500cc MOTO GRAND PRIX Suzuka / Japan BRILLIANT ROSSI WINS FRANTIC SEASON-OPENER Japan's glorious Suzuka circuit lived up to its reputation for serving up the greatest 500 races today, as the world's best riders fought out a nail-biting battle...
500cc MOTO GRAND PRIX
Suzuka / Japan
BRILLIANT ROSSI WINS FRANTIC SEASON-OPENER
Japan's glorious Suzuka circuit lived up to its reputation for serving up the greatest 500 races today, as the world's best riders fought out a nail-biting battle for victory in the first round of the 2001 500 World Championship.
Bumping and barging their way around the high-speed circuit, the pack eventually succumbed to the talents of Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) who dominated the later stages to beat Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin) by 0.7 seconds and Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) by nine tenths. All three chose different Michelin tyres to achieve almost identical race times; Rossi went for a medium compound front and the hardest 16.5 rear, McCoy ran soft tyres at both ends, while Biaggi went for medium slicks front and rear.
Rossi's victory made history, for it was Honda's 500th Grand Prix win, a major landmark for the marque that won its first GP way back in April 1961. The 22-year-old Italian, who finished runner-up in his rookie 500 season last year, enjoyed a frantic battle in the early stages, using his superb overtaking skills to work his way through from eighth on the first lap. Once ahead he eased a small gap over his pursuers, who were busy battling for runner-up spot, and had opened the gap to three seconds before easing his pace over the final two laps. Despite the multiple body contacts, today's race was super fast, 25 seconds quicker than last year's Japanese GP and the fastest ever at this track.
"This is the first time I ever had any luck at Suzuka," said Rossi, who has never finished inside the top ten here during previous visits on 125s, 250s, 500s and Superbikes. "Now I finally had some good luck and my thanks to Honda and my team. I've only won three GPs for Honda but now I will be in the history books!
"I got a good start but after a few laps I felt pretty tired, so I just kept pushing. I had a big fight with Nori (Haga Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin), Alex (Barros West Honda Pons-Michelin) and Max and then finally I had the track to myself. I found it hard to pull away but suddenly I saw I had 3.5 seconds on everyone. I had a few scary moments touching other riders, including one time when I went on the grass at over 200kmh! The 500 class is so tough now, no one wants you to overtake, especially guys like Haga, Barros and Biaggi. As soon as they see you, they let their brakes off!" Haga later crashed, without injury.
McCoy, who won last year's season-opener at Welkom, was delighted with second at a track for which he doesn't hold much fondness. "I actually thought that would be tougher," said the Australian, who led four of the early laps. "I got into the lead okay but I knew I wouldn't be able to pull away. A couple of guys came past, then I tried to fight back but Valentino pulled away. I'm happy anyway, second is a good enough start to the season." Third-home Biaggi displayed impressive bravery throughout much of the race, holding his line with utter determination as rivals tried to get the better of him. He slipped to fourth at one point and was badly delayed when Tohru Ukawa (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) crashed right in front of him just a few laps from the flag. Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin) and Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin- Michelin), with whom Biaggi was racing, got through the debris cleanly but the Italian was delayed. Nevertheless he fought back to get third on the final lap, leaving Abe and impressive 500 first-timer Nakano fourth and fifth. Ukawa escaped with bad bruising.
Biaggi said: "I'm very pleased because for the last two years I've not scored points at the first GP. It was difficult out there because everyone was using different lines and there was a lot of body contact going on. Haga, Ukawa, Rossi and I all made contact at one time or another! It was hectic but that's what racing is all about!"
Alex Barros (West Honda Pons-Michelin) crossed the line 12 seconds back in sixth place, comfortably ahead of reigning World Champion Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) and Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin). World Champion Alex Criville (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) and Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) completed the top ten, Checa remounting after a slow-speed fall.