About a year ago, any MotoGP observer would have said you were insane if you even thought of suggesting Valentino Rossi could retain the championship aboard the Yamaha M1. â€œSure heâ€™ll win a couple of races here and there, but the...
About a year ago, any MotoGP observer would have said you were insane if you even thought of suggesting Valentino Rossi could retain the championship aboard the Yamaha M1. “Sure he’ll win a couple of races here and there, but the championship… Give me a break.”
In the history of the sport, no one has ever left Honda and won the championship. The most wins for Yamaha in a given season have been seven, and that was in the hands of Grand Prix legends Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey.
So from a certain point of view, history, the observers and their view on Rossi’s chances was not too far off. However, something many -- myself included -- forgot that was this was Rossi, arguably the greatest motorcycle racer of all time, and definitely the best in the world.
After a dramatic incident at Qatar, which saw Rossi’s title lead shrink from 39 points to only 14 points, Rossi attacked back with his seventh win of the season at Sepang. The win, along with a meager seventh place finish for Gibernau, gave Rossi a 30-point advantage going into today’s Australian GP at Phillip Island. With only 25 points on the table after today’s GP, Rossi only needed to finish second to Gibernau to retain his fourth consecutive MotoGP championship and to write history for Yamaha.
The importance of this weekend’s race was evident as early as Friday’s practice/qualifying sessions. Rossi took provisional pole position on Friday, only to be relegated to second place by Gibernau on Saturday.
Sandwiched between Gibernau and Loris Capirossi on the front row, the lights went out and the most important race of the season got underway. Capirossi, using the awesome launch-control of his Ducati GP4 took the hole-shot into turn one, Doohan’s Corner. Rossi managed to follow his compatriot in second place, chased by Gibernau, Troy Bayliss and Alex Barros. Gibernau’s only task today was to win at all costs. On the entry into turn three, the Southern Loop, Gibernau set himself up for a wide entry and managed to get past Rossi on the outside of the turn. The pass must have flustered Rossi because by the next turn, Bayliss was also past the Italian. Honda’s hairpin requires the braking stability of a Honda, hence its name, and Gibernau used all of his Honda’s braking stability to out-brake Capirossi and take first place from the Ducati jockey. One would have expected things to get settled, but those were not Barros’s plans as the riders entered Siberia. Barros tried to make a pass on Rossi, but instead he pushed Rossi wide and into the dirt. Enough was enough, and into Lukey Heights Rossi recovered third and second place from the Marlboro boys. By the way, this all happened on the first lap.
One lap on the books and Gibernau already had a huge advantage of 1.2 seconds to Rossi who chased in second place, followed by Capirossi, Bayliss, Barros, Max Biaggi, Colin Edwards, Marco Melandri, Nicky Hayden and Makoto Tamada. Barros is rumored to be retiring at the end of the season and as expected he’d like to go out with a bang. On the entrance into Lukey Heights, the Brazilian made his move on Bayliss on the brakes, relegating the Australian to fourth.
The Brazilian’s charge now focused on Capirossi. Though Barros set the fastest time at the end of the third lap, it was not enough to get past the Italian bike.
Gibernau’s only hope of extending the championship fight to the next and last round at Valencia was to win the race, and get a rider between himself and Rossi. By the fifth lap, Gibernau’s advantage to Rossi had diminished to less than half a second and time was running out. The two closest riders behind the leading duo were Capirossi and Barros. As the laps progressed, these two closed the gap to Rossi and suddenly it looked like a four-way battle for first.
Farther back, Biaggi enjoyed an uneventful fifth place run, until Bayliss passed him into Doohan’s corner on the eighth lap.
Very fittingly, Barros made the move on Capirossi going into Honda’s hairpin on the ninth lap, as he looked to close the gap to Rossi and perhaps even try to place himself between the Telefonica-MovieStar of Gibernau and the Yamaha of “The Doctor”. Barros’s mission proved too difficult, as his gap to Rossi continued to grow.
Biaggi’s luck got worse and worse, as Edwards made a Bayliss-like pass on the Italian for sixth place.
Most observers probably wondered why Gibernau did not slow the pace down to allow Barros, and the rest to catch up. Perhaps the reason was because Rossi never stopped hounding the Spaniard. Whenever possible, Rossi showed Gibernau a wheel, almost as if telling him to not get too comfortable at the front.
Biaggi fought back the attacks of Bayliss and Edwards, and with 13 laps to go, Biaggi got past Bayliss into Lukey Heights. Edwards followed Biaggi’s lead, and also passed Bayliss for sixth. Behind Bayliss laid Tamada and Hayden, and both were within striking distance, so resting was not an option for the Australian. Tamada made his move on the 15th lap and relegated Bayliss one more spot. Hayden would do the same on the next lap.
Rossi made his intentions known with only nine laps to go, as the number 46 slipstreamed himself past Gibernau into turn one. Most would have expected for the race to be done for, but the best was yet to come.
The battle for fifth place became the entr?e of what was to come. Biaggi maintained fifth place, shadowed by Edwards. Hayden got tired of following Tamada and made his move on the Japanese ace into the Southern Loop. Bayliss does not give up, and though he was in ninth place, he was well within the pace of the group.
Seven laps to go and Rossi kept a 0.249 seconds advantage to Gibernau which became zero when Rossi made a mistake into Honda’s hairpin and Gibernau’s front-wheel almost touched Rossi’s right knee. Rossi looked at Gibernau momentarily, as if welcoming the fight.
Back to our entr?e; with six laps to go Edwards overtook Biaggi into turn one. Hayden tried to follow Edwards, as he tried to go around Biaggi, but Biaggi held strong and only gave up one spot to the U.S.
If there was ever a time to use the might of the RC211V, it was now. At the start of the 22nd lap, Gibernau rocketed past Rossi to take over first place. There was nothing Rossi could do, other than to sit patiently and smile.
If the battle for fifth was the entr?e and the battle for first was the main course, perhaps the battle for third was the dessert. After being passed by Barros for third, Capirossi did not give up and with three laps to go caught up to, and passed the HRC-Repsol number 4.
On our main course, Gibernau led for the next four laps, Rossi never farther than a bike-length. One lap to go and the time for Rossi to make his move was now or never. Tactically, Rossi exited Doohan’s corner wide, which set him up for an inside line into the Southern Loop. This allowed Rossi to dive underneath Gibernau and gain first place. But going into Honda’s hairpin, Rossi made the same mistake again, this time Gibernau didn’t simply show him a wheel, but passed the Italian. Rossi counterattacked on his exit out of Siberia and his entrance into the top of Lukey Heights. Gibernau tried to fire back as he tried to dive underneath Rossi at the bottom, but Rossi covered the inside line masterfully, as he led out of Lucky Heights and to the finish line.
Edwards came away victorious in his battle for fifth, which turned into a fourth place finish as he caught up to Barros and passed him at the start-finish line. Barros finished fifth, followed by Hayden, Biaggi and Tamada.
Today’s win gave Rossi his 100th podium of his career and has handed Yamaha their first championship title in 12 years.
The MotoGP circus moves to the last round in Gibernau’s turf, Valencia, Spain in two weeks. The two best riders in the world have nothing to lose, so expect a great battle in Valencia.