October 2, 2005 Just six days after lifting the MotoGP title with Valentino Rossi in Malaysia, the Gauloises Yamaha Team were celebrating again today as Valentino Rossi’s record-breaking tenth victory of the season secured the Teams’ World Championship at the Qatar Grand Prix. Yamaha is likely to secure the trifecta by winning the constructor’s title at the Australian GP in a fortnight’s time. Once again, Spaniard Sete Gibernau was the front-runner for most of the race, relenting once more when the chequered flag grew near to finally finish fifth. Gibernau has led 111 (32%) of the 347 laps in this year’s 14 races compared to Rossi’s 87 laps (25%) yet Rossi has won ten Gps and a championship compared to Gibernau’s zip and eighth place in the standings. The Spaniard remains the most obviously capable rider other than Rossi and is reportedly negotiating a move from Honda to Ducati for next year.
While the continued appearance of the Honda RC211V on the podium suggests the Honda is not at fault, some people believe the Honda’s front end problems have been masked by a bevvy of good riders, and a Ducati team of Gibernau and Capirossi riding on much improved Bridgestone tyres might well be a championship contender. Remember that Tory Bayliss was competitive on the Ducati but has not been on the Honda.
Other key silly-season rumours suggest that despite sitting second in the title, Max Biaggi has not yet signed and isn’t even close to securing a premium ride, with several other veterans perhaps being seen for the last time in the next few races – Carlos Checa and Alex barros are also reportedly not being highly sought in the paddock, with many team managers believing its time to look to a fresh sets of faces. Suzuki and Kawasaki have spare seats for next year up for grabs too, with Roberts Junior out of favour and Olivier Jacques out injured.
One of the keys to the signing of contracts next year will be the performance of Chris Vermeulen on the Honda RC211V at the Australian Grand Prix. Rarely in recent times has there been such expectations on a rider entering his first MotoGP race – though he has won less than 10 superbikes races, he is being expected by many to immediately become competitive at the highest level, though prodigious talents such as Melandri, Gibernau, Edwards, Nakano and Hayden all took time to come to grips with the world’s premier motorcycle roadracing event.
With a seeming dearth of talent in MotoGP capable of taking it to Rossi, our advice for team managers looking for a hot rider would be to look to the superbike championships – specifically, the AMA Championships where Matt Mladin has been racking up wins, fastest laps and titles for the best part of a decade, not to mention being the world’s second highest paid motorcycle road racer. Mladin tried MotoGP many years ago but chose the wrong team at the wrong time – Mladin is race hardened and consistently the fastest man in a cut-throat series. He would make a great acquisition and someone’s gotta start giving Rossi a run for his money.
The dominance of Rossi is great to see, but it’s time that he was seriously challenged otherwise despite his entertaining personality and antics, MotoGP may well take on the processional nature of Formula 1 when Schumacher was at his most potent.
