MotoGP Rd1: Rossi takes dramatic last gasp win
April 10, 2005 Valentino Rossi put the gloss on a perfect start to his defence of the MotoGP World Championship at the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez today, smashing the lap record by over two seconds and gaining a significant psychological edge over his main rival for the championship, taking a victory on the last corner from a seemingly impossible position. Riding a completely new smaller, lighter and faster Yamaha M1 for the first time in race conditions, Rossi spent almost the entire race stalking Gibernau who led from within a few corners of the start. At first it was a lead group of four, with Honda’s Nicky Hayden and Marco Melandri who broke away from the field running at a pace that slowly dropped off first Melandri and finally Hayden could not maintain. For the final half of the race, the two main rivals fought out their expected duel in the Spanish sunshine before Gibernau’s vocal and supportive home crowd. At times it looked as if Gibernau had opened an unbridgable gap over Rossi, but just when the gap looked beyond Rossi, he would suddenly close Gibernau down and ride to within striking distance.
With two laps to go, the Italian pounced and immediately began to build a margin of his own, leading into the final lap with the distance to Gibernau getting bigger with each corner, before making an uncharacteristic mistake, getting in too deep under brakes and running wide.
Gibernau took the opportunity, slipping back into the lead with enough margin to maintain it on a circuit he knows as his own. Rossi somehow got his motorcycle back into proximity of the leading Honda rider and with one part luck (he was clearly not in control), part skill (it’s doubtful any other rider on the planet could have done it) and part dogged never-say-die determination, he slipped the M1 underneath Gibernau’s Honda just as the Spaniard tipped into the final corner.
The bikes touched, Gibernau’s trajectory changed from the final straight toward the sandtrap and Rossi bounced nicely off Gibernau and back into the right direction of the chequered flag. Gibernau fortunately kept it upright in the kitty-litter and ploughed through the safety trap to bring his bike home into second place, rubbing his shoulder and setting the scene for one of the most riveting victory lane encounters ever seen at a Grand Prix circuit.
With the Spanish crowd, never known for its sportsmanship when visiting sporting entitles venture onto Spanish soil to contest a Spaniard, calling loudly for Rossi to be disqualified, Rossi went about his business of celebrating, thanking his fans and ignoring Gibernau’s presence as if nothing had happened. Just as the greats of motorsport such as Doohan, Schumacher and the late Ayrton Senna had done before, Rossi knew he had won fair and square – though sometimes the authorities try to make a judgement on the fairness of such matters, in pure racing terms, he had done nothing wrong and as he later said at the press conference, “that’s racing.”
For Gibernau, it will be difficult to maintain the healthy mental attitude he brought into the season. He led all the practise and qualifying sessions for the entire weekend until the last few seconds of the final qualifying session on Saturday afternoon when Rossi astonished everyone with a single lap that was half a second faster than Gibernau, putting the champ back on pole position.
The many incidents of the last two seasons, the qualifying experience at Jerez and the race outcome are all beginning to look like they’ve been written by the same scriptwriter; build suspense, make it look like the challenger is about to prevail over the champion, then resolve in favour of the champion in yet another completely unexpected manner.
If it were a soap opera, the audience would know what to expect. It has now happened too often for any reasonable spectator to expect that Rossi will not prevail and that’s now the point that Gibernau must psychologically overcome – even he must becoming to believe that it’s just not possible to beat Rossi consistently enough to win a title. He won almost enough races last season, but it's looking like it will never be enough.
Anyone who was present at the post-race press conference could see that tensions were high, and that Gibernau was operating on automatic pilot, finding it difficult to know what to say or how to act. He had given everything and somehow his lead into the last corner had translated into second spot and a bruised shoulder and some unconvincing theatrics.
He has extraordinary talent and he is good enough to take the ultimate prize if he has some luck, but like Max Biaggi, he may find at the end of his career that he was racing motorcycles at exactly the wrong time in history.
Our greatest hope is that he finds the mental toughness to keep pushing Rossi beyond the limits, even if it’s only to see what Rossi can conjure up next to get to the quequered flag first. The 2005 season has the potential to be one of the greatest motorsport spectacles ever staged and a fit and motivated Gibernau is an essential ingredient. Let’s hope so!
