Rossi wins despite McWilliams grit
9 July 2000
Valentino Rossi won his first GP500 race at Donington Park this afternoon, but not before home hero Jeremy McWilliams had given the crowd hopes of a British win.
Rain during the GP250 race had left the track wet and there was no indecision about which tyres to use, with the entire field opting for grooved rubber before the start. Poleman Alex Barros appeared to have got the hole shot only to see Regis Laconi shoot up the inside from his position on the third row.
The Frenchman led for just over a lap, however, before Assen winner Barros repassed him for top spot and, for a long time it looked as though the Emerson Honda Pons rider would repeat his Dutch TT feat. Then, on lap four, the leading group closed together, allowing the likes of Kenny Roberts and Rossi, both of whom had made a bad start, to regain momentum. Although Barros led until lap ten, the major players for the rest of the race were right with him for a several laps before that, just waiting to make their move.
Roberts was the first to usurp the Brazilian, diving through at Redgate at the start of the tenth tour, but the men really on the move were Rossi and McWilliams. Although the Italian was still having to fight his way through the tail of the pack, McWilliams took third and second on successive laps at the Old Hairpin, and seemed set to be the only challenger to the leader through the middle part of the race.
Rossi, meanwhile, was more in his element as the wettest conditions disappeared and he moved past the Ulsterman on lap 15. In the week following the death of his hero Joey Dunlop, however, McWilliams wasn't about to throw away his best chance of a podium result since Mugello, and clung tenaciously to the tail of the Nastro Azurro Honda, before re-passing Rossi two laps later.
Next time around, the Aprilia was in the lead, McWilliams slicing past Roberts at the Old Hairpin, and eking out enough of a gap that Rossi was able to also pass the American without looking a danger for first. McWilliams was initially able to open out almost a two-second gap over his pursuers but, without the threat of further rain, the drying track began to take its toll on tyres, and the three were as one again in short order. Gamely, the Aprilia hung onto the lead, but all the time it became more apparent that the Honda and Suzuki behind him had the better chance of victory.
Having been rebuffed on several occasions, Rossi finally made his move at the Melbourne Hairpin three laps from home, easing out a small gap over McWilliams despite the Aprilias better speed down the home straight and Craner Curves section. Roberts, too, looked at a pass but, despite McWilliams sliding at almost every turn under acceleration, the championship leader was unable to move into second until the last lap, as the Irishman missed a gear approaching Melbourne.
''It was a difficult choice until the rain started again,'' the American said, when questioned about his tyre choice, ''and I'm surprised the tyres held up when the track dried out. I had a lot on mind during the race, like concentrating on not falling down, and keeping an edge to my tyres just in case the rain restarted, and with this in mind, I let Valentino and Jeremy go mid-race. When Valentino got passed him, I tried to go as well, but had to wait until the last lap. I knew I could get the Aprilia there, because I could hear that the engine wasn't as strong as the V4s.''
''I made two mistakes,'' McWilliams admitted, ''I think now that perhaps I went too hard mid-race in trying to get away, which finished the tyres, and then I missed a gear on the last lap, and allowed Kenny through. He learnt from his last attempt too, and kept it tight at Melbourne so that I couldn't slide back on the inside.
''I'm happy to be on the podium though. We didn't think we were going to go anywhere from the fourth row of the grid, and when the rain came down, I was just laughing. We put wets on and couldn't care less - we were going out just to see what we could get as others fell down! This is a better end to a difficult week for Irish motorsports, and this podium is for Joey.''
Rossi, however, was less restrained in his celebrations, burning his tyre right down to the canvas in an extravagant burn-out on the slowing down lap, and punching the air at every opportunity, as his victory made him the first rider to win in all three classes at Donington Park.
''I am very happy,'' he smiled, ''We were ready to win in dry conditions but, when the rain came, we were very afraid, and would have been happy with a podium. The race was not so much fun, with the rear wheel spinning all the time, but my rhythm was not too bad and I was able to get past Barros and Abe before getting up to the lead.
''The tyre is now completely finished, and it was not easy even on the straight. it was very hard to beat Jeremy, but I managed to get by two or three laps from the end, and I am very pleased to win.''
The rest of the order changed and re-changed as the drying tarmac played havoc with tyres. Barros and Laconi, both of whom had led in the early stages, went backwards at a rate of knots, ending their days outside the top ten. Loris Capirossi, on the other hand, moved in the opposite direction to claim fourth place. Jurgen van der Goorbergh claimed a career-best fifth, ahead of Norick Abe and Alex Criville. It was a bad day for the works Yamahas, though, with Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa only moving up to ninth and eleventh after bad starts. British privateer John McGuinness took 13th.
Ralf Waldmann won the GP250 encounter after a dramatic last corner pass when late-race rain played right into his hands.
The German opted for a wet-weather set-up late in the day - against the wishes of his team - and looked to have made the wrong decision as the damp track dried gradually and played into the hands of those opting for intermediates all round.
Pole-sitter Olivier Jacque made the best getaway and, with a wet weather front on his Chesterfield Yamaha, was able to open out a gap over the rest of the field. The similarly-shod Tohru Ukawa was quickly into second, while the home crowd was treated to a scrap for the final podium place between Jay Vincent and Jamie Robinson, both of whom were on intermediates front and rear.
It looked to be a bad day for the 'official' Aprilias, however, for, in addition to Waldmann going backwards on his full wet bike, works rider Marco Melandri crashed out on lap three. The second Chesterfield Yamaha of Shinya Nakano also looked to be in trouble, dropping back down the order from his front row start.