The last rider to win the World Championship for Yamaha before Rossi took the title last season was Wayne Rainey. The Californian clinched his third consecutive title on the YZR500 machine in 1992 and has kept a close eye on Rossi’s dominant form this season, which has seen the 26 year old take the title with nine wins from thirteen races. “Valentino has done a fabulous job and it is wonderful to see Yamaha winning races consistently again - basically for the first time since I raced,” says Rainey, who played a major part in taking MotoGP back to the United States at Laguna Seca earlier this year. After dominating the 500cc series with 24 victories between 1988 and 1993, Rainey knows only too well about the psychological strength it takes to be a World Champion and says that this, as well as an abundance of talent, is Rossi’s main weapon. “To tell you the truth I think he’s just been playing with the other guys, he’s got them beaten even before they go out on the track,” he explains. “I think there are other riders out there with the ability to compete with him but every time they come out of their shells he just beats them back in again. That is probably his strongest asset and if the riders out there now want to beat him they will have to start rethinking their approach a little.” Rainey had followed the path to Grand Prix stardom marked out by his fellow American Eddie Lawson, who won the first of his three 500cc titles with Yamaha in 1985. Lawson’s total of 26 victories over six seasons remains a premier-class record for the factory, but that could be beaten by Rossi next season. It won’t be the first time the Italian has emulated one of Lawson’s records, having become the only rider other than the American to win consecutive titles for different manufacturers in the history of the championship last season. “From what I have seen this year Valentino is simply in another league to the other riders, he is very impressive,” says Lawson, who attended his first Grand Prix in several years at Laguna Seca in July. “Above all I am pleased to see Yamaha winning races and titles again. I’ve still got a lot of friends there and I’m delighted to see them enjoying the success they definitely deserve. “Records are there to be broken and to be honest I was sure mine would fall much quicker than they are doing. I suppose if there is anybody out there who had to do it, it would be Valentino!” The man that opened the way for Rainey and Lawson’s World Championship achievements was their mentor Kenny Roberts. The former dirt-track champion revolutionised the way Grand Prix motorcycles were ridden when he began road racing in 1978 and allowed his compatriots to come through and dominate the sport for almost two decades. Still heavily involved in MotoGP, Roberts has kept a close eye on Rossi’s achievements, not only this season but throughout his career. “This year Valentino has had everything covered, he hardly ever makes a mistake,” says Roberts. “In fact, throughout his career I’ve barely seen him make a mistake, certainly not off the track, and that helps him to stay focused on it. He hasn’t had terrible motorcycles to ride but everything he rides he wins on… everything. His PR, promotion and merchandising is head and shoulders above anything I would ever dreamt of having, plus he’s Italian! He’s got the whole package and it’s great to watch him winning races for Yamaha. To see him racing in the yellow and black colours of Yamaha USA at Laguna Seca earlier this season was a very proud moment for me.” However, Yamaha’s first premier-class world champion and one of the men most comparable to Rossi in terms of talent, charm and racing achievement was Giacomo Agostini, the first true megastar of MotoGP. The Italian won his last 500cc title for Yamaha in 1975 and has taken extra pleasure from watching the rise of his country’s new hero, the first Italian to truly dominate the sport since Agostini’s last victory at Brno in 1977. “Valentino is the kind of talent that comes along to any sport only once in a generation - there isn’t a Bobby Charlton born every year!” says Agostini. “The Italian people waited 20 years for the next Agostini and Valentino has given them great happiness. I think we should thank him and thank Yamaha for a wonderful season.” With Rossi taking the title for the fifth straight season and having already signed up with Yamaha to defend it at least once more, Agostini is well aware of the extra difficulties faced when trying to stay at the top of such a demanding sport. According to the former eight-time 500cc World Champion it is this continued desire to win that has been Rossi’s most impressive asset this season. “I think the motivation Valentino has shown this year is a demonstration of his love for the sport,” he says. “The quality of the opposition is strong but Valentino has something extra. Every race is a new adventure to him and he is excited to meet each challenge. It is a fantastic achievement. By moving from Honda to Yamaha he made a similar switch to me, when I went from MV Augusta to Yamaha, and he has kept his motivation high. He has shown his riding talents on different machinery over the past few seasons in MotoGP and everybody around the world seems to like him. I am very happy because I am still very close to the people at Yamaha. I very much enjoyed riding for the factory and they are still like a family to me. “This season I think Yamaha deserve just as much credit as Valentino does. The factory has done a good job, given him a good bike and he has been able to win virtually everything. For both of them, this year has been the best ever.” The Race
Rossi’s 79th victory of his career came after 22 dramatic laps of the Losail International Circuit, with Loris Capirossi (Ducati) taking an early lead from pole position before Sete Gibernau (Honda) took over. The Spaniard had built up a solid advantage by the halfway stage but he was eventually reeled in by the chasing pack and made a critical error with five laps remaining, running into the gravel when trying to repel an attack from Melandri.