Biaggi, as we suggested in our preview to the season, would continue to display his unfortunate outlook on the world and his place in it whenever he spoke to the media and we were right. His team-mate Nicky Hayden ran with Rossi and Gibernau on one of the true riders’ circuits to within cooee of the end – he was the closest rider to the talent of Rossi and Gibernau and we’ll see more of the young and talented American this year.
Biaggi has always complained he didn’t have the machinery, but even that’s no longer a factor. Biaggi has the most coveted ride in the world - the official factory bike from HRC. He gets first call on everything the massively powerful and knowledgeable Honda Racing Corporation has. The bike Hayden rode is EXACTLY the same as Biaggi’s, right down to the placement of the stickers. The only thing we can’t understand is what HRC was thinking when they gave him the job!!!!!
Marco Melandri rode into third spot, inheriting the last step on the podium when Hayden crashed out with seven laps to go. He couldn’t maintain the incredibly hot pace of the three at the front, but he was much faster than anyone else in the field and he knew his limits where Hayden didn’t. Melandri has enormous talent and it is to be hoped he continues to develop as a front-runner. Melandri will win races this year on his Jerez showing.
Fourth and sixth place went to the Camel Honda duo of Alex Barros and Troy Bayliss and both riders performed admirably. Barros had a bad start and got as far back as thirteenth place on lap three, just a few metres in front of Biaggi. That he gritted his teeth and rode through the field to pass Elias, Edwards, Hoffman, Checa, Capirossi, Tamada, Bayliss and Nakano to run into fourth place speaks volumes for his determination and abilities after 20 years of GP racing.
Bayliss was even better, given that he is still learning how to ride the small, light and finely balanced Honda when he has come from a career of streetfighting ill-handling monsters into submission on the bumpy racetracks of Australia and subsequently the American, British and World Superbike championships. Lacklustre practise times in the pre-season and average qualifying times went out the window when the race started and when the red mist descends in Bayliss’ visor, he is capable of mixing it with anyone. Let’s hope he continues to adapt to the Honda as he is definitely one who has the intestinal fortitude to go nose-to-nose with Rossi.
Sandwiched between the yellow livery of the two Camel Honda riders was the lime green of the Kawasaki of Shinya Nakano. From the start Nakano rode with his trademark mixture of style and aggression, and at the end of the 27-lap race he was the first rider using Bridgestone tyres to greet the chequered flag.
Today’s race was the GP debut of Kawasaki’s new big-bang motor. Still in the early stages of development, the 990cc four-cylinder engine displayed its future potential in today’s windswept race at Jerez. The latest generation of Bridgestone tyres, with stiffer case construction, also proved ideally suited to the conditions and the Ninja ZX-RR machines of Nakano and Hofmann. Nakano settled into fifth place on lap one and for much of the first half of the race he rode alone, as he tagged the leading group containing eventual race winner Valentino Rossi, though from a distance and an ever-incrwasing distance at that.
With a race time some 27.6 seconds slower than Rossi, over a 27 lap race, the Kawasaki is not yet good enough to win races, though Nakano was less than a second behind fourth-placed Barros and the modern-day Green Meanie will be a contender this year.
For all those that did well, there were those that didn’t. Ducati MotoGP Team riders Carlos Checa and Loris Capirossi made an injury-blighted start to the 2005 MotoGP season at Jerez today, riding courageously to tenth and 13th positions. Checa, suffering from a recent shoulder injury, was even uncertain that he would be strong enough to finish the race. Capirossi meanwhile needed pain-killing injections to race with a chipped bone in his ankle.
Similarly Suzuki appears to have a bike capable of competitng against all but the Rossie/Gibernau juggernaut. John Hopkins has been fast in practise and through the preseason but when qualifying was finished, his speed had not been reflected on the time-sheets and he started eleventh. As it turned out, he secured his first MotoGP points of the season with a hard-fought 14th place after a coming together with Roberto Rolfo that relegated him down the field to 15th at the end of the first lap. Battling with the consistently high winds that seemed to affect the Suzuki GSV-R prototype race bike, the gutsy Anglo-American – who had been suffering with flu all weekend – fought against the elements to record a points-scoring finish.
Tamada on the new Konica Minolta Honda slowly drifted backwards after a good start, became embroiled in a war with Bayliss, Barros, Nakano, Edwards and Biaggi at different times and finished a disappointing eighth for someone of his ability. We’re expecting much better performances as the season wears on from the Japanese hard-charger.
