris and Kenny came together and that lost Loris some time. The bike didn't feel so great on a full tank, it was pushing the front, but I only had to wait and things would improve."
All the front runners went for 16.5in rears, Rossi choosing hard compound Michelins for the race, against Capirossi who went for a medium front and soft rear. Both men had excellent grip all the way to the flag, riding almost two seconds inside the lap record over the last half dozen laps.
"Loris can go for softer tyres because he is lighter than Valentino," explained Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli. "It was a great race and it was nice to watch, with both men enjoying good grip throughout." Rossi had no doubt who would be his main rival. Capirossi had pushed him all the way in yesterday's final qualifying session, Rossi taking his first pole by two tenths.
"I knew Loris would be my rival because I saw what he was doing yesterday," he added. "I also knew he was coming with me in the race but I also knew it's hard to overtake here. This win is great, especially because the riders who joined me on the podium were different from the guys at Suzuka, so that's good for the championship."
Capirossi was delighted to have scored his first podium finish of the year and move himself into second overall, albeit 22 points shy of leader Rossi.
"My start was perfect but Kenny pushed me wide at the first turn," said the hard-charging Italian. "That pushed me down to sixth and it's so difficult to overtake here. I just kept trying and finally I got with Rossi for the last ten laps. He rode so well, he didn't make a single mistake and even though my tyres were 100 per cent I couldn't get close enough to pass. But I'm happy enough, second is fantastic."
While the two leaders were pushing harder and harder out front, there was a similarly torrid battle developing for the final podium place. McCoy dropped out of the reckoning with 11 laps to go when he fell, leaving Ukawa, Nakano and Abe to sort it out amongst themselves.
The Japanese trio swapped back and forth until Ukawa broke into third with four laps remaining. The 500 rookie put in a strong final push to cross the line ahead of Nakano, with Abe a fraction down in fifth. "Finishing on the podium in only my second 500 GP is great, I'm so happy," grinned Ukawa, who like Rossi chose hard compound Michelins and waited until his fuel load lessened before putting in his hard charge.
Former World Champion Alex Crivillé (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) recovered from a slow start to take sixth, four seconds down on Abe and just metres ahead of Roberts who struggled to match the front-runners' speed after his strong early showing. Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) came out badly in the frantic first lap and fought back from 14th to challenge Roberts on the final lap, missing out on seventh place by just three tenths.