With Nicky Hayden (Honda) in close attendance, Rossi closed in on Melandri and the two Italians went head to head in a gripping finale, Rossi taking the lead with three laps remaining and holding off one last attempt from Melandri just two corners from the end to secure victory. With the riders’ and teams’ titles now in the bag, Yamaha needs to be just 50 points clear after Phillip Island to clinch the Manufacturers’ Championship.
Valentino Rossi, Yamaha, 1st:“What a race! For me that was the best of the season, it was so much fun. I had bad memories from this circuit from last year so I really wanted to win and after practice yesterday I knew it was not impossible. I had two great rivals and all three of us showed that we were in very good shape until the end. We gave more than 100% and had a fantastic battle from the beginning to the end. I have to thank Yamaha and my whole team because my bike was very fast over the final few laps, which it needed to be because Marco Melandri was very strong and we had a great battle. He tried to pass me on the last lap but I was able to hold on and win – my tenth of the season. I am very, very happy.” Davide Brivio, Gauloises Yamaha team Director: “Today we saw a fantastic race, scored another victory and won another title so of course we are delighted. Valentino clearly wanted to win the race after what happened last year and he came out on top of another incredible battle, so congratulations to him. Colin finished in fourth place, which is not what he had hoped for, but he scored some important points and closed the gap to second in the championship so we are happy for him. The team have worked extremely well since Thursday, finding the right set-up for both bikes early in the weekend and then just fine-tuning for the race. We’ve won the Teams’ Championship today and both riders have contributed to this, so congratulations to everybody. Both Valentino and Colin like Phillip Island so now we all looking forward to going to Australia in two weeks.”
Marco Melandri, MoviStar Honda, 2nd: “ That was the best race of the season for me. I felt good after practice yesterday, the bike was ready and we did a great job with Michelin. I didn’t get a good start in the race, took it calmly for the first few laps and lost a bit of time as I made up the positions. I passed Edwards and Hayden to catch up with the leaders, the bike was running perfectly and my only thought was to finish on the podium. I tried to pass Valentino on the last lap but I made a mistake and ran of the track. Despite that it was an incredible race and I’m really pleased to be back on the podium after a tough couple of weeks with the injury. Now I’m third in the championship and the fight for second is still on.”
Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda, 3rd: “I’m so happy to be to be on the podium today. Before the race things weren’t going to plan. In the morning warm-up we were so slow and were in real trouble. My guys made some changes and I have to be real grateful to them as they got it right and that’s why I got third. The bike was so much better in the race than it had been all weekend - so much faster. The Michelins were brilliant - so much grip! I got an awesome start. In turn one my buddy Sete ran into the back of me again but I stayed on. In the race I just hung on in there. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it back but I’m here. I was pushing so hard to stay with the lead group and there were some pretty scary moments. It wasn’t pretty with Sete running off but I’ll take the result the way the weekend was going.”
Colin Edwards, Yamaha, 4th: “I felt we had the pace yesterday but we were looking for a little bit more rear grip to take that extra step and went with a different tyre this morning. It was the same as the other guys were using but my bike was set up around the tyre we had yesterday and I couldn’t turn the thing. It was pushing the front a lot in the corners and I kept having to run it straight. We need to figure out why that was and take the lesson to Phillip Island in a couple of weeks. I’m disappointed for my team today because I was confident I could be up there fighting for the win and in the end it just didn’t happen. On the up-side, my points today contributed to the teams’ championship, so that’s a good thing to take away from here.” Sete Gibernau, MoviStar Honda, 5th: "Once again we've had a great race without the final result we deserved. I led the race until Marco came in a little aggressive and I had to run off my line. But it's no use complaining; we're doing some things well and some things badly. We're leading races regularly but for one reason or another we haven't been able to finish them off. But we can't keep talking about bad luck - the unlucky guy is the one who never gets to run at the front at all. I still think things will change." Carlos Checa, Ducati, sixth: “Maybe the result isn't that great but I think we can be happy because we've done a good job here. When we came here in March we had front tyre wear problems, so Bridgestone have made a big step forward here and I know they'll improve again. I used a different rear from what I used in warm-up, I chose something harder for the race. That's why I couldn't push so hard early on but it allowed me to run a good, consistent pace later on"
Ducati Marlboro Team technical director Corrado Cecchinelli: " Today could've been better and it could've been worse. We knew that this wasn't going to be our race but we have to say that we are very satisfied with the overall result of these last three overseas GPs. We have to be optimistic, because if we can learn something from today then all the effort will have been worth it. To be honest, we had trouble with rear grip earlier than I'd expected. But our thanks, as always, to Bridgestone and to Shell Advance for all their help during this great run of 'flyaway' races."
