MotoGP: Dutch TT to Rossi and Yamaha

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June 26, 2005 Valentino Rossi claimed another win, another record and staked another claim to being the greatest ever when he won the 75th anniversary Gauloises Dutch TT at the famous Assen circuit on Saturday afternoon. In doing so, he became the first Yamaha rider ever to win five consecutive premier-class races and fought off a new challenger to his crown in the form of an ever-improving Marco Melandri. Rossi has always had the ability to find something extra when it counts, but he seems to be regularly performing remarkable feats this year, coming up with several stunners on the weekend to increase his points lead in the 2005 title to 63 points – a buffer of more than two race wins.

The first stunning effort was his qualifying performance, where at the time the chequered flag was hung out, Rossi was on pole with a time of 1.59.415 seconds. Moments after the flag had been waved, Gibernau who had been on a hot lap, snatched pole away from Rossi with a time of 1.59.217 seconds. Rossi meanwhile, was on a hot lap too, and some minute later, he crossed the line and wrested first place on the grid back from his rival with a time of 1.58.936 seconds.

Rossi’s time was a third of a second faster than his main rival in Sete Gibernau, but more importantly, it was a psychological blow in that Gibernau and his team had not been allowed to snatch pole away. Rossi’s time was also two thirds of a second faster than rising star Marco Melandri, the second placed rider in the championship, more than a second faster than his teammate Colin Edwards on the same bike (which had netted him a spot on the second row of the grid) and 1.3 seconds faster than his old rival Max Biaggi.

Rossi was understandably elated after his qualifying performance, telling the press conference, “I am very happy because it is great to ride at this track on a qualifying tyre - the emotion is incredible. The bikes are so fast and this track also, even with the modifications, is still one of the best in the world. I was lucky because I was able to use both of my qualifying tyres at 100%. With the first one I set a 1’59.4, which was a great lap, but I looked at it and thought maybe I could go a little faster. I had to wait a while because there were a lot of riders waiting for me on the last lap and I left it until the last moment, because it’s better to have no one in front of you here when you are trying to set a fast lap. The last lap of 1’58 was fantastic. I’m happy to start from pole position because tomorrow for sure will be a hard race. We’ll wait to see what the weather does but if the temperatures are like today it will be very tough for the riders and the tyres.”

Rossi’s other remarkable feat for the weekend came on the last lap, when he was leading but getting caught by the hard charging Melandri in each sector – his final lap of 2.00.991 was the fastest of the race, nearly two tenths of a second faster than the ever-improving Melandri’s best, but it was done on completely spent race tyres. By comparison, the lap would have given him 14th spot on th starting grid – one tenth of a second behind Carlos checa on the ducati Marlboro Desmosedici and a quarter of a second faster than troy Bayliss on the Camel Honda RC211V, both of whom performed their laps on special “qualifying” tyres which are designed for one to two quick laps and have a useful life of around 15 kilometres at top pace.

Melandri emerged as the most likely challenger to Rossi’s title this year, partly due to his consistency and partly due to his ability to run at Rossi’s pace for the entire race – four riders in the current field have shown their ability to match it with Rossi on some racetracks for a full race– Gibernau, Barros, Biaggi and now Melandri. Melandri looks to be the most likely to eventually match him on all racetracks due to his consistency. This season he has finished third, fourth, third, fourth, fourth, third and second for 107 points – no match for Rossi’s six wins and a second (170 points) but much better than the inconsistencies of Biaggi (87), Gibernau (84) and Barros (74).

Several other factors came into play at the weekend, as the paddock gossip indicates that current 250 champ and runaway points leader in the current 250 series, danny pedrosa, has signed with Honda and will take his place in the official works Repsol sponsored team in 2006. This leaves either Biaggi or American Nicky Hayden without a ride next year and with the American youngster getting better with every performance, and Biaggi’s career in decline, 2005 could be the last chance Biaggi gets on first class machinery.

