Rossi regains control of World Championship title

Rossi regains control of World Championship title

The 25 year-old living legend, Valentino Rossi, stamped his authority at today's Portuguese GP at the Estoril circuit, by taking his sixth GP victory of the 2004 season and 65th of his career. Valentino Rossi. Photo by Gauloises ...

The 25 year-old living legend, Valentino Rossi, stamped his authority at today's Portuguese GP at the Estoril circuit, by taking his sixth GP victory of the 2004 season and 65th of his career.

Valentino Rossi.
Photo by Gauloises Racing.

Weather forecasts expected thunderstorms for the weekend. In fact, Saturday's morning practice saw enough rain for all riders to run a wet setup. By the afternoon, the track had dried and Makoto Tamada stormed to his first-ever MotoGP pole position. The Japanese became the first-ever rider to dip below the 38 second range with a time of 1:37.933. With the front ten qualifiers separated by one second and the top three by only 1.3 tenths, the race promised to be a real spectacle.

As the lights went out, all eyes focused on a red machine that came out of nowhere. It was Loris Capirossi's V4 going around the outside of Max Biaggi to take the lead from 11th place on the grid. Biaggi followed closely, chased by Rossi, Tamada, Marco Melandri and Sete Gibernau. "The Doctor" did not waste anytime and quickly went to work on Biaggi, overtaking the Italian on the inside of turn 4. But Rossi's pressure did not stop, and his next victim was the red Ducati at the front. On the entrance of the slowest part of the circuit, the famous Estoril chicane, Rossi out-braked Capirossi. Biaggi tried the same move, only to clip the tail of the Ducati. The impact sent Biaggi's Camel Honda on its side and off the track, but it also caused Capirossi to run off. Capirossi was able to remain on the bike and came back in 18th place. Biaggi tried to return, but his efforts were futile, as the bike died while the marshals tried to pick up the mighty V5.

Max Biaggi.
Photo by Richard Sloop.
After Biaggi's and Capirossi's departure from the leading group, the top five were made up of Rossi, Tamada, Melandri, Barros and Gibernau. Melandri's third place only lasted half a lap, as Barros overtook him going into turn one, and Gibernau shoved him off going into turn seven.

Though Hopkins was applying pressure on fifth place Melandri, the American came under attack and overtaken into turn one by Factory Yamaha rider, Carlos Checa. In only two laps, Rossi had extended his gap to fourth place, Gibernau, to more than two seconds

Rossi pushed hard to obtain his two seconds advantage to Gibernau, and in the process broke the current lap record by seven tenths of a second. Clean road ahead, and the only question was who would be able to stay with "The Doctor".

Farther back, Capirossi was in the fight of his life, as the diminutive Italian stormed through the field to 13th place, and on his way past "Green Rider", Shinya Nakano.

One way to look good to team scouts for next year is to show you can be a team player, and what better way for Melandri to show Yamaha, (or perhaps Honda if the rumors are true) that he is be a team player than by placing himself between Rossi and Gibernau. This is exactly what Melandri tried to do, key word "tried". As "Spider-man" began to close the gap to Gibernau, Melandri miscalculated the entrance line into turn 8, ahead of the third longest straight, and stepped the front tire of his M1 onto the dirt. His mistake proved costly, as he lost control of the bike and tumbled down the asphalt, the bike cart-wheeling to a stop; destroyed. Perhaps showing your teamwork skills does not include destroying company property in the process, I suppose Melandri was not present the day this was MEMO'd.

19 laps to go and the running order remained unchanged. Rossi led Tamada by three seconds, with Barros and Gibernau a farther 1.7 seconds behind. The latter two were set for a duel; both needing good results, Barros more than Gibernau.

Fabrizio's ride aboard a works GP machine ended as quickly as it began. On lap 11, the Italian WCM regular was forced to retire his Aprilia RS3 with mechanical difficulties.

Capirossi's charge did not end after he gained 12th place from Nakano. The red V4 bike made a special appearance to Edwards and Bayliss; both displeased with his performance as the Italian rode past them for seventh. One can only wonder what would had been, had Capirossi not been t-boned by Biaggi. We'll never know.

Things were not as well at the D'Antin Ducati satellite garage, which saw both of its riders, Ruben Xaus and Neil Hodgson, retire in a span of two laps.

Makoto Tamada.
Photo by Fabrice Crosnier.
As the laps progressed, Rossi continued to increase his gap to Tamada, tenth after tenth, lap after lap. Knowing his Bridgestone tires would come into their own as they wore out, Tamada put them to the test as he began chipping away at his gap to Rossi; 3.3 seconds. Coincidently, Rossi only needed to look at his pit board to regain control of the lead that had, now diminished to 2.4 seconds.

Rossi's response came on the 21st lap, going almost half a second faster than Tamada, replenishing his lead to 2.8 seconds. 3.2 seconds on the following lap.

Five laps to go and the race for first and second place had been settled. Rossi would take his sixth win of the season, and Tamada would soldier off to second place. Third and fifth place were the race. Barros and Gibernau were locked-in for third, but Gibernau's lack of risk-taking blew on his face. Gibernau tried to make a last-lap, last-turn, move on the foxy Brazilian; only to be made to taste dirt, literally, as Barros pushed Gibernau wide on the exit to the front straight and slightly off the track. The maneuver settled the last spot of the podium, Barros coming away victorious. The battle for fifth place went a bit less eventful, Hopkins never quite able to get close enough to Checa to make a move.

Rossi's victory at Estoril gave him a 29 points lead in the championship. With only five races to go, Gibernau, and possibly Biaggi, will need to get to work if they even dream they can take the MotoGP crown from "The Doctor".

Next race will be at Honda-owned, twin-ring, Montegi circuit. Rossi has already expressed his dislike for the Japanese track, but with the track being Honda's, Rossi may surprise us all with a win in front of all the Honda executives.

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Sete Gibernau , Shinya Nakano , Neil Hodgson , Ruben Xaus , Makoto Tamada , Marco Melandri