Shinya Nakano, Kawasaki, 7th: "I'm happy to finish a race after the problems of the past two weeks. Seventh is okay, I had expected to be closer to the front group, but it wasn't possible today. Once I got behind Checa we had a great race, but I could only follow him, we had the same tyres and the same lap times - it wasn't possible to pass. The Bridgestone tyres were consistent today and the increased top speed of the latest ZX-RR motor a big help. But we still need more acceleration to race the front group. My start was normal but many riders went to the inside, and Rolfo was very strong on the brakes, and we almost touched. I didn't want to take a risk and crash, I wanted to finish this race."
Ichiro Yoda, Kawasaki Technical Manager: "These very hot conditions made this a very tough race for Kawasaki. I'm happy for seventh but also a little disappointed, we anticipated being closer to the front group today. The upgraded motor was a step forward, but we still need to work on controllability and acceleration."
Harald Eckl, Kawasaki Team Manager: "Shinya rode another very consistent race today and seventh is about the level of the our ZX-RR package at the moment. It was very important for the team to finish this race in the top ten and Shinya delivered for us, as he always does when given the opportunity. Keeping Shinya in the top ten of the championship points is now our priority for the remainder of the season."
Toni Elias, Fortuna Yamaha Team, 8th: “I’m not satisfied. This weekend has been good, because we got off to a good start, but there’s a moment where all the others advance more than I do. We need to find a better set-up for the first few laps when the tank is full. When it empties, I can start to go quicker and catch up those ahead, but then it’s already too late. Gradually I think we’ll get it sorted though.”
Alex Barros, Camel Honda, 9th: “I think that Qatar has been the worst weekend of the year, despite having finished the race in the top ten and even passing a few guys. To be honest I was never able to get a decent enough feeling to aim for a better result and of course, that doesn’t make me happy. I didn’t enjoy it, I was quite slow, I couldn’t battle and to put it simply, I was frustrated. The bike was running well, we worked as well as ever and we found a good set-up. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a suitable front tyre for me on this track. We hope that in Australia where conditions are really different and it’s cooler, Michelin can help me find a solution to improve front end response.”
Loris Capirossi, Ducati, 10th: "We came here knowing that this would be a difficult track for us, but the main thing is that I finished and scored some points so we are even more in the battle for second overall. Bridgestone did a great job with the front but we had some trouble with the rear. I took it easy in the first few laps, then after four or five laps I lost some rear grip. It wasn't spinning but I was losing grip when I flicked into turns, that's what happened when I went into the gravel."
Kenny Roberts Jr, Suzuki, 11th: “Today was always going to be a difficult race for us. I tried to make up time on everybody in the sections that you normally don’t have to make up time in, just to stay with some of the guys - it’s really difficult having to ride like that. You are never able to relax, even along the straights because you are constantly having to get the maximum out of the bike. Sometimes that forces mistakes and also forces you to be hard on the tyres. The start was pretty much as I expected from the fourth row and I just tried to stay consistent and on the racing line, that was really the best opportunity I had – to be consistent. At the end Loris was back there because he had run off the track and I just tried to catch him because it looked like he was struggling. I picked up on him but in the last couple of laps I had used my tyre to its full extent through riding so hard so I settled for where I was. We know what we need to do to get better and Suzuki is more than ever going in the right direction as far as the engine is concerned. But we still need a big jump.”
