Dutch GP: Michelin race report

ROSSI CONQUERS THE CATHEDRAL But championship leader is pushed all the way by 500 rival Barros at unique Dutch track The sun finally shone at Assen today, Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) and Alex Barros (West Honda Pons ...

ROSSI CONQUERS THE CATHEDRAL

But championship leader is pushed all the way by 500 rival Barros at unique Dutch track

The sun finally shone at Assen today, Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) and Alex Barros (West Honda Pons NSR500-Michelin) shining brightest as they duelled for the lead of the Dutch TT. After yesterday's rain-hit practice and qualifying sessions, Rossi, Barros and their rivals had to gamble on machine settings and tyre choices, but Michelin once again reigned supreme, taking the top six finishing positions. Michelin riders now fill the top nine places in the provisional MotoGP World Championship standings.

From one-quarter distance the race was a straight duel for victory between the Italian and the Brazilian, Barros breaking away out front, chased by Rossi, the NSR two-stroke quicker through some parts of this super-fast, ultra-twisty track thanRossi's more powerful but heavier RCV four-stroke.

Both men raced with very similar tyre choices -- a hard front/soft rear Michelin combination -- Rossi as usual saving his best for last, taking the lead with four laps to go and burning rubber in the final few laps as he established a new lap recordfor the revised Assen track.

"Most of our riders did their quickest laps at the end of the race -- including Valentino, Alex and Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3 YZR500-Michelin), which shows the strength and consistency of our tyres," said Nicolas Goubert, Michelin'smotorcycling competitions chief. "Valentino and Alex both rode great races, Shinya too. He came through from a bad start and set the fastest lap of any of the YZR500 riders."

Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) won a fraught battle for the final podium slot, colliding with Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) at the last chicane, Ukawa sliding off and remounting to salvage fifth place behindMax Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin).

"When Alex came by it was like he was doing another sport, I've never seen anyone ride a 500 like that since 2000," said Rossi after his first Assen premier-class win. "He was going so quick that I thought about giving up but I kept trying and usedmy bike's acceleration to stay with him, trying to understand why he was so much faster than me in some places. I learned, then used 100 per cent of the bike to ride two perfect laps. Assen isn't like other tracks where it's all bike, tyres, engine and settings. With 265kmh chicanes, it's also about your heart! The 500 looked easier to ride here but I felt comfortable because my bike was faster."

Barros was happy to score his first podium of 2002. "I tried to surprise everyone by escaping early on," said the Brazilian, who went from fourth to first on lap three. "I pushed hard to make the break but when Valentino caught me, I was waitingfor him to come past. I did my best lap after he got ahead but even that wasn't enough."

Checa was next across the line, improving his pace in the late stages as he resisted Ukawa. "We changed some chassis settings for the race, which we hadn't been able to test in the dry, so it took me a while to get used to the bike," said theSpaniard. "Also, we chose a rear Michelin with which I'd only done five laps in practice, but it worked great, helping me go faster towards the end."

As marshals helped Ukawa restart his RCV, Biaggi came through to fourth, the Italian struggling with high-speed handling during the later laps. "The problem is that this track is very unusual," explained Biaggi. "It's all about high-speed directionchanges -- and this is the area of performance that we've been working to improve."

Ukawa's fifth-place finish was only his second non-podium result of the year, the first at Suzuka, where he fell in the wet. "I really wanted another podium finish," said the Japanese. "I'm disappointed with fifth but 11 points is better thannothing."

Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki GSV-R-Michelin) led the first lap after starting from the front row for the first time on the GSV-R. "I got a good start but I knew we'd be struggling once the leaders got going," said the American, whofinished sixth just ahead of John Hopkins (Red Bull Yamaha WCM) and Nakano.

-michelin-

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Valentino Rossi , Alex Barros , Tohru Ukawa , Shinya Nakano , Kenny Roberts Jr. , John Hopkins