April 17, 2005 A Honda won the Portugeuse Grand Prix today with World Champion Valentino Rossi second, but it was the Honda of Alex Barros that greeted the chequered flag first not the expected Honda of Sete Gibernau. Gibernau crashed out in light rain while leading the race at mid distance in the first MotoGP race run under the new rain rules which do not allow for race restarts due to rain during the race. Barros’ win was not entirely unexpected. He was the fastest rider in all sessions throughout the weekend, fastest qualifier and appears to have regained the form he last showed at the end of 2002 when he beat Valentino Rossi several times on equal machinery.

For Gibernau, the fact he was leading the race was his downfall. Braking from 330 kmh to a second gear corner, he was the first rider in the field to encounter the heavy rain and subsequent wet track and it caught him out. Sadly, Gibernau had ridden a great race to that point having grabbed the hole shot and pulled out a big lead in the next few laps while the field sorted itself out.

In the first few laps Rossi, Biaggi and finally Barross all fought over second, while Gibernau escaped. By the second lap when Alex Barros had established himself as a clear second, Gibernau was over five seconds in front and going away. As the field began to spread out, Rossi finally pushed past Biaggi for third place, with Rossi’s Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards in fifth, Marco Melandri (Honda) sixth, Suzuki’s John Hopkins in seventh, Ducati’s Carlos Checa in eighth and Troy Bayliss’ Honda in ninth.

The two leading Hondas were clearly in a class of their own – Rossi was not up to staying with Gibernau or Barros today and his main concern for the race was to be Max Biaggi, who stalked him from the early laps until the final laps.

Throughout the Portugal weekend rain was never far away. In previous years during a MotoGP race, with an entire field on slick tyres suddenly confronted with rain, the race was invariably stopped by the riders. New rules for this year though made for some interesting viewing.

Once rain begins to fall on the circuit, under the new rules the marshals put out the white flag, indicating that riders can now call in for a NEW BIKE, shod with whatever tryes they choose. Interestingly, though rain began to fall lightly on the tenth lap, with the white flag being waved around the circuit, no-one called in for rain tyres, electing to continue on slicks in the light rain rather than give up hard won race position. It is ironic that a rule designed for safety should actually cause the opposite as no-one was prepared to sacrifice the 20 seconds required for a bike change. If the rain had been heavier, no doubt it would have become worthwhile.

With a change of bike taking up too much time in conditions that did not warrant full wet tyres, riders had to cope with the slippery surface on slick tyres – and it proved too much for six riders, the most high profile faller being Gibernau.

Gibernau was the first to crash, with Team Suzuki rider Hopkins the second unlucky victim of the downpour. While Gibernau saw his championship hopes severely dinted by his fall, Hopkins was equally devastated as he saw his first real chance for a big result go with the fall. Hopkins has been “the man most likely” for the last few practice and race meetings, and had qualified on the fourth row of the grid and had ridden into a strong seventh place he slid off just past the halfway stage.

So with half the race still to go, Barros had a massive lead over Rossi, with Biaggi close to Rossi in third, and a race long duel between Marco Melandri and Colin Edwards elevated to the battle for fourth place. Ducati’s Carlos Checa was in sixth, Bayliss was seventh and Nicky Hayden eighth.

As the rain came and went over the next few laps, different riders were caught at different times, and first Troy Bayliss, then Colin Edwards both crashed, but both remounted and continued in the hope of still grabbing some valuable points.

Edwards was the luckiest. His low speed crash saw him remount so quickly he only lost two positions, while Bayliss lost four spots to drop to eleventh.

In the final wash-up, Barros took an easy win, with Rossi taking 20 points and a one-race lead over his closest rival in Gibernau – unless luck deserts Rossi, it’s unlikely that Gibernau will find it easy to get back on equal terms with Rossi from here.

Barros’ seventh career win catapults him into contention for the championship. He has shown previously that he has the talent to run with Rossi but two wretched years followed his purple patch of form in late 2002. Now after two races he sits just seven points behind Rossi and he was so fast today that Rossi could not run with him.

While Rossi dominated the bookies odds prior to the event, going into the race as a long odds-on favourite (1.66), Barros went to Estoril as an outside chance for the race with odds of 20/1. With each session, his odds fell, until by the time he had qualified for pole position, he had firmed to 4/1 (5) with only Rossi (1.66) and Gibernau (3.5) ahead of him in the betting. After today’s warm-up, where he was again the fastest, Barros’ odds firmed further to 4.5. By contrast, Biaggi was forth favourite at 15.0.