With ten laps remaining, however, the rain returned to Donington Park, and quickly began to cause havoc in the running order. Robinson was caught out by a lack of grip running down the Craner Curves and joined fellow QUB rider Adrian Coates in the gravel, while the two leaders eased their pace by several seconds in order to guarantee making it to the finish. Vincent, too, was given a wake-up call, as he saved what looked set to be a high-side at Old Hairpin, traversed the grass verge and rejoined - somehow still in third place.
The weather was playing straight into the hands of the gamblers, however, and Waldmann and Petronas-backed Naoki Matsudo soon began to make inroads into the top ten. That then became the top five, as the pair started knocking nine seconds a lap off the leaders. As the rain got heavier, so the margin decreased, and Vincent lost both third and fourth in one fell swoop at Redgate on 26 of 27.
Next time around, the wet-shod riders gobbled up second placed Ukawa and set off in pursuit of the leader. Jacque knew they were coming, but could do little to defend himself and, despite holding a twelve second lead going into the last lap, found Waldmann coming past exiting Goddards.
''I'm really happy with second, to be honest,'' the Frenchman admitted, ''It was so easy to crash today. I couldn't do anything about Ralf - I could see him in the final corner, but my bike was spinning [its wheels] even on the straight, so it was impossible to stop him.''
The grip of the Aprilia was noticeable, as it wheelied past the Yamaha. The silver bike was scrabbling for traction in comparison and, had the finish line been further away, Jacque would have lost second to Matsudo as well. As it was he managed to hold on, while Ukawa and Vincent maintained fourth and fifth through the final stages.
''Everybody saw me going to the pits to swap to my wet bike,'' Waldmann smiled afterwards, ''and even the mechanics told me that it was a mistake to take it. But at Assen, on intermediates, I was being passed many times, so I thought it was worth the risk. In the first few laps, however, I thought perhaps it was a bad mistake, but then it began to rain, and I came back. I've had some bad luck this year, but today I was lucky to win the race.''
Championship leader Shinya Nakano could only manage seventh place, and consequently loses his place at the head of the table to team-mate Jacque after trailing home behind the impressive Alex Debon. Johan Stigefelt took eighth, while fancied front-runner Daijiro Katoh dropped to tenth at the flag. British privateer wild card Gary Haslam took 13th, with Julien Allemand, who left qualifying in an ambulance, took a meritable point in 15th.
Youichi Ui also had to contend with the elements as he won the 125cc race, with a mid-race rain delay halting proceedings after just eight laps.
The little Japanese led from the first green light, initially from the fast-starting Lucio Cecchinello and then, when the Italian began to fade, from reigning champion Emilio Alzamora. The front two had begun to pull away when the first rain of the day began to fall and, on lap nine, the red flags came out to call a temporary halt to proceedings.
Behind Alzamora, championship leader Roberto Locatelli had also passed Cecchinello for third, with the Givi rider's team-mate Noboru Ueda making it into fourth spot for the restart. A bigger loser than Cecchinello, however, was the returning Mirko Giansanti, who wasted his seventh place on the grid by making an awful start and dropping to 17th.
After a delay of roughly 25 minutes, the field was back on track which, by now, was as dry as when it had first appeared. Ui again made a good start, but could not live with that of Ueda, and had to cede the advantage on the road to the LCR man. The two circulated in close company for the opening laps of the second part, with Alzamora, Locatelli and the two Benetton Playlife bikes of Giansanti and Masao Azuma also in the mix. Out of it, however, were Gino Borsoi and Ivan Goi, who came together on the run down Craner, and speared into the infield gravel trap.
With Ui and Alzamora playing a tight game of cat-and-mouse on the road, each knowing that the slightest slip could gift the other the race win, Ueda and Azuma were momentarily allowed to escape at the front. Ueda was playing a similar game with Locatelli, after mere tenths spilt them at the interval, and was grateful for his compatriot's rise through the ranks acting as a distraction for those behind.
Azuma's presence almost settled the race result, as an opportunistic move on Ueda caused both Ui and Alzamora to come almost to a standstill at Fogartys. Ui then made another mistake at the Melbourne hairpin, and allowed the Spaniard to get ahead for the first time in the race. He could not pull away, however, and Ui quickly re-established his advantage when the Telefonica-backed bike ran wide at McLeans next time around.
Azuma's progress took him to the front on the road with just under a lap to run and, although, Ueda managed to retake the lead at Coppice, Azuma was back in control for the run to the flag. His climb through the field was good enough to net the Benetton rider fifth overall, while Ueda pipped Locatelli for third, and his fourth Donington Park podium.
''In the first race, I made a big mistake at the start and lost touch with the leading group,'' Nobby said, ''I concentrated much harder the second time around and, when I got to the front, I could see that Ui's bike was not as fast as before. I tried to keep consistent each lap, and the team was giving me the gap to Locatelli so I knew where I was. When this got to zero, I tried to push faster, and I am very happy with third place for the championship.''
The race for the win went Ui's way, despite a last lap lunge from Alzamora, giving the Japanese his fourth win of the year, and Derbi its first at Donington. Alzamora, meanwhile, revealed that he was more than happy with second, after two no-scores in recent races.
''I was just thinking about the gap to Alzamora in the second race,'' Ui explained, ''I was riding at about 80 percent, and it was easy to do.''
Giansanti's better second race netted him sixth, ahead of the inconsistent Cecchinello, while Jaroslav Hules put in another solid performance to take eighth for Italjet. The Czech's British team-mate Leon Haslam was 19th.