Valentino Rossi has brought the YZR-M1 full-circle by winning the third round of the 2005 season in Shanghai, China under torrential conditions. Race winner Valentino Rossi celebrates with Oliver Jacque. Photo by Gauloises Fortuna...
Valentino Rossi has brought the YZR-M1 full-circle by winning the third round of the 2005 season in Shanghai, China under torrential conditions.
Last year the focus was on making the M1 competitive in the dry. The race at Jerez in 2004 showed everyone how much more work the Yamaha four- cylinder needed in the rain. By the Brno test in 2004, Rossi had gotten the M1 to within half a second of rain master, Sete Gibernau.
All weekend, Rossi had struggled to come to grips with the Shanghai circuit. However, the MoviStar riders, Gibernau and Marco Melandri, got right up to speed because both teammates were occupying the first two positions of the grid. Gibernau grabbed pole-position with Melandri coming in second. It looked to be an interesting race after everyone qualified in the dry and race day was now pouring cats and dogs.
Gibernau got an excellent start and it appeared he had gotten the hole- shot into turn one. However, fourth-place qualifier, John Hopkins, had other ideas and when Gibernau ran wide into turn one, Hopkins took full advantage and slotted himself into first. Gibernau's mistake allowed his teammate to get through into second relegating Gibernau back to third.
"If he (Hopkins) can do it, I can do it," said Kenny Roberts Junior, Hopkins's teammate, as he waited patiently in fourth place, followed by Hayden, Rossi, Elias, Capirossi, Biaggi and the rest of the MotoGP boys.
Patience was something Roberts did not have, though, and within half a lap he was making his way around the outside of the two MoviStar Hondas. By the next corner, Gibernau was past Melandri as Rossi followed suit in the following right-hander. The move put Rossi in the perfect position to pounce on Gibernau at the end of the back straight and get his M1 into third.
The end of the back straight leads the riders into a tight left-hander and then to a long right-hand parabolica. As Hopkins exited the left-hander and went into the parabolica, he ran wide. This allowed his teammate to sneak past for the lead, with Rossi moving into second place and Hopkins recovering for third. Rossi's M1 was not the only one making waves, literally. MotoGP rookie, Toni Elias was also making a few moves of his own; enough of them to get him and his #24 into fourth place.
I have seen plenty of wet races in my life, but never one as wet as this. As the riders made their way onto the third and final straight, it was impossible to see more than four or five riders. It was only until they pulled out of the draft when you could even see the color of the bikes. That's how wet and dark it was. This is the reason MotoGP is the premier form of motorcycle racing in the world. These boys race, rain or shine, not for points but for wins.
The third straight leads into a very tight hairpin. From 200mph to about 35mph. Time that you cannot make on your opponents due to power deficits, you can make up under braking. And this is how Elias made the move on Hopkins for third, under the brakes.
With one lap in the books, yes all of the above happened in the opening lap, the running order had Roberts at the front followed by Rossi, Elias, Hopkins, Gibernau, Biaggi, Melandri, Hayden and Bayliss in ninth.
It was Biaggi's turn to make a move, and as the thumping four-strokes got to turn one, the Roman out-braked Gibernau to take over fifth. Within a quarter of a lap, Biaggi made the same move on Hopkins, this time into a right-hander. However, Hopkins was not going to give up fourth just because an HRC-rider had asked. Instead, the American held his line all the way around the turn. Perhaps Biaggi did not expect it because he flinched. This was enough for Hopkins to regain fourth and for Gibernau to regain fifth.
As the riders entered the right-hander after the second straight of the circuit, Gibernau made a move on Hopkins for fourth. Biaggi tried to follow the Spaniard, but Hopkins was only prepared to lose one spot in this turn and shut the door on the HRC-Repsol rider.
Biaggi knew he had a faster bike and prudently waited until they reached the third straight. He and Melandri demonstrated the power of the mighty V5 as the two Hondas made their way past the Suzuki of Hopkins. However, like I said earlier, this straight leads into a very tight hairpin and this is exactly what Hopkins needed to out-brake Melandri and regain sixth place.