Odds prior to the race: V Rossi 1.66, S Gibernau 3.75, A Barros 4.5, M Biaggi 15.00, N Hayden 17.00, M Melandri 21.00, C Checa 21.00, C Edwards 26.00, M Tamada 41.00, J Hopkins 41.00, L Capirossi 51.00, Kenny Roberts 51.00, T Bayliss 67.00, S Nakano 67.00, R Xuas 81.00, T Elias 101.00, S Byrne 101.00, R Rolfo 101.00

Marco Melandri backed up his first round fourth place with a second round third and Melandri now holds third place in the points race ahead of Biaggi, Gibernau and Kawasaki’s Shinya Nakano. Nakano again rode an uneventful but sound race for his eighth place and holds sixth place in the title.

Alex Barros, Camel Honda, first in race and now second in championship points table: “I made a strike today, I’m unbelievably happy, this has been a perfect weekend. I have to thank both the team and Michelin, they have given me great things to work with. We’ve taken every session here, pole position and victory too. I also want to thank my sponsor Camel, who have filled me with confidence. This morning the conditions were difficult, and in the warm-up we went out on wet tyres but the track wasn’t that damp. The race was even more complicated. The track was virtually dry at the beginning but then there were a few drops. There was a moment when Sete took a bit of an advantage, then he slowed and I caught him up. I began to push and push, trying to put pressure on him, even though I could feel the raindrops on my helmet and on the bike. Then he lost the front end and crashed out, he was at the limit. They put out the white flag, but I didn’t think about coming in for one moment, it wasn’t raining enough for that, and it wasn’t even worth putting on intermediate tyres. It was a tough race, the track was in difficult conditions, but the satisfaction is enormous. Valentino pushed me hard at the end, and though I tried to respond, I lost a few seconds on the last laps, but only because I was preparing my celebrations!”

Valentino Rossi, Gauloises Yamaha Team, second in race and championship points leader: “That was a really difficult race for me. The conditions were so strange, with patches of rain here and there. In the beginning it was light rain, then it got worse and worse so that the first part of the track was very wet. It was a horrible feeling to ride with slicks in the wet. Anyway, I’m very happy to have finished in second place because we’re now 20 points ahead, and this was a very important race for us in terms of the championship. The bike still has a few problems and we have a lot of work to do. Today was a bit of miracle really, there was quite a lot of luck involved! I gradually got used to the conditions during the race but it’s not ideal to ride like that. The new wet race rules are better for TV but it’s not entirely safe, although it’s clearer now for all the riders when the race has been declared as wet. I think it’s impossible in our sport, though, to find a perfect rule for that.”

Davide Brivio, Gauloises Yamaha Team: “That was a race in very difficult conditions with the change from the dry to the wet. Congratulations to all the riders who finished the race. It was a good race for Yamaha; with Valentino we’ve scored 20 important points. It would have been easy to make a mistake so he did very well to keep pushing and finish in second without any problems. For Colin this was a big improvement from the last race, we fixed some problems after the last test in Jerez and he quickly found a good base here. He made a small mistake but he was able to recover and finish still in a good position. It was an encouraging race for him and I hope this is the start of a good season.”

Max Biaggi, Repsol Honda Team, third: “Someone has certainly said that today Max Biaggi is there. Let me tell you: Max Biaggi has always been there. But today we also had a good bike. Even if we can do much, much better. HRC’s potential is far higher than that. Unfortunately I had to race with the second bike because bike No.1, the machine I had the better feeling with, had a technical problem. Definitely, today’s third place leaves us satisfied. I’m happy for me and especially for my team: finally I saw them smiling and I thank them all. This podium was really needed to recharge our batteries on the way to China’s GP. Our job is not done yet, but we are on the right way: the answer I was looking for is in the electronics.”

Marco Melandri, Movistar Honda, fourth: "I'm very satisfied with this result. We went out with a hard tyre and it was tough at the beginning. As the race went on I got a good rhythm together and it allowed me to stick it out with Edwards and Checa. I had a lot of confidence in the tyres and that gave me more stability. I was trying out a new helmet and it steamed up, so I had to do the last 8 laps with my visor open. It meant I couldn't go any harder at the end but I am happy."

