Tamada wins Japanese GP

Tamada wins Japanese GP

Makoto Tamada backed up his pre-race talk with a dominant win at the Japanese GP in Motegi. After setting a blistering lap to take pole position on Saturday, Tamada rode a faultless race in front of 67,000 screaming Japanese fans. Makoto...

Makoto Tamada backed up his pre-race talk with a dominant win at the Japanese GP in Motegi. After setting a blistering lap to take pole position on Saturday, Tamada rode a faultless race in front of 67,000 screaming Japanese fans.

Makoto Tamada.
Photo by Fabrice Crosnier.
Perhaps anticipated as one of the biggest races of the year, aside from South Africa, the Japanese GP had all the ingredients necessary for a historic race. Motegi is owned by Honda, and unless you have been living under a rock for the past year, you would know Valentino Rossi left the motorcycle giant for Yamaha. Their split was not pretty, and both parties claimed their success together was mainly due to their respective strengths, Rossi's riding talent and Honda's engineering prowess. The only way to confirm their beliefs was for both to go their separate ways. Fast-forward to today at the home of Honda and you could rest assured the sparks were going to fly. To add to the excitement, young American, John Hopkins, held provisional pole position on Friday. Even though the Suzuki rider was relegated to second place after Tamada's pole lap, this was the first time Hopkins had ever sat on the front row of a MotoGP grid.

As the lights went out, the roar of the four-strokes was deafening. Rossi got an excellent start from the outside of the first row and set himself up for the hole-shot into turn one. Tamada opted to go the long way around as he set himself up for an outside maneuver. But those were the only two top riders that survived what happened next. Loris Capirossi, with the magnificent launch-controlled V4 Ducati, got himself too deep into turn one. Hopkins, unaware of how close Capirossi was, tipped his V4 Suzuki into turn one, only to collide with the Red machine. As the two riders tumbled down to the gravel trap along with their race bikes, they swept two rows of riders with them. The victims of the mayhem were Hopkins, Capirossi, Kenny Roberts Jr., Max Biaggi, Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards. Edwards, Hayden and Biaggi got up unharmed, but their race in Japan was gone. Capirossi suffered from a fracture on his foot, Hopkins with a couple of broken ribs and Roberts from a dislocated elbow. Roberts is not expected to ride at the next round, but should be ok for Sepang in a month's time.

Six riders out of the race and what was already an interesting and long-awaited GP, got even more exciting. Rossi led, closely followed by Tamada, with Marco Melandri, Shinya Nakano, Norick Abe, Sete Gibernau and Carlos Checa a further second behind.

During Thursday's press conference, Tamada said he would play with Rossi, and the Japanese did wait very long to get to the games. After the turn-one incident, Rossi broke away from the field, but Tamada closed the gap by the next lap. As the laps progressed, Tamada began to study Rossi as soon as he got behind the Yamaha, taking looks on the inside and outside of Rossi. By the fifth lap, Tamada had learned all he needed and got past Rossi on the brakes going into the Motegi tunnel.

Nakano's and Kawasaki's excellent race almost could have not been, if not from a gesture by the motorcycle gods. On the fourth lap, the ZX-RR Ninja began to puff blue smoke, but Nakano held strong on his chase for his and Kawasaki's first-ever MotoGP podium (in the four-stoke era). Had the smoke not subsided, race control would have surely ordered the Kawasaki off the track in favor of safety.

Farther back, HRC's wildcard entry, Tohru Ukawa, crashed out of the race on what was reportedly a hybrid RCV.

While Melandri's and Rossi's Yamahas soldiered on, Abe's said no mas on the ninth lap, forcing the Japanese to retire from his home GP.

Abe's retirement handed Nakano and Gibernau fourth and fifth respectively, but Troy Bayliss and Alex Barros were on a charge from the back and Gibernau's position was only on loan, as Bayliss got past Checa on his way to catching the number 15.

Up front, the gap to Tamada increased from half a second to 1.1 seconds by the 12th lap and to 2.2 seconds by the 14th lap. Tamada's gap only widened as the laps progressed, and would eventually get as wide as six seconds on the final lap.

With only six laps to go Nakano began to apply even greater pressure on Melandri. Nakano's move came on the back straight, as Nakano out-dragged the Yamaha. As the two riders got on the brakes, Melandri and Nakano were side-by-side, but Melandri, over-defending the inside line, ran wide and left the door wide open for Nakano to take. As if scripted, the overtaking happened in front of thousands of fans that were flying the Kawasaki-green flag, which went crazy when they saw Nakano emerge victorious.

Shinya Nakano.
Photo by Fabrice Crosnier.
Though Bayliss got past Gibernau, the bucking Ducati proved too much for the Australian and on the 19th lap the Corse rider found himself in the gravel trap along with his Ducati.

Bayliss's crash settled the field and the running order became the finishing order. Tamada took his second-ever GP victory, Rossi finished second and increased his championship lead to 39 points, Nakano and Kawasaki obtained his first-ever MotoGP podium finish, Melandri finished fourth, Barros fifth and championship contender Gibernau (sort of) finished sixth.

Perhaps the mystery of today's race was Rossi's pace. All throughout QP and FP Rossi was able to string 1:48 second laps on command. Today's race was controlled by Tamada, but Tamada's race was run in the 1:48s, a pace Rossi should have been able to match. Instead, Rossi could only muster a high 48 here and there, but mainly raced in the low 49s. So what happened to Rossi? Did he let Tamada win? Perhaps Rossi has matured and no longer races for the win at every race. Or maybe, he really didn't have an answer for Tamada, but if that was the case, where did he get the speed Friday and Saturday? During the post-race press conference Rossi looked troubled, staring hypnotically at Tamada as if in disbelief of the outcome. If Rossi did race for the points and continues this way, he should have the title defense wrapped by Phillip Island, and I can assure you that with the title on hand we'll get the old "go-for-the-win-at-whatever-cost" Rossi

The next round is at Qatar, a race track none of the riders has ever seen. The rider that is able to adapt the quickest will be the victor. Will it be today's winner Tamada, or championship leader Rossi? Stay tuned to find out.

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Nicky Hayden , Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Troy Bayliss , Colin Edwards , Alex Barros , Tohru Ukawa , Sete Gibernau , Shinya Nakano , Kenny Roberts Jr. , John Hopkins , Makoto Tamada , Marco Melandri , Phillip Island