Perhaps even more telling than Biaggi’s unimpressive sixth place at Assen was yet another bout of self-destructive behaviour during qualifying on Friday. During the session he clashed with Blata WCM rider Franco Battaini, bouncing off the racetrack and rejoining directly in front of his fellow countryman. This left battaini nowhere to go and caused Battaini to crash, fortunately without injury.

Biaggi by then had spent his qualifying tyres and had decided to try a few practice starts on the circuit while other riders were attempting to put in their crucial final qualifying laps (Rossi and Gibernau’s efforts mentioned previously in this report happened in the same time frame. The practice is both dangerous and illegal and blocked Melandri when he was attempting to run at qualifying pace on a fresh qualifying tyre. In the ensuing tangle, Biaggi and Melandri clashed and at the end of practice the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme issued the following statement:

On Friday 24 June, during the MotoGP qualifying practice, Italian rider number 3 Massimiliano Biaggi rode in an irresponsible manner, causing danger to other riders, which is an infraction to article 1.21.2 of the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix Regulations. For this infraction, the Race Direction has decided to penalize the rider with a fine of USD$5000.

During the same session, Massimiliano Biaggi made start practice on the track before the chequered flag (infraction to Art. 1.21.17). For this, the Race Direction has decided to inflict upon the rider a fine of USD 1000.

After the practice session, Mr Valerio Biaggi, holder of the pass nr I-1485, grabbed the rider nr 33 Marco Melandri by the throat, resulting in scratches. According to Art. (action prejudicial to the interests of the sport), the Race Direction has decided to withdraw the permanent pass of Mr Valerio Biaggi for the rest of the year.

Video of the incident can be seen here.

It’s quite possible that Honda will not wish to continue supporting Biaggi in light of his fading form and the bad publicity his now regular and highly disrespectful antics will reflect on the company’s brand name. The incredibly bad publicity of the team’s Formula 1 suspension for what ammounts to little less than cheating will take a long time to live down, so there's no point in having bad publicity across both major forms of the company's sporting activities. Biaggi’s antics were simply unnecessary and served no good reason.

Interestingly, Biaggi is not on Valentino Rossi’s Christmas card list for similar bad blood incidents and had previously incurred the wrath of the last “immortal” in the sport- Michael Doohan.

Biaggi appears to have declared war on the most likely “next big thing’ in MotoGP in the form of Melandri and at the same time marginalised yet another large section of the sport’s fan base. While his talent will no doubt see him offered rides in 2006, he may well have knocked a zero off his annual earning potential.

So the main happenings of the 75th anniversary Gauloises Dutch TT of 2005 were Rossi’s performances, Melandri’s rise to main challenger for the title, and the performance of Rossi’s Gauloises Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards. Edwards followed his team-mate through the opening few laps to make up some important positions from sixth on the grid, quickly settling into the excellent race pace he had found during practice and finally getting the opportunity to impose it on the front group. One lap after seeing Rossi take the lead, Edwards passed Sete Gibernau (Honda) for third place and did everything he could to catch Melandri for second, before deciding to settle for a podium finish.

How The Race Unfolded

In warm, but overcast conditions, after heavy overnight and early morning rain after two days of beating heat, the 19-lap MotoGP race got underway with Melandri leading the pack into turn one from his team-mate Gibernau with Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki) showing well early in third.

Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) was looking good as he moved up from fourth on lap one to second by lap two and he shared an early fastest lap time of the race with Melandri as he tried to establish himself with the pace-setters.

A crowd of 90,000 watched as Melandri tried to break clear of his rivals setting a fastest lap on lap three as he tried to shake Hayden off. But Hayden dropped off the pace as Gibernau forced his way past the American when he ran wide at the Horseshoe turn.

Rossi was up to second place by lap eight having displaced Gibernau and it wasn’t long before Melandri and Rossi had separated themselves from Gibernau, who was now under pressure from Edwards for third.