Carlos Checa, Ducati Marlboro Team, fifth: "When you consider the things we had to carry into this weekend, with my shoulder injury and so on, to finish fifth is a positive result. With more side grip in the later laps my suspension started working better and I regained confidence. Then I was able to establish my pace. Fourth was possible but I braked quite hard passing Melandri and ran wide. The most difficult thing today was to see the flags signalling rain when I was on slicks at 300kmh. That was really scary!"

Livio Suppo, Ducati MotoGP Project Manager: "So finally we saw how the new flag-to-flag rules were in a race. That was a typical situation in which it was difficult to make a decision, as it was tough to see how hard the rain was coming but in the end it all worked out. If they had stopped the race I think it would not have been any different. In terms of the result we are more or less happy. Considering everything Carlos had a good fight and he took fifth place from really nothing. Loris, we have to remember, is still injured. So both riders finished with points, both in the top ten. Thanks to all our technical partners, especially Shell Advance and Bridgestone."

Colin Edwards, Gauloises Yamaha Team, sixth: “That was a good race although of course I am disappointed about falling. The bike felt completely different from the Jerez race and I felt like I could have kept pace with Rossi and Barros quite easily. Unfortunately I was fighting with Melandri and for the first half of the race I just couldn’t make the pass stick on him; gradually the leaders just edged away. Finally I got away from him and I was pushing in order to keep a space between us, but I hit that slippery patch at turn one and went down, it just caught me off guard! Everywhere else on the track was okay and you could get the bike fully leaned over, but turn one was just like ice. It was my mistake and I’m annoyed, but the rest of the race was really encouraging and a big improvement.”

Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda Team, seventh: “I’m not very happy about the race at all or the way the whole weekend went really. We didn’t seem to click all weekend and I never felt 100% comfortable on the bike. I got good drive at the start but lost places on the first turn. During the first few laps, when the tyres and the track was good, I was making progress. Then things just seemed to go off and I went backwards. It’s difficult to describe how wet the track was in parts. I just wanted to hang on, get some experience and get some points. There are a lotta’ races left and we’ve gotta’ lot of racing left to do.”

Shinya Nakano, Kawasaki, Eighth: "That was not an easy race, especially with rain on some fast sections of the course. It was very difficult to see if the track was wet, so I had to keep checking my visor and windscreen for water. It is very difficult to ride a MotoGP bike on slick tyres on a wet track. My lap times were what I expected, but the front group seemed to be able to go faster than in practice and I couldn’t stay with them from the start. I got some good points today, but I’m never happy to be eighth, we need to keep working on engine performance."

Ichiro Yoda, Kawasaki, Technical Director: "I am happy for the points from this race in these very difficult conditions. This weekend was a good opportunity for us to analyse our weak points and the areas in which we need to catch up, and quickly. Clearly the main area is engine development and engine management systems. Our chassis and Bridgestone tyres are performing well."

Harald Eckl, Kawasaki, Team Manager: "I’m satisfied for the result in the prevailing weather conditions, which were not easy for the riders. Shinya didn’t have the best start, but he did a very good job with constant lap times, to score some very valuable points for the team in the championship."

Loris Capirossi Ducati Marlboro Team , ninth: "Overall I'm happy it's finished because I am not suffering too much pain anymore. Now with a free weekend I will be able to continue my therapy. The track conditions were really unbelievable. Some places it was wet, other places dry and no one stopped in the pits, because it would have been pointless. Luckily only a few riders fell and none fell down in the last three or four laps, when it began raining even more heavily. I tried to be careful and to finish so I brought home some points. The bike has improved and we are working on it very well so I'm confident for next races, when I'll be 100%".

Ruben Xaus (Fortuna Yamaha Team) tenth: “Throughout the weekend we improved our pace and because of this I was looking forward to a dry race. I had to start from the fourth row, which wasn’t easy, and I couldn’t find a really good rhythm until the latter stages of the race. Of course by then it was too late to do anything. It was a very difficult race and to be honest I was just happy to survive. I spent most of the race running around on my own and that made it very lonely and the race seemed to drag on forever. I hope Shanghai is dry!”

Troy Bayliss, Camel Honda, eleventh: “It might seem strange, but I’m quite happy with my race. I was starting down the order a bit, but I managed to get a good start. I got to seventh, and was having a good battle with Hayden, pushing to the limit, when I crashed out. The bike stalled, and automatically thinking about last year’s bike I thought my race was over, that I wouldn’t be able to start it again. I tried it anyway and it started up again. I got going again and even though the handlebars were all twisted I picked up some points by bringing the bike home. It will go better next time. Congratulations to Alex, he was great today, I’m happy for him and for the team.”

