South African GP: Michelin raceday report

Cautious Ukawa beats risky Rossi in Welkom thriller. Ukawa's conservative tyre choice proves perfect in sweltering South African race. A delighted Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) scored his first win in bike racing's premier...

Cautious Ukawa beats risky Rossi in Welkom thriller.
Ukawa's conservative tyre choice proves perfect in sweltering South African race.

A delighted Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) scored his first win in bike racing's premier class at Welkom today, defeating team-mate Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) in a thrilling end-of-race showdown. The four-stroke RC Vs dominated the race from the first lap, chased hard by Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500-Michelin) who was by far the best two-stroke performer in today's sweltering 32-degree heat. Michelin riders dominated the event, the first dry race of MotoGP' s four-stroke era, taking the first nine places. Michelin riders also hold nine of the first ten places in the current World Championship standings.

Ukawa was able to defeat Rossi, winner of the season-opening Japanese GP, because he'd made a more cautious rear-tyre choice. Welkom is the toughest of all GP tracks for tyre endurance and the Japanese chose a harder 16.5in rear while Rossi went for a medium-compound rear.

"This morning we convinced Ukawa and his crew that the harder tyre was the best for this race," explained Michelin Grand Prix manager Emmanuel Fournier. "We recommended the same tyre to Rossi but he was determined to run a medium compound, and, of course, tyre choice is ultimately the rider's. We knew that his choice would be risky for the last few laps and the tyre did prove a bit too soft for the right handers. But our congratulations to both of them, they rode a great race, riding hard all the wa y to the flag. Loris chose the same tyre as Rossi up, which worked well for him, and he too rode a brilliant race."

Rossi led much of the race, leading from pole position and staying there for the first 19 laps, shadowed all the way by Ukawa, in determined mood after crashing out at Suzuka two weeks ago. On lap 20 Rossi slowed momentarily to force Ukawa into the lead, so he could study his rival. He repassed him with three laps left but out-braked himself halfway through the final lap, running wide into 'The Boot' hairpin where Ukawa went back ahead. The Italian came back for one last go at the penultimate turn wh ere he regained the lead for a second before running wide again.

"Today was just like when we were racing 250s in 1999, but the result was not!" grinned Ukawa, who was beaten to the '99 250 title by Rossi. "My tyres were fantastic; I chose a hard rear and this was the best choice because I could see Valentino was having a lot of slides through the rights during the final laps. Then he made a mistake and I passed him okay. I'm very happy!"

Rossi, who extended his series points lead with his runner-up finish, was smiling despite the defeat. "This is good for the championship," said the 125, 250 and 500 king who has always liked to entertain the fans. "My rear tyre was a little too soft for the rights. My plan was to get a good start and run a very fast rhythm but Ukawa came with me. After those few laps behind him I pushed harder to break away but still he came with me. I made my first mistake braking for a hairpin and though I reco vered from that to make another attack, I arrived too fast and I couldn't make the corner. Next time^Å"

Capirossi ran close to the RCV until slipping behind in the second half of the race. "On new tyres I could just stay with them," said the Italian. "I'm happy to be first 500 but the gap between the two-strokes and four-strokes is already big and it will get bigger as the season goes on."

Daijiro Katoh (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR500-Michelin) had an inspired first dry race on a 500, taking fourth place on the last lap from Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) who now lies second on points. Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3 YZR500-Michelin) was less than a second behind Checa at the flag and two seconds ahead of Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-d'Antin YZR500-Michelin) and Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3 YZR500-Michelin). Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M 1-Michelin) had a lonely ride to ninth after a slow getaway from the front row of the grid. CAUTIOUS UKAWA BEATS RISKY ROSSI IN WELKOM THRILLER Ukawa's conservative tyre choice proves perfect in sweltering South African race

A delighted Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) scored his first win in bike racing's premier class at Welkom today, defeating team-mate Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) in a thrilling end-of-race showdown. The four-stroke RC Vs dominated the race from the first lap, chased hard by Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500-Michelin) who was by far the best two-stroke performer in today's sweltering 32-degree heat. Michelin riders dominated the event, the first dry race of MotoGP' s four-stroke era, taking the first nine places. Michelin riders also hold nine of the first ten places in the current World Championship standings.

Ukawa was able to defeat Rossi, winner of the season-opening Japanese GP, because he'd made a more cautious rear-tyre choice. Welkom is the toughest of all GP tracks for tyre endurance and the Japanese chose a harder 16.5in rear while Rossi went for a medium-compound rear.

"This morning we convinced Ukawa and his crew that the harder tyre was the best for this race," explained Michelin Grand Prix manager Emmanuel Fournier. "We recommended the same tyre to Rossi but he was determined to run a medium compound, and, of course, tyre choice is ultimately the rider's. We knew that his choice would be risky for the last few laps and the tyre did prove a bit too soft for the right handers. But our congratulations to both of them, they rode a great race, riding hard all the wa y to the flag. Loris chose the same tyre as Rossi up, which worked well for him, and he too rode a brilliant race."

Rossi led much of the race, leading from pole position and staying there for the first 19 laps, shadowed all the way by Ukawa, in determined mood after crashing out at Suzuka two weeks ago. On lap 20 Rossi slowed momentarily to force Ukawa into the lead, so he could study his rival. He repassed him with three laps left but out-braked himself halfway through the final lap, running wide into 'The Boot' hairpin where Ukawa went back ahead. The Italian came back for one last go at the penultimate turn wh ere he regained the lead for a second before running wide again.

"Today was just like when we were racing 250s in 1999, but the result was not!" grinned Ukawa, who was beaten to the '99 250 title by Rossi. "My tyres were fantastic; I chose a hard rear and this was the best choice because I could see Valentino was having a lot of slides through the rights during the final laps. Then he made a mistake and I passed him okay. I'm very happy!"

Rossi, who extended his series points lead with his runner-up finish, was smiling despite the defeat. "This is good for the championship," said the 125, 250 and 500 king who has always liked to entertain the fans. "My rear tyre was a little too soft for the rights. My plan was to get a good start and run a very fast rhythm but Ukawa came with me. After those few laps behind him I pushed harder to break away but still he came with me. I made my first mistake braking for a hairpin and though I reco vered from that to make another attack, I arrived too fast and I couldn't make the corner. Next time^Å"

Capirossi ran close to the RCV until slipping behind in the second half of the race. "On new tyres I could just stay with them," said the Italian. "I'm happy to be first 500 but the gap between the two-strokes and four-strokes is already big and it will get bigger as the season goes on."

Daijiro Katoh (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR500-Michelin) had an inspired first dry race on a 500, taking fourth place on the last lap from Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) who now lies second on points. Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3 YZR500-Michelin) was less than a second behind Checa at the flag and two seconds ahead of Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-d'Antin YZR500-Michelin) and Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3 YZR500-Michelin). Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M 1-Michelin) had a lonely ride to ninth after a slow getaway from the front row of the grid.

-michelin-

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Tohru Ukawa , Shinya Nakano , Daijiro Kato , Olivier Jacque
Teams Repsol Honda Team