Meanwhile, Rossi’s Gauloises Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards kept his promise of passing as many riders as possible after starting from 15th on the grid. The American made steady progress despite the dusty track surface, making overtaking precarious anywhere off the racing line, eventually sealing ninth place on his Yamaha MotoGP debut.
The other two disappointments were from the non-Japanese teams of Team Roberts and WCM Blata.
After an eleventh hour agreement was reached between KTM and Team Roberts to use the KTM V4 engine in the 2005 Moto GP season, KTM has had to supply 2004 model engines at the first GPs in order to develop parts for the 2005 engines.
The Jerez Moto GP was be the first race for the V4 engine and Team Roberts used the opportunity to develop the motorcycle under race conditions. Before the race the new motorcycle had only been able to make four winter test sessions and the team gained valuable track time in Spain. The bike experienced technical difficulties and was retired mid-race. The 2005 engines are expected to be ready to debut at the French GP in Le Mans on May 15.
The Blata WCM machine is still Yamaha R1-nbased at this time and the new team engine supplier Blata now plan for the Blata V6 engine to make its debut at the Grand Prix of the Czech Republic at Brno in August.
Following the unveiling of the V6 project and partnership between Blata and the WCM MotoGP team at last year's Grand Prix in Brno , Blata have achieved a great deal. They have not simply been building the new machine that would be enough of a challenge in itself, but have been building a MotoGP race department from zero.
“It is our intention to have a great deal of the engineering capability within our company,” explains Pavel Blata. “Of course we have partners who are being a great help but it makes no sense for us just to outsource everything. We do not do that with our production machines and we do not intend to do that in the racing department.”
An engine dyno and a rolling road dyno are just a couple of the more obvious facilities now in place, there is also specialist rapid prototyping, casting and machining facilities that have taken time to set up but will pay huge dividends even in the short term.
“We have made a long term commitment to race in MotoGP with WCM. They understand that we have to do things the right way and know it will pay off for all of us. We will support their continued use of the current four cylinder machine until the six is ready.”
WCM backs the path taken by Blata. “It makes absolute sense,” says Peter Clifford, Director of Racing. “Setting up the race department and building the bike is a huge task. The progress has been incredible. There is simply no point in forcing the bike onto the track just so we can use it at this end of the season. We are much more interested in the quality of machine we will be using at the other end of the season.”
Valentino Rossi, Gauloises Yamaha, winner of last four MotoGP championships, first place: "That was an amazing race, an incredible victory and really difficult, especially after the fall I had this morning in the warm-up. Luckily I wasn’t hurt and the team did a great job to fix the problem and set up my other bike for the race. Gibernau set a fast pace from the start but I just tried to stay with him and then attacked at the end. I got in front but I made a mistake on the last lap on the braking and Gibernau got past. We passed each other again in the fast rights but I got a better exit and there was enough space for me to pass him in the final corner, it was the only place where I could pass. We touched, but motorbike races are sometimes like this. I know Sete is not happy but there are going to be 16 more races this year and there will be many more hard battles. The level of this race was really high.”
Jeremy Burgess, Gauloises Yamaha crew chief: “In spite of the problems we had this morning, everything came good for the race – especially Valentino. He rode very intelligently behind Gibernau and then passed him at the end. He opened out 0.3 seconds in the first section and looked comfortable but he made a small mistake, which set up a brilliant finale. It’s a great start to the year for us – pole position, a new lap record and the race win. We couldn’t ask for more.”
Sete Gibernau, Movistar Honda MotoGP, second: “We set a really fast pace throughout the race and in the end I slowed down a little to see where Valentino’s strong points were. We pressured each other hard and in the end I have the peace of mind that I did everything I could and that in general we’re already at a high level at the first race. It’s going to be a long and hard championship. I don’t want such a great race to be reduced to what happened in the final corner. I love this sport and I don’t want to get involved in politics, I just want to stay strong and calm and remain focused on our dream. I led the race from the start, I wanted to have a look at Rossi’s pace and I think it was the right strategy. We have to keep going now.”
Marco Melandri, Movistar Honda MotoGP, third: “To make my Honda debut at Jerez and finish on the podium is more than I could have dreamed of. I’d never been on the podium at this circuit and I want to share the moment with Gresini, Hon! da, Michelin and MoviStar. At the start of the race I tried to follow Sete but his pace was incredible so I just focused on my own race and tried to hold my position. Then Hayden made a mistake and I moved up to third. A front row start and a podium finish give me a lot of confidence for Estoril”.
