MOTOGP » Alex Barros
Alex Barros finally hung up his helmet at the end of the 2007 MotoGP season, his 17th in the premier-class of grand prix racing. Although never able to achieve his dream of becoming a world champion Alex could nevertheless boast the considerable accomplishment of having won races in 500cc, MotoGP and WSBK (during 2006).
Barros started racing a Mobylette 50 in 1978, winning the Brazilian moped title the following year and quickly becoming the country's most dominant rider. It was obvious that his talents should take him beyond his home shores, but while Latin America has a rich history in car racing, no Brazilian had made a name for himself in world-class bike racing. Undaunted, Barros lied about his age to contest the 1986 80cc World Championship at the age of 15.
He scored points in his debut season, graduating to the 250cc World Championship in 1989 and gaining a factory 500 ride with Cagiva for 1990. Three years with the Italian marque taught him plenty, especially the two seasons he spent alongside team-mate Eddie Lawson, a four-time 500 champ. He scored his first podium finish at Assen '92, then switched to Suzuki, winning his first 500 GP in 1993. He was now one of the world's fastest riders, though with a reputation for falling rather too often.
Barros chose NSR500 V4s for 1995. Working with renowned tuner Erv Kanemoto but lacking finance, he scored consistent finishes to end the season seventh. He then led the '96 World Championship after taking second at the opening two GPs but struggled to repeat those results.
A subsequent lack of funding forced him to switch to a lesser-powered NSRV500 twin for '97 when he was unable to compete for race wins but did score one podium finish. He regained V4 power for '98, running NSRs for a team run by former 125 World Champion Fausto Gresini, and hitting form to score several podium finishes.
From 2000 to 2002 Barros rode for another former champ, Sito Pons, at his Honda Pons team. Alex scored three 500 GP victories in his first two years with the Spanish team, but enjoyed his most significant success in 2002 when he graduated from his NSR500 two-stroke to Honda's all-conquering RC211V four-stroke for the final four races. Twice he defeated champ Valentino Rossi in dramatic head-to-head confrontations to take fourth overall in the series.
As a result of those performances, Yamaha tempted Barros with the promise of factory equipment - which Honda wouldn't provide - but 2003 would be a year to forget, Barros taking his and Yamaha's only podium of the season with a third place in France, on his way to just ninth in the points, after riding almost the entire season injured.
However, with Rossi leaving the Repsol Honda team - and Repsol wanting a Spanish or South American rider to fill the berth - Barros broke his multi-year Gauloises deal (for which he would later pay a multi-million dollar fine) to join Nicky Hayden in MotoGP's most successful team.
But, as for Max Biaggi the following season, the dream ride would turn into something of a nightmare as Alex (like Hayden) failed to win a single race for the defending champions. Nevertheless, he would claim five podium finishes and complete the championship in fourth overall.
Barros was dropped (on good terms) by the factory team at the end of the year, and immediately snapped up by former boss Pons - who still believed he could get the best out of Barros - and Alex rode alongside Troy Bayliss at the Camel backed team in 2005.
A fourth at the opening round was followed by an emotional win at Estoril - in which Alex led all the practice, qualifying and warm-up sessions before winning a tricky rain interrupted race - the first event under new flag-to-flag rules which meant the race would no longer be stopped due to rain.
However, the rest of the season would be less rewarding - with a strong third at the soaking wet British Grand Prix the only highlight - as Barros went on to finish eighth in the points.
Although unwilling to 'end' his MotoGP career, Barros was eventually forced to search elsewhere as Honda turned its attention to a new generation of stars. Nevertheless, Alex's loyalty and long term relationship with HRC was rewarded when he clinched a Klaffi Honda World Superbike ride (supported by Honda Europe) for 2006 - something Max Biaggi was unable to do.
The late deal meant that Barros began the season with virtually no testing, but a second place finish in only his third race had many tipping him as a title contender. However, while further podiums followed, Alex's results were somewhat inconsistent - not helped by poor starts - and he suffered something of a late season slump, which he shattered in style with a first (and possibly last) WSBK win in race one at the penultimate Imola round. That victory made him the first Brazilian to win a WSBK race and the only rider to have won races in 500cc, MotoGP and WSBK.
