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Vermeulen: Leading a MotoGP no different

17 August 2006

When Paul Denning announced that Rizla Suzuki had secured the services of Honda World Superbike star Chris Vermeulen for the 2006 and 2007 MotoGP seasons, it was widely considered a brilliant coup.

After his first eleven races on the Bridgestone shod GSV-R - a more potent package compared with previous seasons but still, on average, behind the ten Michelin backed Honda and Yamaha machines - the young Australian has underlined the faith shown in him with two pole positions, the most recent of which came last time out at Laguna Seca.

Race day in the USA saw Vermeulen take the lead by the end of the opening lap, a position he held confidently until the halfway mark of the 32 lap contest, when he was passed by eventual winner Nicky Hayden. Grip and then fuel supply problems eventually caused the 2005 WSBK runner-up to surrender a podium position and fade to fifth at the flag.

The late race heartbreak left Denning's team bitterly disappointed, yet Chris wasn't too downcast - appearing confident that his next chance to fight for a debut podium will come soon enough - and he certainly wasn't overawed by leading a MotoGP race for the first time.

"At Laguna there was no difference in my head about the prospect of winning or setting pole position, even now that I am in MotoGP," said Vermeulen, speaking during the summer break that ends this weekend at Brno. "It's obviously harder to win races in MotoGP, of course. Ever since I had my first experience of leading and then winning other world championship races, I realised that when you're on the track - while you are racing - it's no different.

“I knew it was going to be a long old race and it's quite a difficult track to pass on, so I knew how important the pole position slot and a good launch would be. I got off quite well and thought I was leading it up the hill because I didn't see anyone else - until Kenny Roberts Junior came past on the inside… pretty fast," he smiled. "Towards the end of the lap, as we went round the last right-hander I got good drive out just as Kenny spun a little, and I thought, 'Why not? I've started pole so I might as well lead it over the first lap…' I was fast into the last hairpin, outbraked him - and then just got my head down. From there on I realised I would have to try hard, but not ride at 110% - not be loose everywhere, looking after my tyres.

"The first full lap in the lead my board read +0.5, then out to +0.8, then I thought to myself, 'Jeez, either they're all making mistakes, or we're going too fast for them!' It kind of felt like a couple of years ago when I was racing in the lead on a Superbike at Laguna. It was smooth, my lead just kept going up and up and eventually it was two seconds.

"My lap times started to slow a few tenths as the tyre just got very hot, because the track temperature was so high. Even when I had +2 on the board I never knew that I was guaranteed to have a podium, I just wasn't thinking about it, I was just concentrating on going as fast as I could.

"Nicky was pulling me back a few tenths of a second a lap. I wasn't too worried. I knew that even if he - or they - did catch me then they would still have to pass. With my board at +0 at half distance, coming into turn three I braked slightly later and I lost the front - while the bike was straight-up-and down!

"That's the first time I knew I had a problem. I let go of the brake a little, had to let the bike run wide, and that is when Nicky came past. Even then I didn't worry too much because I know he is fast there, so I just wanted to tag onto the back of him and then try to re-pass him later.

"The point of the race where I thought I was going to be in for a podium at least was when Pedrosa had been behind for four or five laps, and my board still said +0. He either couldn't or wouldn't pass me. I knew there wasn't much to go in the race, and I figured I could fight my way to the podium. I knew that after him there was a gap back to Valentino at that stage, somewhere around three seconds.

"I realised there was a chance for a second place, not just a podium or third. And if Nicky had made a mistake, then we could still be in for a win..."

But then the fuel supply problem hit critical and the former World Supersport champion was forced to allow Pedrosa, Melandri and then Roberts past.

Vermeulen will get the first of six chances for 2006 revenge this weekend in the Czech Republic.


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