Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) reinforced his position at the top of the 2004 MotoGP World Championship with a canny ride to second place in today's Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi. The reigning champ cruised home...
Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) reinforced his position at the top of the 2004 MotoGP World Championship with a canny ride to second place in today's Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi. The reigning champ cruised home six seconds behind winner Makoto Tamada (Camel Honda RC211V) to extend his series lead over title-rival Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) who took a lacklustre sixth-place finish. With just four GPs remaining, Rossi now leads Gibernau by 39 po ints, Michelin riders filling all but one of the top-ten championship positions.
The race got off to a chaotic start when six riders crashed out at the very first turn. The victims were Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici GP4-Michelin), Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin), Colin Edwards (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin), Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), John Hopkins (Suzuki GSV-R) and Kenny Roberts Junior (Suzuki GSV-R). Capirossi broke a toe, Hopkins broke two ribs, Roberts dislocated an elbow, while the other three escape d uninjured.
Tamada and Rossi were the only riders totally unaffected by the multiple accident, putting them well ahead of the pack after just a few hundred metres. Reigning World Champion Rossi led the first four laps, then stayed close to Tamada's rear wheel after the Japanese star took the lead. In the closing stages the Italian eased off to guarantee himself 20 vital championship points.
"Not such a great day for us," admitted Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "We still dominate the championship but we didn't win the race and several of our top guys were involved in the first-corner accident. That was real shame because it would have been interesting to see what Max and Loris could have done. Both went well in qualifying, Max running a faster pace than Valentino on race tyres. Valentino chose the same tyres as nearly all our guys. Of course he wanted to win but there was no reason to take risks because he's more concerned with winning the title."
Rossi was happy enough with his second-place finish which gives him a comfortable margin over Gibernau and Biaggi, the only men who can beat him to the crown. "I was ahead of the big crash but I could hear that hell was happening behind me," said Rossi after narrowly escaping involvement in the turn-one mayhem. "Tamada-san rode well, so the race was tough and although I don't like finishing second this is a good result for the championship. My pit board told me that Max was out and that Sete was fa r behind, so there was no point in taking any risks."
With so many top riders eliminated at the first turn, Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki ZX-RR) was able to score Kawasaki's first MotoGP podium in third place. The Japanese crossed the line 7.2 seconds down on Rossi and just ahead of Alex Barros (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin), who charged through the pack after losing time avoiding fallen riders in the first-lap chaos.
Gibernau struggled with set-up issues throughout the weekend to eventually cross the line some way behind fifth-placed Marco Melandri (Fortuna Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) who ran third for much of the race, eventually losing out to Nakano and Barros. Carlos Checa (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) came in seventh after an off-track excursion, the Spaniard taking the flag well ahead of Neil Hodgson (D'Antin MotoGP Ducati Desmosedici-Michelin) and Ruben Xaus (D'Antin MotoG P Ducati Desmosedici-Michelin).