Barros finished the 2006 season sixth in the points, with six podiums, and - to the surprise of some - was one of the most wanted men for 2007, receiving offers from the leading Honda, Ducati and Suzuki teams.
But in a surprise move - Barros had previously said he wanted to win a world title before he retired and his only realistic chance of that was in WSBK - Alex turned all such offers down and announced a return to MotoGP in 2007, riding a Ducati on Bridgestone tyres, for the satellite Pramac d'Antin team.
Barros may have been tempted by the new 800cc engine rules, which meant brand new MotoGP bikes for 2007 and, in turn, a smaller difference between factory and non-factory machines - at least at the start of the season.
With Ducati's new Desmosedici GP8 slaughtering its Japanese rivals in terms of top speed, and Bridgestone's tyres outperforming the Michelins, Barros' choice looked promising - particularly when he came within a fraction of third place at round three in Turkey.
The highlight of Barros' final season came three rounds later, at Mugello, when the Brazilian climbed the MotoGP podium for the 32nd and final time - and was also the top Ducati rider at the factory's home race.
Alex hoped that his third position would provide a lunch pad to greater things, but thereafter the lower technical support available to a non-factory team seemed to become more significant and, over the final twelve rounds, he took a best finish of fifth.
Barros concluded his career with a seventh place at Valencia, enough to secure tenth in the final world championship standings. Alex had the chance to continue his career in WSBK for 2008, but the teams expressing an interest were not championship contenders.
"I'm really happy with my career. I never believed I could race for 21 years in the world championship," said Alex, upon announcing his retirement. "I tried to win a world championship, I couldn't, but I'm really grateful for my career and everything motorcycle racing has given me. It's been such a pleasure. Some moments have been difficult, but life is like that. I'm just grateful to everybody who have believed in me and given me the chance to race for so long
"There have been so many good races for me over the years, in 80cc and 250cc as well as the premier-class," reflected the easygoing #4. "Finishing second on the 500 in Holland, during the first year of MotoGP, right behind Valentino [Rossi, riding a 990] was really special for me, or finishing on the podium with the twin cylinder at Donington - I could go on for a long time!
"This is the world championship, and time passes, so I don't feel sad. I feel happy. It's really important to finish your career in good shape and I can do different things now. I have so many plans," he concluded
- 1979 : Brazilian moped champion
- 1980 : Brazilian moped champion
- 1981 : 50cc Brazilian Champion
- 1982 : 4th 125 Brazilian Championship
- 1983 : 2nd 125 Brazilian Championship
- 1984 : 4th 250 Brazilian Championship
- 1985 : 250 Brazilian Champion
- 1986 : 16th 80 World Championship Autisa
- 1987 : 17th 80 World Championship Arbizu
- 1988 : 3rd 250 Latin-American Championship Yamaha
- 1989 : 18th 250 World Championship Yamaha
- 1990 : 12th 500 World Championship Cagiva
- 1991 : 13th 500 World Championship Cagiva
- 1992 : 12th 500 World Championship Cagiva
- 1993 : 6th 500 World Championship Suzuki - race wins 1
- 1994 : 8th 500 World Championship Suzuki
- 1995 : 7th 500 World Championship Honda
- 1996 : 4th 500 World Championship Honda
- 1997 : 9th 500 World Championship Honda
- 1998 : 5th 500 World Championship Honda
- 1999 : 9th 500 World Championship Honda
- 2000 : 4th 500 World Championship Honda - race wins 2
- 2001 : 4th 500 World Championship Honda - race wins 1
- 2002 : 4th MotoGP World Championship Honda - race wins 2
- 2003 : 9th MotoGP World Championship Yamaha
- 2004 : 4th MotoGP World Championship Honda
- 2005 : 8th MotoGP World Championship Honda - race wins 1
- 2006 : 6th World Superbike Championship Honda - race wins 1
- 2007 : 10th MotoGP World Championship Ducati