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Honda Pons - Motegi's Rossi stopper!
15 September 2005
World Champion Valentino Rossi suffering three successive defeats at the same circuit by the same MotoGP team - doesn't sound likely does it? But that's exactly what's happened at Motegi for the past three seasons...
For while Rossi has steamrollered the opposition into submission on his way to four premier-class world titles (and a fifth could be claimed this weekend) one team has consistently stood up to the Italian at the home of their constructer.
That team is Honda Pons, whose riders Alex Barros, Max Biaggi and Makoto Tamada have brought a temporary but refreshing halt to Rossi's amazing assault by respectively winning the last three grands prix at Motegi (pictured) - with Rossi left runner-up on each occasion.
Team principle Sito Pons knows all about winning both from the saddle and from the pit wall, but even the articulate Spaniard finds it hard to actually pin point the reasons for his team's domination of Motegi for the last three years - not that he's complaining.
"I think the fact that Motegi is the home of our Constructer Honda must have given us wings," said a smiling Pons. "It's difficult to explain just why we have been so successful in Motegi. Of course we always try to do our very best in Japan which is such an important race for Honda and our sponsors but we also put in the same effort and dedication at all the other MotoGP venues."
That first win for the team three years ago was probably the most dramatic in a season of transition between 500cc two-strokes and 990cc four-strokes.
Throughout a very tough season, Barros and Loris Capirossi had battled gallantly against the odds on the ageing two-strokes against the mighty new 990cc new boys on the block, until round 13 of the title chase at Motegi.
The Honda Pons team were given one of the new all conquering RC211V four-strokes for the very first time. One bike and two riders, it was an agonising decision by the team who would ride the new machine. After much deliberation it went to Brazilian Barros.
The performance by both riders, one in joy and the other in disappointment, in the 24 lap race not only was testimony to their skill and commitment but also to the man management skill of the team principle.
From the very first practice session on Friday morning, Barros bonded with the RCV more like an old friend rather than a new acquaintance. He qualified on the second row of the grid and in the race took full advantage of others misfortunes to make it the perfect debut and wondering just what might have happened if he'd ridden the machine earlier in the year.
Barros won the race from Rossi with 1.6-seconds to spare while team-mate Capirossi was stung into frantic action after his rejection. Screaming among the four-strokes, the tough little Italian qualified on the front row in third place and repeated the performance in the race to finish on the podium, in front of some of the four-strokes he so wanted to ride.
Biaggi joined the team in 2003 together with new title sponsors Camel and the former 250cc World Champion crossed the line in first place for the first time of the season at Motegi.
Just under three months earlier, Biaggi won the British Grand Prix although he actually crossed the line in second place but was awarded the victory when Rossi, who'd crossed the line first, was penalised 30-seconds for overtaking under yellow flags. Biaggi's 24 lap victory at Motegi was much more clear-cut.
Biaggi, who'd started from pole, took the lead on the third lap and proceeded to pull away from the opposition headed by Rossi, who was nearly three seconds adrift at the finish.
There was plenty of drama behind him with Makoto Tamada being disqualified from third place after a collision with Sete Gibernau on the last lap. One year later Tamada returned to his homeland and gained ample revenge.
Tamada had joined Biaggi at Camel Honda in 2004 and secured his first grand prix victory at Rio in Brazil, riding the Bridgestone shod RCV. He returned home to Motegi absolutely bursting with confidence which was soon clear for all, including the opposition, to see.
He dominated qualifying, won the race with nearly three seconds to spare from Rossi and also established a new lap record. Not a bad weekends work for Tamada who'd left Motegi the previous year without even a hint of that trademark smile.
This weekend Rossi only has to finish second in the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi to win his seventh ever GP title. There is little doubt that the brilliant Italian will retain his world crown in the near future, but perhaps Honda Pons will prevent him from celebrating it on Sunday.
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