Alex Barros, Camel Honda: fourth: “I can’t say I’m satisfied with fourth place, especially because of how it came about. I’m happy when I fight at the front, for podium positions, not when I’m so behind. If I was fourth and one second behind, then fine, I can say I was there or thereabouts, that I lost the battle with the others, looking to win it. But so far away, I can’t say that I’m happy. I paid a high price for my start, when I made the mistake of not engaging the electronic start system and I was caught in the traffic. Then I ran wide as I tried to go past, and at the end it took me half a race to get up to the right pace: by then the front group was much too far away. Nevertheless, this is only the first race, and now I have to do better in Estoril.”
Shinya Nakano, Kawasaki Racing Team, Fifth: "This is a fantastic start to the season for Kawasaki’s new big-bang motor; I’m obviously very happy. All the engineers at Kawasaki have done an excellent job, the engine was strong and there is more performance to come. Also my Bridgestone tyres were very good in these conditions. From the start I pushed very hard, but I just could not stay with the leading group, it was difficult to keep pace riding alone. I kept pushing until the finish and even when Barros overtook me I could follow his pace and I didn’t lose any more positions."
Harald Eckl, Team Manager, Kawasaki Racing Team: "A very good start to the season with Shinya and Alex in the points, both with very consistent performances. This race has confirmed the performance potential of our new firing order motor and the Bridgestone tyres. Thanks to the work of everyone in the Kawasaki Racing Team we now have a very strong platform on which to build for the rest of the season."
Troy Bayliss, Camel Honda, sixth : “I’m quite happy. I think that sixth isn’t a bad result for the first race with a new bike. I’m happy for the team too. We still have a long season ahead of us, and I need and want to get on that bike and do some good races. I feel good, now my motivation is even greater and I can’t wait for the Portuguese GP next week.”
Max Biaggi, Repsol Honda Team, seventh : “This is not a GP to forget about: this is a GP to remember very well. It’s not the situation to describe my race. In Italy we say that you don’t have to move the knife inside the scar. I don’t want to do it. From the place we started our result could have been much worse. I’m not even satisfied with my coming back. But I’m serene, because I know I gave the best until the chequered flag. Anything more could not be possible. With my riding condition it’s already a result that I didn’t fall. I leave with a big question mark on my shoulder, heavy like rock. Not only for me, I hope.”
Makoto Tamada, Konica Minolta Honda, eighth: “Unluckily I have lost some positions during the start and this didn’t allow me to try to remain with the fastest group. After some laps I have conquered back some position by keeping a good rhythm, but just after half of the race I hade some complications in entering each turn. For this motive I had to fight until the last lap without the full potential of my RC211V to don’t risk to lose all the hard work done during the Spanish weekend.”
Colin Edwards, Gauloises Yamaha Team, ninth: The setting we found for the bike at the tests and during qualifying didn’t seem to work after the change in conditions, and with the wind and the dust this morning we decided to make some adjustments. We basically went back to the base setting we’d found at the Phillip Island and Catalunya tests but it didn’t work in the way we had hoped. It was a difficult race; it was hard for me to get any traction down. Despite that I was in the fight for sixth until another rider sneaked past on the inside and I lost touch with the group I was following. We were searching for something and didn’t find it but we’ve learnt a lot as a team this weekend. Now we have to move on and put this lesson to good use at Estoril."
Carlos Checa, Ducati Team, tenth: "To be honest, I didn't even expect to finish the race," said Checa. "At first things weren't too bad, but then Tamada made contact with me while trying to pass on the brakes. That hurt the shoulder again, then Barros and Bayliss came past and I couldn't stay with Biaggi and Edwards when they attacked. Physically and technically it's been a tough weekend, so all things considered, this isn't such a bad result."
Claudio Domenicali, Ducati Corse CEO: "A big thank you to Carlos and Loris, it must have been a very tough day for both of them. Of course, their injuries didn't make things easier for the team as a whole, plus we have had a busy weekend testing our new engine-braking control system. In the end we decided to race with the standard system because after warm-up we found that the bikes had suffered excessive chain stretch when the riders made their usual practice starts. We hadn't encountered this problem during testing with the new system. We stay here to test tomorrow, after which we will decide which system to use at Estoril next weekend."
