Fortuna Yamaha Team survives a day of dramas. The Africa's Grand Prix, held on April 27 at the Phakisa Freeway, Welkom, proved to be an eventful and emotional 28 lap race after Sete Gibernau (Honda) claimed victory over Valentino Rossi (Honda)...
Fortuna Yamaha Team survives a day of dramas.
The Africa's Grand Prix, held on April 27 at the Phakisa Freeway, Welkom, proved to be an eventful and emotional 28 lap race after Sete Gibernau (Honda) claimed victory over Valentino Rossi (Honda) and Max Biaggi (Honda), in honour of his team-mate Daijiro Kato - who passed away on Saturday, April 19 after crashing heavily during the Suzuka Grand Prix. Gibernau was one of 17 riders to survive a four bike collision on the main straight only moments after the start when Colin Edwards (Aprilia) clipped another rider. His out of control machine collided with Jeremy McWilliams (Proton KR) who in turn forced Noriyuki Haga (Aprilia) into the outfield.
Fortunately both Fortuna Yamaha Team riders Carlos Checa and Norick Abe - the latter filling in for the injured Marco Melandri - escaped the incident unscathed. In fact Abe made the most of the chaotic situation to improve on his 18th place grid position; finishing the opening lap fifth, behind Troy Bayliss (Ducati), Gibernau, Biaggi and Rossi. In an impressive display the Japanese continued to hold his ground on an unfamiliar machine until an electronic glitch robbed his M1 of power on the final lap - losing three places to finish eighth.
"Today I made a perfect start, already on the first lap I was in fifth position," said Abe. "After that my lap times were not too bad. I followed Ukawa and kept behind him as much as I could. I think if I had passed him I might have lost my pace but staying behind him kept me fast. Around the middle of the race I managed to pass him and I wanted to go faster but then Barros passed me. On the last lap I tried to overtake him but I went wide. In the last section something went wrong with the bike and Hayden and Ukawa passed me. So the end of the race was not so good. Throughout the weekend my team has worked so hard and I want to thank everybody."
After surviving the start line mayhem Checa completed the opening lap eighth before a five-way scrap for fifth ensued with eventual fifth placed finisher Alex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team), Tohru Ukawa (Honda), Nicky Hayden (Honda) and Abe. Although the Spaniard improved to be as high as seventh he never really found the grip he needed to break through to the front of pack, and eventually finished the day ninth.
"In the beginning I had no grip with the rear, or stability. I couldn't brake hard although towards the end of the race the balance changed a bit and I was able to keep the pace better. Sometimes when I was off the gas I lost the rear, which didn't give me any confidence. At the end of the race I understood the bike a bit better and was able to go on the gas earlier. If I was able to stay in the '34s I could have kept up and fought for fifth position. Anyway, that's another race for me to learn from - we'll keep trying."
There was a further glitch in the weekend programme when, in addition to the start line crash, the Suzuki of Kenny Roberts dropped a substantial amount of oil on the racing line through turns four, five, six and nine after the V-four four-stroke suffered a mechanical failure. Initially efforts were made in an attempt to stick to the scheduled start time, but the extent of the spill was too significant and a full restart was called causing a 50 minute delay.
Davide Brivio, director of the Fortuna Yamaha Team, commented about the day, "It is fitting that Sete won the race and good to see his team on the podium. I hope that this can help them to find the encouragement to keep going. Regarding our team, Norick had a great race. He confirmed that he's a racing rider more than a qualifier. We must apologise to him as there was a problem with his bike at the end of the race, which looked like an electronic problem. He came back into the pit lane, and the team are checking out what happened. Congratulations to him for his ride.
"For Carlos it wasn't such an easy race, it seems that the bike started to get better in the second half of the race. He only got a good pace at the end when it was a bit too late. Anyway he rode well this weekend, now back to Europe, and time to start again. I would like to say thanks to Norick for all he has done. It looks like Melandri's recovery is going well and we look forward to having him back in Jerez."