Rossi wins again as rain stops French Grand Prix Championship leader edges out Ukawa and Biaggi in thrilling but shortened race at Le Mans Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) kept his head in difficult conditions at Le Mans...
Rossi wins again as rain stops French Grand Prix
Championship leader edges out Ukawa and Biaggi in thrilling but shortened race at Le Mans
Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) kept his head in difficult conditions at Le Mans this afternoon, taking his third win of the year in a race shortened by rainfall. The Italian had been involved in a thrilling tussle with team-mate Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) and Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) when drizzle began to fall mid-race, forcing the trio to slow their pace. Both Biaggi and Ukawa led until Rossi regained the lead just before the rain got heavy enough to bring out the red flags, cancelling what might have been an enthralling final few laps.
"Safety always has to be the number-one priority in racing, so it was absolutely the correct decision to stop the race," said Michelin Grand Prix manager Emmanuel Fournier. "But the rain was a shame, because I think there would've been a great battle between these three riders during the last laps,"
The race ran seven laps less than the scheduled 28-lap distance, Rossi credited with victory, just 0.217 seconds ahead of Ukawa, Biaggi a further four tenths down. "Not finishing the race is always a little strange but it's still a win and 25 important points for the championship," said Rossi who has scored four pole positions and three wins from the first four MotoGP races. "It was strange because some laps there was rain, some laps sun, and some laps there was more rain than others. That made it very difficult, more difficult than a normal race. Before all that I had pushed very hard but I couldn't make the break, so I decided to ease my pace and conserve my tyres. Then the rain came. Later on I attacked again and I was lucky to be ahead when the race was stopped."
Ukawa, who beat Rossi in a final-lap manoeuvre in last month's South African GP, shadowed his team-mate in the dry early stages, then found himself ahead after Rossi had eased off in the drizzle, Biaggi having taken the lead for just one lap. "I wanted more laps but there was a little too much rain for them to allow the race to continue," said Ukawa. "My machine and my tyres were working very well, I was having a good race, and in these circumstances, second is okay."
Biaggi was delighted with his third place after a difficult start to his 2002 campaign. New parts for the YZR-M1's computer-controlled engine-braking system transformed the bike here, allowing Biaggi to qualify third, just behind team-mate Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin). In the race Checa was right with the Italian when he crashed after hitting gravel brought on to the track by another machine. "The bike is very rideable now," said Biaggi who completed the first all four-stroke podium since Suzuka. "My thanks to Yamaha and the team for their work and now we must keep working to further improve the bike."
Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-d'Antin YZR500-Michelin) finished a close fourth, just one second off the leading pack. Both he and Daijiro Kato (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR500-Michelin) had been running right behind the three front runners during the drizzle, Kato trying a little too hard in the conditions and crashing out at the first chicane. He was unhurt.
"Finally I got a good start and could fight with the top group," said Abe, the first two-stroke finisher. "But the difference in acceleration between the two-strokes and the four-strokes is big."
Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki GSV-R-Michelin) scored his best result of the year in fifth, coming through from tenth on the first lap. "With the improvements we're achieving all the time with the machine, I know we will do better in the future," said the former 500 champ.
Michelin riders filled seven of the first eight positions in today's race and currently occupy the first six places in the MotoGP World Championship points standings, led by Rossi from Ukawa.