On lap ten Rossi passed Melandri into the Horseshoe and immediately upped the pace. But Marco hung onto him as the pair pulled further clear of Gibernau who was about to be caught and passed by Edwards. By lap 12 Rossi and Melandri were 1.4 seconds clear of the Texan rider.

Rossi now put the pressure on Melandri by upping the pace. The reigning World Champion set a fastest lap on lap 13 as he attempted to drop the challenger. He established a 1.16 second gap before Melandri responded by reducing it to just 0.54 seconds with two laps to go.

But Rossi finally broke Melandri’s ambition with a fastest lap of 2m 0.991 seconds on the final lap of the race to finish 1.583 seconds clear at the flag. Edwards came in a distant third while Nicky took fourth place ahead of Sete, Max Biaggi (Repsol Honda RC211V) and then Alex Barros (Camel Honda RC211V) in seventh.

Main quotes after the race:

Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team) 1st: “Today was another hard battle, as it has been every race this season. At the start the grip was tricky because of the rain this morning and I lost some places and had to overtake Loris and Nakano to arrive behind the three Hondas. I knew I could go a bit faster and after I passed them all I made some good laps and it became easier to ride on the limit, as there was less fuel. Melandri was very strong today and he came back to fight until the end. I had to keep pushing at 100% and really concentrate, especially on the last lap, when I made no mistakes and the fastest lap of the race. It was incredible for everybody. My bike worked perfectly again, so thank you to Yamaha and my team for all the brilliant work they’ve done, and to Michelin because the tyres were really good. We have a great atmosphere in our team and this makes it very easy to relax and give 100% every time. It’s a pleasure to try to win together. I can’t believe that I am the first Yamaha rider to win five races in a row, when you look at the company I am in with Yamaha’s former World Champions – Agostini, Lawson, Roberts and Rainey, its great.”

Davide Brivio, Gauloises Yamaha Team Director: “It was a very good day and once again both riders are on the podium with Valentino taking victory. Every race is different and this time it was a great fight with Melandri and with Colin also in the fighting group. It was very exciting to watch such good racing. This also shows the big progress that Yamaha has made and in this sense our engineers and team crew are really working very well. I’m just very lucky to be a representative of such a fantastic team. It’s also very encouraging to be going to Laguna Seca in this situation, when we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Yamaha.”

Marco Melandri, Movistar Honda MotoGP: 2nd: “I’m really happy because this is my best result in MotoGP and to have done it at this circuit is very important. It was a very tough race. At the start I was able to take the lead and stay there until halfway through the race, when I was passed by Valentino. I stayed just behind him and set a good pace but made a small mistake that cost me around eight tenths and I had to try and recover. At the end when I saw Rossi pushing so hard I decided not to risk more than necessary and took a second place which is brilliant for everybody. I want to say thanks to the team, Honda and Michelin for the great job they have done.”

Colin Edwards (Gauloises Yamaha Team) 3rd: “Of course it could still have been better, but it was a good race. We made a breakthrough with the bike set-up this week and it just felt really good, better than its felt all season I think. I had a bad start, then I saw Valentino and realised his wasn’t great either! The first corner I passed a couple and then on the back straight it was chaos with everyone trying to pass anywhere! I tried to follow Valentino through the traffic, then I got stuck behind Gibernau for a bit when he started to slow down. I got some time back when Marco made his big mistake and I saw red and really pushed hard to catch him! With four laps to go I was on the limit and lost the front really badly at turn two. When exactly the same thing happened on the next lap I decided it was safer to take it easy, get home on two wheels and make it onto the podium. I want to say a big thank you to my team and my Crew Chief Daniele Romagnoli, they’ve worked hard to find the right way forward and now I am going to Laguna in great shape.”

Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda, 4th: “Its been a tough weekend really especially with the weather. This morning the track was so different so in the race we had to gamble a little. We changed the fork springs and it all felt pretty good at the start. The tyre really came in over the first few laps and I was able to make some passes. Then Rossi and Edwards came by and I had to regroup a little and in the end I got past Gibernau for a pretty lonely fourth. I know it’s the best finish this season but I really want to move on the next group – and for the whole race, not just a bit of it. I am really looking forward to putting on a good show for all the fans at Laguna in the next race.”