By the third lap, the surprises of the race made their first appearance as Oliver Jacque made his way into ninth place and Jurgen Van den Goorbergh into 12th. Sadly for Shinya Nakano, the third lap was also his last as the Japanese rider made his way down pit-lane and out of the Chinese GP.
The fourth lap displaced many of the GP regulars for exchange of the "replacement" riders. While Roberts continued to lead, Rossi, Elias, Gibernau, Biaggi, Hopkins, and Melandri gave chase. Eighth and ninth place belonged to Jacque and Van den Goorbergh.
Tenth place runner, Barros, got a surprise of his own. The Brazilian had jumped the start of the race and was being penalized with a stop-and-go penalty. There were plenty more penalties to go around, and the other winner was Elias who, like Barros, had jumped the start.
The fight for sixth place had already been lost by Hopkins to Melandri, and the Suzuki rider now had Jacque on his tail. To say the French rider was riding like a man possessed is an understatement. The former 250cc World Champion picked his way past Hopkins as if the American was standing still.
For American fans, four laps were the number of laps we would see Roberts lead. Initially it looked as though Roberts simply ran it wide into one of the right-handers. As the race continued, though, it was clear Roberts had encountered some type of mechanical problem which caused him to retire from the race. Former WSBK champion, Troy Bayliss, probably wished that, he too, had been able to end his race due to a mechanical issue rather than the crash that forced him out.
With no one in front of him, Rossi began to work on opening up a gap to Gibernau, who inherited second, and Biaggi who had made his way past Elias for third.
The fourth lap claimed one more rider. This time it was Carlos "the chucker" Checa. Checa ran back and tried to get his bike going again, but the Italian beauty was too badly damaged.
One of the Suzukis may have exited because of mechanical gremlins, but none of these made their appearance on Hopkins's bike. The #21 may have lost a few places, but with Roberts out and Elias due for a stop-and-go penalty, he now had a chance to get his first-ever podium.
Unfortunately the anxiety proved too much for "Hopper," causing him to run wide and into the gravel. Hopkins did not fall, but the damage had been done. His chances of a podium were lost, at least in China.
By the seventh lap, Rossi's hard work had paid off and the reigning World Champion enjoyed a six second lead to Gibernau and Biaggi.
Hopkins's departure from the fight for fourth place gave Jacque and Van den Goorbergh a chance to fight with the regulars.
Within one lap, Jacque was past Biaggi and into third. Biaggi's mighty V5 gave him some hope at the end of the long straights, but with the Kawasaki's sweet-handling chassis at Jacque's disposal, Biaggi did not have a chance.
With 11 laps to go, Gibernau's gap to Jacque was down to half a second. It took Jacque three laps to get by Gibernau, and by the 15th lap, second place belonged to the #19.
The fight between the Honda and the Kawasaki rider allowed Rossi to maintain his six second lead, a lifetime had it been a dry race, but only worth half that much in the wet.
Rossi's teammate, Colin Edwards, was running in the top-ten when a puff of blue smoke flew out of the back of his M1. Initially everything hinted to a DNF, but Edwards somehow managed to keep it in the race.
Melandri had lost a few spots early in the race, but by the 16th lap he was past Van den Goorbergh for fifth and pressuring Biaggi in fourth. As the two entered the hairpin at the end of the third straight, Melandri had gained the position from his compatriot.
The question in everyone's mind was whether or not Jacque could make up the five-second deficit to Rossi in the five laps that were left. Jacque tried, but the lead proved too much with Rossi responding to Jacque's every move.
Gibernau's third position was not as strong as the top-two, however. On the penultimate lap, an issue to which he had hinted earlier came back to haunt him. First, Gibernau began to lose a second here and there, and by the end of the penultimate lap, he was under the clutches of Melandri.
Melandri took his time to get past Gibernau, his teammate, but in the end there was nothing the Spaniard could do; the podium was lost.
The official results went like this: Rossi, Jacque, Melandri, Gibernau, Biaggi, Van den Goorbergh, Hopkins, Edwards, Hayden and Ruben Xaus in tenth.
The MotoGP circus will return to Europe next, and I'm sure Jacque is looking forward to repeating his performance in Le Mans, France.