2001 MotoGP 500 World Championship, round 3 Spanish Grand Prix, Jerez - May 4/5/6 2001 500 LAP TIMES TAKE A BASHING Grand Prix racing comes home to Europe this week for the first of ten Continental GPs which make up almost two thirds of the 2001...
2001 MotoGP 500 World Championship, round 3
Spanish Grand Prix, Jerez - May 4/5/6 2001
500 LAP TIMES TAKE A BASHING
Grand Prix racing comes home to Europe this week for the first of ten Continental GPs which make up almost two thirds of the 2001 World Championship calendar. Many insiders believe that Jerez is where the real title battle begins, since the first two races can produce misleading results, with riders aboard new machinery and teams far away from the workshop-equipped trucks they rely upon back in Europe.
And there is no better place than Jerez to kick-off the all-important Continental season. The Andalucian venue has been hosting GPs since 1987, attracting larger and larger crowds as Spainis love of bike racing has grown and grown. Crowd figures have exceeded 200,000 in recent years, and the fans are some of the most enthusiastic and noisy youill ever see or hear!
This weekend theyill be voicing their support for World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin), now a huge star in Spain, as well as their own blood, including former champ Alex CrivillÈ (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin), Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin), Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) and Jose Luis Cardoso (Antena 3 Yamaha-DiAntin-Michelin).
GP Racing heads north after Sunday racing for the French GP at Le Mans on May 20, then on to Mugello for the Italian GP on June 3.
THE RIDERS AND THE TRACK
If the pace of the opening two GPs of 2001 is anything to go by, the Jerez lap and race records should be blown apart this weekend. Aprilis season-opening Japanese GP was a massive 25 seconds faster than last yearis Suzuka race, and if that was impressive stuff, the pace at Welkom was even hotter. This yearis South African GP, won in awe-inspiring style by Valentino Rossi, was a jaw-dropping 35 seconds quicker than the 2000 event!
Qualifying at Welkom was similarly rapid, with the best 13 riders all inside last yearis pole time at the South African circuit, which, while offering a little more grip than in previous years, was much bumpier than before. Experts offer three main reasons for this amazing increase in pace - ongoing improvements from Michelin and the motorcycle manufacturers as well as the impressive pace shown by Rossi, now a fully experienced 500 rider.
The young Italian won at Suzuka and Welkom but the championship situation has a habit of changing once the European season gets underway. Rossi, for sure, isnit expecting an easy ride at Jerez. "I expect another big battle," says Rossi, who fought all the way to the Welkom finish line with compatriot Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin). "Many teams have tested at Jerez, so I think everyone will be very strong, probably more so than at the opening two races. My aim is the same as always - the podium, and a win if possible."
Rossi is certainly amongst the Jerez favourites, having topped the times at Februaryis IRTA group tests, where he was just a fraction faster than Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin), Carlos Checa, Capirossi and Alex Barros (West Honda Pons-Michelin). His crew chief Jerry Burgess, the man who guided Mick Doohan to five 500 titles, knows the action will be just as close this weekend.
"The first race in Europe is always interesting," says Burgess. "Especially Jerez, which everyone knows so well. Lap times at the first two races were both very fast but it remains to be seen if that holds true at Jerez. Times were certainly fast during pre-season tests there but thatis because the track was so cool. There was so much grip that a few people had some chatter during the IRTA tests and Iim sure some people will try the Michelin 17in rear because of that, but I think weill be sticking with the 16.5, because you can waste too much time switching back and forth."