World Championship leader Rossi puts home GP crash behind him to resume command Two weeks after tumbling out of the rain-lashed Italian GP, Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) got his World Championship challenge back on track at ...
World Championship leader Rossi puts home GP crash behind him to resume command
Two weeks after tumbling out of the rain-lashed Italian GP, Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) got his World Championship challenge back on track at Catalunya this afternoon with his fourth victory of the year.
The Italian came back from a fall during qualifying and a disastrous first corner to work his way to the top of an all-Italian podium. Compatriots Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) and Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin) were second and third, just 3.216 seconds covering the top three at the flag.
It was another tension-packed encounter, riders tangling as they fought for position around the challenging Barcelona track. Starting from pole position for the fourth time this year, Rossi got out-dragged to the first turn and then got pushed wide, ending the first lap down in 12th. From there he made rapid progress, picking off one or two riders per lap and working his way into third by lap six, behind Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) and leader Capirossi. For a while Rossi bided his time, doing the sensible thing in gusty conditions. But his bike and tyres felt so good he'd chosen a medium Michelin front and a hard 16.5in Michelin rear that he couldn't resist surging to the front at half distance, and controlling the race from there.
"I got a bad start and the first corner was terrible," said Rossi, who now leads Biaggi by 26 points in the World Championship. "Gibernau ran wide into Criville and Criville ran into me. After that it was very exciting. I was 15th at the first turn, I think, but after that I was able to get into a good rhythm because I had good tyres and good settings. The lap times seemed a bit slow, but there was a very strong wind and that affected things. I waited behind Gibernau but everything felt so good that I decided to push hard and I kept pushing until the end. After my fall at Mugello, it was really important for me to get a good result here."
Like Rossi, Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli was very aware of the wind. "It would've been a faster race if conditions had been calm," he said. "Not only does the wind disturb the bikes, it also blows dust on to the track, which both decreases grip and increases tyre wear. The dust is abrasive, it works against tyre rubber like sandpaper."
Biaggi, stuck in the pack for longer than Rossi, was delighted with second. Winner in France and second in Italy, the Roman is the highest-scoring rider of the past three GPs.
"I knew tyre choice would be crucial here and I lay awake last night thinking about which tyres I'd run," said Biaggi who eventually chose the same front as Rossi but a slightly softer rear. "The tyre we tried in warm-up wasn't what I wanted so we chose a slightly harder one for the start. It was a big race. I had a bad start and everyone was bumping into each other on the first lap. Later on I had a good fight for second with Capirossi and I pushed hard over the last five laps to see if I could catch Rossi but the gap wasn't really coming down, so I settled for second."
Capirossi, who had qualified third, just ahead of Biaggi, struggled to reproduce his speed from practice, but was happy enough with third. He now holds third overall behind his two compatriots. "I lost some points but anything can happen over the next few races," said Capirossi, who chose the same Michelin slicks as Rossi.
After leading the early laps, Capirossi fell back to second and then third, defending the final podium position in style. Over the final laps he worked hard to fend off the pack, including first-lap leader Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin), who ended the race just 0.041 seconds away from his first 500 podium finish. Nakano faded to seventh mid-race but came back strongly to re-pass Gibernau on the final lap, the Spaniard recording his best result of the year so far.
"It was interesting to watch Nakano," added Morelli. "He is learning to ride a 500 because he changed his style late in the race, so he could move the stresses to another, less worn part of the tyre. That's what you have to do in 500s, all the best riders change their style to adjust to tyre wear and different fuel loads."
Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin) led the race into the first turn from the second row of the grid but was unable to maintain that pace and slipped to sixth, only just holding off Tohru Ukawa (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin). Local heroes Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) and Alex Criville (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) had a difficult day at the races. Checa rode around chatter trouble to take eighth, while Criville finished a disappointed 11th. The 1999 World Champion had been on the charge in the first third of the race, moving towards the front of the pack, but he ran wide, losing a huge amount of ground. World Champion Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) and Alex Barros (West Honda Pons-Michelin) both challenged for the lead but crashed out unhurt in separate incidents.