Sete Gibernau, Movistar Honda MotoGP: 5th: “That was one of the worst races we’ve had recently. We didn’t do badly in practice despite the way the weekend started but I couldn’t do any more than that in the race. I almost crashed on several occassions and, luckily, we were able to finish but I can’t hide that I am tremendously dissatisfied. I hope to turn the situation around in Laguna Seca”.

Max Biaggi, Repsol Honda, 6th: “ I had no grip since the start of the race and couldn’t really get into the turns and open the throttle like I wanted to. I lost immediately too much ground and could only fight for the lower positions. We need to work harder and we need a result soon – hopefully by the next race because we have the potential to express ourselves. This is not the level that I or the team should be working at. We can do much better because we have to.

Alex Barros, Camel Honda, 7th: “Today’s race was frankly terrible for me, because I was never able to ride as I would have liked and as I had done up to that point. Unfortunately the tyre I chose, and the one which went well yesterday, wasn’t suited to the asphalt which was a lot colder after the overnight rain and the storms this morning. Instead, in the race I found myself without grip on the rear tyre. I chose not to take the harder tyre that Rossi, Melandri and Edwards probably used, I think Hayden maybe too, because it didn’t work for me in practice. This was an erroneous decision. I was hoping that with a few laps heating up it would have worked better, but instead I was never able to ride at the pace I did on the first two days, not even when I managed to get past the first group of riders and had a clear track ahead of me.”

Shinya Nakano, Team Kawasaki, 8th: "I'm frustrated because for a few laps I could race with the top guys and it was very enjoyable. But then it was difficult to improve my lap times, even though I could carry good corner speed. I was being passed on the straights, and for sure, we need to find some more top end power. I used a slightly softer rear tyre and it stayed consistent, but I want to be up in the top five racing the other guys. I lost a lot of time in the battle with Capirossi, but I'm happy to be the first Bridgestone rider over the line."

Ichiro Yoda, Team Kawasaki, Technical Director: "Shinya was again the best Bridgestone rider, but two things are clear after this race. We have to speed up the pace of engine development, especially for the power circuits later in season, such as Brno. Also, we need to work closely with Bridgestone to improve the competitiveness of our bike and tyre package."

Harald Eckl, Team Kawasaki, Team Manager: "A top eight finish is what I thought was possible today, and Shinya achieved that with another excellent performance, although he raced hard and probably deserved a better result. Shinya delivered a 110% effort. And Alex has every right to be very disappointed in missing what could have been a top ten position. He was racing strongly, catching Shinya and matching his times, when his bike stopped."

Carlos Checa, Ducati Marlboro Team, ninth place: "My biggest problem was after the start. This track is so twisty that it's really difficult to overtake or even keep your position if you're right in the middle of the pack. Eventually I was able to pass a few riders, then my lap times weren't so bad. As the fuel load lessened, the bike felt better, so I had more confidence in the corner entries. Then I was able to catch and pass a few more riders, until the grip went down and the bike started moving around, which seemed to happen to everyone. Today this was the best we could do. All I can say is that I hope that the information I give to the team will help us improve for the next few races."

Loris Capirossi Ducati Marlboro Team, tenth place: "Some riders are used to finishing well back and are okay with that, but I'm neither used to this nor happy about it. This was a bad race - the first few laps were okay but then the fun finished and the risk began. I don't want to accuse anyone, the bike is okay and the team is working so hard. Also, I see that Bridgestone are working very hard. We use different tyres from the others, because our bike has different demands, but I'm not happy with tenth place."

Troy Bayliss, Camel Honda, 11th: “What can I say about this race, it was average considering recent races, and despite giving everything once more I was unable to ride as well as I can. I’m obviously not happy, because there’s not much difference for me between eleventh and twentieth, but there’s not much else I can do apart from continuing to work hard with my head down and bring and end to this situation. I’m happy to be going to Laguna Seca now, a track I really like, and where I hope we can make some much-needed steps forward.”