Kenny Roberts Jr Team SUZUKI MotoGP, twelfth: “It was pretty dangerous out there and we just never knew what the weather was doing. I couldn’t make the bike do what I wanted it to, so we still have some issues to address before the next race. We are testing tomorrow, so I hope that will help us to find the solutions. “It’s good to get my first race finish - I was disappointed with last week’s result and although I wasn’t where I wanted to be in today’s race, it’s still important to score points.”

Paul Denning Team SUZUKI MotoGP Team Manager: “It was good to see John up there with Colin and Marco and pulling away from the Hondas of Troy Bayliss and Nicky Hayden. John was riding the bike to its absolute limits and beyond, and was very unlucky not to get a great result. I am very unhappy with the result, but very happy with the effort and potential John displayed. Kenny had a difficult weekend and to see him score points after a race with other riders showed his commitment to try and overcome all the setbacks that have hampered him here in Portugal.”

Toni Elias (Fortuna Yamaha Team) 14th: “It was a really difficult weekend for me. It started good but ended with me struggling, physically, due to the injury to my knee. The rain kept changing the track conditions for us, which made it very difficult. Even so I think it was a very good experience and I have to keep thinking in this way – to learn.”

Sete Gibernau, Movistar Honda, dnf: "The only mistake I made was to lead from the start. It was a very tough race and it was important to judge the marshals' flags properly because that was the only reference I had of how much water was on the track. Wherever there was a flag I slowed down and where there wasn't one I sped up. I didn't go mad, I was in control of the race and I was even slower at the end of the straight than usual, but it wasn't enough. The weekend was a lot tougher for me than people might expect, but once again we worked perfectly. I tried to get away and avoid contact with any other riders but the crash was unavoidable. In the end we've paid for it because the other riders saw the crash and dropped their pace by three seconds. On another day it will be somebody else but in these situations the person at the front is at a disadvantage. Now I just want to get home to Switzerland, continue my recuperation with my physical trainer and get a good rest before China".

Luca Montiron, Konica Minolta Honda Team Manager: “The hope is that after Makoto’s injuries, bad luck will definitely abandon us. As Makoto could have a potential problem to the right wrist, it doesn’t have any sense to risk anything and let him participate in the Grand Prix. The season has just begun and we have to concentrate on how to recover our rider as quick as possible. For this we’ll begin to prepare ourselves for the Grand Prix of China, where we’ll absolutely have to be back at our level. Makoto really care to compete on the circuit of Shangai, since that is one of the few Grand Prix which will be in Asiatic land. Tomorrow, obviously, we’ll not take part to the test session programmed here at the Estoril.”

Dott. Mattioli, Mobile Clinic: “Makoto has a lot of pain. After the first few exams we suspected a fracture close to the scaphoid. The rider cannot completely move his right hand and he will not be able to participate to today’s race. We’ll understand what the injury is exactly about only after the CAT scan which the rider will have in the next few days. At the moment we have applied a Scotchcast to restrict the movement of the injured wrist.”

Race Result: 1. Alex Barros (Honda) 47’14.053: 2. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) +2.771: 3. Max Biaggi (Honda) +6.071: 4. Marco Melandri (Honda) +29.546: 5. Carlos Checa (Ducati) +29.774: 6. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) +44.216: 7. Nicky Hayden (Honda) 57.121: 8. Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki) +59.847: 9. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) +1’07.718: 10. Ruben Xaus (Yamaha) 1’22.431.

Points after two rounds: Rossi 45, Barros 38, Melandri 29, Biaggi 25, Gibernau 20, Nakano 19, Checa 17, Edwards 17, Bayliss 15, Tamada 8, Hayden 9, Capirossi 7,

Odds for World Championship following the race: V Rossi 1.36 S Gibernau 4.50 A Barros 7.00 M Biaggi 10.00 M Melandri 17.00 N Hayden 26.00 S Nakano 34.00 C Edwards 34.00 T Bayliss 41.00 L Capirossi 41.00 M Tamada 51.00 C Checa 51.00 T Elias 101.00 R Xuas 101.00 J Hopkins 101.00 A Hofmann 101.00 R Rolfo 101.00

View gallery - 14 images