Paul Denning, Suzuki Team Manager: “After a difficult weekend, 11th was probably realistically the best we could have expected. Kenny gave 100 percent the whole race and after things has settled down in the first few laps he was able to run high 59’s which was on a par with all the other Bridgestone runners. In fact if anything our level of performance took a step forward during the second half of the race. Kenny tried to chase Loris down and got within a second with a couple of laps to go, but he nearly crashed trying to close in and that was enough warning to just bring the bike home.
“John experienced a difficult situation with a lack of feel and a lack of turning on a rear tyre which we had done quite a lot of work on over the weekend, and appeared to be the right choice for the race. He came in and swapped to the same compound that Kenny was using and immediately the bike was fixed. He was able to run in the high 59’s quite steadily. It was a shame we didn’t start on that tyre or I am sure we would have had both the GSV-R’s in the points. A very tough weekend here in Qatar for Suzuki, but if there are some positives to take away it would be the effort of both riders and the fact that neither bike missed a beat all weekend in the desert heat – the durability of the GSV-R has certainly improved.”
Shane Byrne, replacement rider for Troy Bayliss, Camel Honda, 13th: “From a certain point of view I’m quite happy with this race, but from another I’m not so happy. We got really close to the rest here, but in the race I had a lot of trouble with the front. The team had done a great job with setting up the rest of the bike though. Chassis, suspension, rear tyre, everything was perfect, but just as I began to push I got problems on the front end. I knew that I could go quicker, but every time I tried, I risked going down. It’s a real shame because after the practices we did, I thought we could get into the top ten.”
Ruben Xaus Yamaha 14th: “Today I had problems with the front tyre. We chose a harder compound and even though it wore out less, I couldn’t lean the bike as much as I wanted. If I went past the tyre’s limit, the bike moved around too much. My lap times were not improving when I was pushing hard so I decided to just bring the bike home.”
John Hopkins, Suzuki, 17th: “I’m disappointed as you’d expect - anybody would be! The first set of tyres I had in I just couldn’t get them to work - I was really struggling. I kept missing the apexes and running wide. I passed Tamada and was planning on catching up to Kenny and Barros and I ran it in a little bit harder than usual and ran off the track and into the dirt. I came in and put in a completely different tyre – one that we had only used once earlier on in the week and that at the time didn’t work really well. I went out and I caught up with Shane Byrne but I didn’t want to mess up his lines so I’d let him go for one lap and then catch up to him on the next. It was easy to do 59’s consistently to the end of the race. It was unfortunate really because I think a top-10 was a possibility, but it has given me a little bit more anger and determination to keep me going until we get to Phillip Island.”
Max Biaggi, Repsol Honda, dnf – electrical problem: “The weekend started in a bad situation like in Sepang. After Motegi we’ve never been competitive at all. This is not just the set-up of the machine it’s something bigger than that. With the set-up you can improve. It’s more than just an engine-braking problem. Since Motegi it’s been difficult – it’s impossible to turn into the corner. In the race the machine stopped with an electronic problem. I don’t know exactly yet, the team are looking closely. My hope is gone. For this race for sure I couldn’t fight for the podium. It frustrates me so much because I know I should be fighting for the podium at every track and I know I could. We haven’t changed the set-up from Brno and Motegi. I just don’t understand what’s happening here.”
Makoto Tamada, Konica Minolta Honda, dnf – electrical problem: “Compared to yesterday the front end was in bad condition. During the race I felt vibration and the bike didn’t allow me to ride well. Then all of a sudden the bike switched off and that’s when my race ended. The only thing we can do is to analyse the data to find the problem. This is a weekend to put in the archive and hope for a better performance at Phillip Island where I finished eighth last year.”