<pre> SOUTH AFRICAN GRAND PRIX, WELKOM Race Day, Sunday April 22 2001 </pre>
The Marlboro Yamaha Team's lone rider Max Biaggi brought his factory YZR500 home in eighth place at Welkom this afternoon to bring a difficult weekend to a close. Down to one man following Carlos Checa's training crash last week, the team struggled throughout practice to find a machine balance that would give Biaggi a chance of going for a podium finish in today's race, run in hot sunshine at the bumpy Free State venue.
"That was a tough race for Max," commented Marlboro Yamaha Team director Hiroya Atsumi. "He had a bad first lap and then his engine was not running so strong, so it was very difficult for him to get close enough to make a pass on the riders ahead of him. He did his best and now we look forward to Jerez where both Max and Carlos went so well during testing."
Team manager Geoff Crust also voiced disappointment at today's result. "We struggled all weekend but there is an up side to the day," he said. "Max got some points and he's currently third in the championship. He didn't have the best set-up, he got boxed in at the start and it's so difficult to pass here. Then he got stuck behind Barros, who's one of the most difficult guys to overtake. By the time he was past Barros the race was three quarters done. It's a shame he didn't manage that move earlier, but as I said, he's got some points and we've got Jerez next. Things should be better there."
FRANTIC FIRST LAP SPOILS BIAGGI'S DAY
Winner here in 1999, Max Biaggi could only manage eighth in today's South African GP, round two of the 2001 500 World Championship. The Italian and his crew never quite found the right chassis set-up for this challenging circuit, and in the race he was hampered by a hectic first lap and a small power problem. Biaggi had a difficult start because he had qualified eighth which put him on the mostly unused left side of the track where surface dirt minimises traction. Welkom is also notoriously dusty off the racing line, making overtaking more difficult than ever. Nevertheless he came through from 14th on lap one to catch and challenge '99 world champ Alex Criville (Honda) and reigning champ Kenny Roberts (Suzuki) for sixth.
"Mama mia, what a bad start!" commented a philosophical Biaggi. "Everything happened on the first lap, someone almost crashed after the second turn and I had to slow to avoid them, I lost so much time. Then I was stuck behind Barros and although he's so awkward to pass, I managed it eventually. I tried to get Kenny on the last lap but nearly crashed. Our set-up wasn't so good here, I couldn't ride fluently and that made the race very difficult for me."
ROSSI OUTDOES CAPIROSSI
Former 125 and 250 champs Valentino Rossi and Loris Capirossi duked it out for victory today, ending the race first and second. The two Italian Honda riders had it all their own way for the last ten laps after getting the better of Norick Abe (Yamaha). Rossi, who won the season-opening GP at Suzuka two weeks ago, reeled off a succession of record-busting laps in the closing stages to cross the line 0.660 seconds ahead.
"That was much more difficult than Suzuka, I had less of an advantage here," said Rossi, who yesterday scored his first 500 pole. "I knew Loris would be my big rival because I saw what he was doing yesterday. I took care early on because the bike felt heavy and was pushing the front. I could push harder later on and I knew Loris was coming with me, but I also knew it's hard to overtake here."
Capirossi, who was eighth at Suzuka, was delighted with his day's work. "My start was perfect but I got forced wide at the first turn," he said. "That put me sixth and it's so difficult to pass here that it took me until the last ten laps to get with Valentino, who rode so well, he didn't make a single mistake. But I'm happy, second is fantastic."
UKAWA TAKES FIRST 500 PODIUM
Former 250 winner Tohru Ukawa (Honda) took his first 500 podium, getting the better of a long battle with Yamaha riders Shinya Nakano and Norick Abe. "To get a podium finish in my second 500 race is great, I'm so happy," said the 500 rookie. "The bike didn't feel too good early on but I gained confidence as the race went on, so I could attack Abe and Nakano."