Alex Barros (West Honda Pons-Michelin) won his first GP of 2001 in the most difficult of circumstances at Mugello today, triumphing at the end of a two-part race stopped and restarted due to rain. The Brazilian was up front in both...
Alex Barros (West Honda Pons-Michelin) won his first GP of 2001 in the most difficult of circumstances at Mugello today, triumphing at the end of a two-part race stopped and restarted due to rain.
The Brazilian was up front in both the dry and wet `legs' with results counted on aggregate time and his team's joy was complete when Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin) took second on the final lap after World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) crashed on the last-but-one corner. Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) completed the podium with a third place that moves him to second overall.
The dry race lasted eight laps and was turning into a classic with Biaggi battling with compatriots Capirossi and Rossi, Barros and reigning World Champion Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin). The race also promised to be a tyre thriller, because several of the top riders were trying a different direction on tyre choice. While Michelin's 16.5in rear has dominated 500 racing since last season, Biaggi and Roberts both opted to run 17s. As with everything in racing, each kind of bike set-up or tyre choice has its advantages and disadvantages. In this case the 17 rear offers improved manoeuvrability while the 16.5 gives better race-long grip it would've been fascinating to see who had made the right choice.
But the rain spoiled all that. When the race restarted the track was awash, everyone choosing full Michelin wets, all the top V4 runners on 16.5s except Roberts and team-mate Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) who ran 17s. Despite the appalling conditions, with visibility and grip seriously compromised, the action up front was again fast and fraught. Roberts and Barros traded the on-the-road lead while Barros led on corrected time from lap nine onwards, winning by 8.359 seconds.
He never had an easy time of it, however. Later on Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin) and heroic privateer Haruchika Aoki (Arie Molenaar Racing Honda NSRV500) came by on the road, Aoki's less-powerful twin proving ideal in the treacherous conditions. And the rain got even heavier in the closing stages, Abe tumbling out with three laps to go, leaving Aoki to `win' on the road. A lap later Roberts was down and then Rossi, who had come through following a cautious start to the second `leg' after crashing on the warm-up lap.
"It was so difficult to go into the wet race with no wet practice," said Barros. "I had to take some risks and it got worse as the race went on, as the rain got heavier and everyone started pushing harder."
Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli was impressed with Barros' ride, especially considering new GP rules which have done away with the requirement for wet practice. "It's a little more difficult for them but after the first few laps they've got the feel," said Morelli. "All the guys who ran 16.5 wets were very happy with their tyres."
Capirossi was delighted to with second after nearly falling at the same corner that had claimed Rossi moments earlier. "The track was flooded, it was that bad," said Capirossi. "It was dangerous, I could hardly see a thing and these bikes make so much power that you get so much wheelspin."
Like everyone else, Biaggi struggled just to see where he was going. "I couldn't see a thing, you had to brake by memory," he said. "I had two big moments as the rain got heavier, which is when Criville and Rossi came by. They were going very fast, then Rossi crashed where I almost fell the lap before."
Alex Criville (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) took fourth overall, just a fraction down on Capirossi and Biaggi, with Aoki taking an amazing fifth, despite running 16th in the dry.
Gibernau was a dogged sixth ahead of Tohru Ukawa (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) and Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin), both having their first wet-weather 500 rides. Abe remounted to finish ninth but Rossi wasn't so lucky. "I couldn't see much in the rain, including my pit board, so I didn't know where I was, so I just kept pushing and pushing," said the Italian youngster who now leads the series by 21 points.