Ruben Xaus (Fortuna Yamaha Team) 12th: “I made a mistake at the start and I did not feel comfortable for the first few laps, I did not have the right feeling. When Tamada passed me, it took me a while to get back in front of him because I had been struggling for a while. Then I battled with Bayliss, Roberts and Hopkins and improved my rhythm and the bike began to get lighter by the halfway point. I have to learn to improve my rhythm in the first five laps of the race because in the last few races it’s only been on the last few laps that I felt like I could challenge for the top eight. I have to improve a lot in that respect.”

John Hopkins, Team Suzuki, 13th: “The luck just hasn’t been running with us in the last few races. It was always going to be difficult from the fourth row but I held onto my qualifying position in the early laps. I caught the group and enjoyed being tucked in with Biaggi and that helped drag me up to the Kawasakis and Capirossi. I really felt a strong finish was on the cards, I was riding hard and the bike was working as well as it had done all weekend – the team did a great job with improving the settings. It then looked like I would have to settle for 11th – an improvement on qualifying – but the problem on the last three laps put paid to that. I’m obviously very disappointed but I’m full of fight for Laguna Seca. I’ll be over this tomorrow and focusing everything on my efforts there.”

Paul Denning, Team Suzuki, Team Manager: “John stated before the race that he would be happy if he could equal or better his qualifying position of 12th . It looked like he would do better than that and in the middle of the race John was the fastest Bridgestone runner but he unfortunately had problems and lost two places in the closing stages. Again he gave a huge effort and I’m very pleased with that. It looked at one point that we could have been on for a top-ten but the necessity for John to be so aggressive at the start to achieve the lap times meant that he probably used up our Bridgestones quicker than the other runners, and our durability wasn’t as good. We’re now stripping off the Team SUZUKI MotoGP bodywork and building the all-new Red Bull Suzukis for shipping to California. They say Red Bull ‘Gives You Wings’, let’s hope it gives us some better fortune at the USGP.”

Makoto Tamada, Konica Minolta Honda, 14th: “After having analyzed this afternoon lap times, I couldn’t believe that I have ridden my fastest lap in 2’04, three seconds slower than the race fastest lap. From the first laps I never found the right confidence with the tyres. It seemed like the tyres never warmed up, and the first few laps I have risked to fall in a few occasions. Then things got a little better, but without a doubt I never found the right feeling to be able to push the bike to its limit. In addition, the pain in my right forearm didn’t surely help me out. I can admit that this has been the darkest day for my MotoGP career. Now we have to evaluate what to do. I surely want to be back at my best conditions, because I know I can give much more.”

David Checa (Fortuna Yamaha Team) 15th: “I felt very comfortable at the beginning. I was able to get away quite well and even got in front of Tamada and Ruben. But when Tamada went back past me he threw up a stone at me in the chicane that unsettled me a lot. I kept going as best I could, but it hurt a lot and over the final laps I was not able to accelerate and brake as normal which meant I had to be cautious. Anyway, I am happy because I believe I rode a good race. It’s a shame my time with the team has come to an end.”

Kenny Roberts Jr, Team Suzuki, 16th: “The character of this circuit and the base of our machine meant that it was a struggle all weekend and the race results reflect our situation. Hopefully we have a bunch of new stuff coming for America and that’s supposed to help in the areas we are struggling in now.”

Alex Hofmann, Team Kawasaki, DNF: "I've decided I need to be positive about this, despite my disappointment. I need to look forward to the next race in America, rather than dwelling on today's bad luck. After switching bikes before the start I was matching the pace of Shinya and the Ducatis for five laps, and the top eight was possible. From lap six the chain was jumping on the sprocket and it was difficult to downshift, and then the engine began misfiring. I was trying to be smooth, but it just got worse and I had to stop."

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