Alex Hofmann, Kawasaki Racing Team, Eleventh: "That was a tough battle in the wind and on a very dusty track. I didn’t make my best start, but I was able to make some moves and be eighth on lap one . It was a very fast pace at the front and I had a very good race with the group that included Edwards, Checa and then Biaggi. I was able to run the same pace through most of the race and had no problems with the new big-bang motor or the Bridgestone tyres. I think I showed my potential today against the guys I raced with."
Toni Elias, Fortuna Yamaha Team, twelfth: “First of all I’m really happy because I finished my first MotoGP, and I finished it in the points. It all went as we had hoped and I even had a chance to have a good battle with a few quality riders at one stage. Right now I need to keep progressing in this way… keep learning and developing as I have until now. I believe it was a really positive day and I’m even surprised that my physical condition at the end of the race was so good, because it wasn’t as physically demanding as I had expected.”
Loris Capirossi , Ducati MotoGP, thirteenth: "My thanks to the Clinica Mobile who made it possible for me to race," said the gritty Italian who had started from the second row of the grid. "I did my best but unfortunately I wasn't able to ride the bike the way I like to ride it. I had problems shifting gears and so I made a few mistakes. I tried as hard as I could and I managed to finish. The result isn't great but two or three points are always better than none."
John Hopkins Team SUZUKI MotoGP, fourteenth: “I’m really upset with today’s race as it’s not where I wanted to finish. All that said and done though, I am pleased to have finished the first race of the season with some points. We did have a few problems with the wind and I could have gone with harder tyres, but that was my choice because I wanted to use the softer-compound Bridgestone race tyres. Portugal is now 100 per cent in my sights and we have to take all the positives from this race and funnel them into next weekend.”
Paul Denning – Team Manager, Team SUZUKI MotoGP: “It was a massively disappointing race for both riders, especially after such good potential was shown in the tests. John got bumped on the start line and wasn’t able to pass other riders in these conditions. He showed his commitment by racing through the wind and despite his illness gave Team SUZUKI MotoGP its first points of the season. Kenny had bad luck with an electrical fault that caused him to retire when he was in a point-scoring position. His effort has been great all weekend. I know how disappointed he is not to have been able to at least score some points. We will now sit down and assess all events from this weekend and make sure that we act on them for the next race, and more importantly for the races after that. I hope we can get to a stronger position and challenge further up the field.”
Ruben Xaus (Fortuna Yamaha Team) – 18th: “This was not an easy weekend! I wanted to start my first race with Yamaha in a steady way but I’m still trying to figure out where I went wrong. I don’t know what happened in the last corner but clearly I made a mistake. I feel so bad for my team and my fans, that’s why I attempted to get back out there to do my best despite being so far back. I hope this won’t be repeated next weekend.”
Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda Team, DNF: “I’m just so frustrated! Most of the weekend we had been going real well. I gotta’ good start and was right there. The boys pulled a bit of a gap but I managed to close it up again. It all felt pretty comfortable really. I had a good lead on fourth but I was pushing and in the end crashed on the brakes at the last corner. I’m so disappointed. We all worked so hard over the winter and to be so close at the first race and get no points is hard. My thumb’s a bit of a worry. I need to get it checked out.”
Kenny Roberts Jr. Team SUZUKI MotoGP, DNF: “I felt the bike make a sudden, unexpected movement and knew straight away that I would have to come in. Up until that point, the bike felt ok. I’m disappointed for the team that we couldn’t finish. I am now looking forward to Portugal and the next race. We can definitely do better.”
Odds for Portuguese GP after Race
V Rossi1.61S Gibernau3.25N Hayden11.00M Melandri11.00M Biaggi13.00A Barros17.00M Tamada21.00L Capirossi26.00C Edwards34.00T Bayliss41.00S Nakano41.00J Hopkins41.00C Checa41.00T Elias101.00S Byrne101.00R Xuas101.00R Rolfo101.00A Hofmann101.00
Odds for MotoGP Riders Title After Race
V Rossi1.44S Gibernau3.25M Biaggi11.00M Melandri15.00A Barros17.00N Hayden21.00L Capirossi26.00C Edwards26.00M Tamada34.00T Bayliss41.00S Nakano51.00C Checa67.00J Hopkins81.00T Elias101.00S Byrne101.00R Xuas101.00A Hofmann101.00R Rolfo101.00