Dazzling 500 rookie Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) scorched to the second win of his 500 career at Rio this afternoon, while Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) secured his first 500 World Championship with a...
Dazzling 500 rookie Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) scorched to the second win of his 500 career at Rio this afternoon, while Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) secured his first 500 World Championship with a finely judged ride to sixth. The American's success gives Michelin its 20th 500 World Championship. And all the top riders once again chose the firm's 16.5in rear slick for today's race.
Roberts, contesting his fifth 500 season, needed to finish anywhere in the top six with two races still to go, and he did exactly what he needed to do.
"I'm just so relieved," said the overjoyed American. "Ever since I can first remember, this is all I wanted to be. I'm 27 years old, so it's been like a 27 year wait, I've never been happier. There's so many people I want to thank: Suzuki, Michelin tyres, my chief engineer Warren Willing, my dad, because I wouldn't be here without him, and my mom too. The race was tough, I was trying not to push too hard but then more aggressive guys were coming by. Finally I got some laps on my own, got a feel for the bike and made sixth."
Rossi won a hectic scrap with local hero Alex Barros (Emerson Honda Pons-Michelin) and on-form Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin). Barros, desperate to win in front of a big home crowd, seemed the strongest in the early stages, then McCoy took over. For a while it looked like the spectacular Aussie, winner of the last two GPs, was on for a hat-trick, but Rossi was feeling confident and upped the pace to take the lead after half distance. Barros came back hard at the Italian but Rossi was able to up the pace still further, crossing the line just ahead.
"I needed this win," beamed the youngster, who, like Barros, used medium-compound Michelins front and back. "I'd only had one win before this and that was in the wet at Donington, and winning in the dry means more. I pushed 100 per cent all the way because the bike felt good, and I had a lot of fun controlling the wheelspin. Barros tried so hard but I kept pushing, so I'm very happy."
In the end, Barros was content with second. "It was a tough race and though I was out front early on, I wanted to save my tyres and see what Garry and Valentino could do. I did everything I could to neutralise the gap on Vale. I'm happy anyway, this is my first podium in Brazil and I rode a strong race."
McCoy was in stunning form early on, rocketing to the front, getting his YZR drastically sideways, but then he lost momentum and was unable to fight back at Rossi and Barros.
"We struggled during practice, and I had a crash which put me back on the fourth row," explained the former 125 winner, who ran his usual soft-compound rear. "I got a good start and was surprised to find myself leading but we were struggling and it was too tough to stay out front."
Last year's winner Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin) was just a few seconds further back, enjoying a titanic battle with pole sitter Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin), who fought back from a bad start.
Behind Roberts, who ran ninth for a long while, came his new-for-2001 team-mate Sete Gibernau (Repsol Honda-Michelin) and Regis Laconi (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin).
Roberts' success creates biking history. Son of racing legend King Kenny Roberts, who won back-to-back titles in 1978, '79 and '80, the 27-year-old's success give bike racing its first-ever father/son 500 World Champions. Michelin's previous 500 kings are Barry Sheene (Suzuki, 1976 and '77), Marco Lucchinelli (Honda, 1981), Franco Uncini (Suzuki, 1982), Freddie Spencer (Honda, 1983 and '85), Eddie Lawson (Yamaha, 1986 and '88, Honda, '89), Wayne Gardner (Honda, 1987), Wayne Rainey (Yamaha, 1990 and '92), Kevin Schwantz (Suzuki, 1993), Mick Doohan (Honda, 1994, '95, '96, '97 and '98) and Alex Criville (Honda, 1999).
"We're really, really happy for Kenny," said Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli. "He's ridden a great season against a lot of competition, and we've enjoyed working with him. He gives intelligent feedback to us and that helps us develop and improve our tyres."