Garry McCoy: MotoGP's new streak
17 September 2000
The 22-race streak in which no-one had managed a back-to-back GP500 win may have ended, but the form Garry McCoy showed at the Valencia Grand Prix suggests that the Australian may be starting a run of his own very soon.
McCoy repeated his Estoril win by pulling clear of the field after sizing up the opposition for the opening couple of laps. Once ahead, however, McCoy's sideways style caused him few problems as he eased away from the three-way battle behind him and joined series leader Roberts as the most successful rider of the year.
It was Biaggi who landed the holeshot, out-gunning both McCoy and Roberts to the first corner, despite complaining of a lack of top-end power from his Marlboro Yamaha. The Italian then held sway for the first three laps, but without being able to pull away from the chasing pack. McCoy stuck right with him and, although the pair, opened a small advantage over Roberts, it was never decisive enough to prevent the American from looking a threat.
Just as Biaggi seemed to be getting the better of the Red Bull bike behind him, McCoy pulled a surprise move on the Italian, and completing a perfect, wheels in line, pass when Biaggi least expected it. Without the power to respond, the Italian could only watch as his Australian rival eked out a gap of his own, before the battle of the race became that for second.
As McCoy pulled away, Biaggi's problems became more apparent, and a queue headed by Roberts and Loris Capirossi quickly formed behind the red-and-white Yamaha. Roberts wasted no time in passing the Italian as he sought to extend his championship advantage over the fast closing Valentino Rossi, but the man most on the move at this point was home favourite Alex Criville.
The Spaniard had made a good getaway from his eleventh starting spot, and quickly latched onto the leading group. Deposing Spanish rival Carlos Checa for sixth, and then Rossi for fifth, put the reigning champion hot on the heels of Capirossi, and a rare podium finish looked a definite possibility for the luckless Honda rider.
Sadly, the misfortune which has dogged his title defence returned in short order and, as he spied a gap between Capirossi and the kerb at the final turn, Criville also found his bike losing traction. Buckling under him, the Honda slid into the far gravel trap and, although its rider was able to remount and rejoin, a broken footpeg would eventually force him into another retirement.
Capirossi was to go little further, the Emerson Honda striking tyre problems very early on and twice dumping the Italian on the floor. The second time was to prove fatal for his chances of a top three position, and Capirossi joined Norick Abe [lap four] and the Aprilia pairing of Tetsuya Harada [lap one] and Jeremy McWilliams [lap seven] among the early retirements.
The demise of both Criville and Capirossi allowed the reigning GP250 champion a clear road back towards the top three, and Rossi wasted little time in exploiting it. A string of fastest laps brought the Italian ever closer to the rear of Biaggi's bike and, as if he needed any further incentive to progress, the Honda rider was past his fiercest rival for third by lap 15.
In his haste to then catch championship rival Roberts, Rossi's riding took on a ragged edge, and the Nastro Azzuro man was lucky to save what appeared to be a definite fall. Half off the Honda, Rossi somehow managed to keep the bike on its wheels, and regained his seat with some judicious use of his left knee, despite still attempting to corner in the American's wake. Dropping to sixth was a mere consequence that could still be overcome.
Checa was the biggest beneficiary of Rossi's moment, moving to fourth and looking as though he, too, may be able to challenge for a podium place. The partisan crowd - understood to number in excess of 11,000 - was to be disappointed, however, as the second Marlboro Yamaha disappeared up the escape road, dropping several positions and almost collecting Alex Barros in its haste to rejoin the track.
Back at the very front, McCoy was now some three seconds clear of the continuing battle between Roberts and Biaggi. Checa's mistake had allowed Rossi back into the fray and, again the Italian was closing in on his rivals. Past Biaggi with some ease at the start of the 27th lap, Rossi also made short work of Roberts before the trio made it back to the pit straight. Sadly for the Italian, however, he would not even make it that far, skating off at the final combination of turns as he attempted to press on in pursuit of the leader, and ending his run of consecutive podiums at four.
The incident left McCoy unchallenged to the flag, breaking a sequence of different winners at following events that stretched back to Catalunya 1999. The Australian's joy was evident as he crossed the line, matched only by the silent celebrations going on in the Telefonica Movistar Suzuki pit.
Further back, Nobuatsu Aoki completed the Yamaha-Suzuki formation, coming home fourth ahead of the squabbling trio of Barros, 1999 race winner Regis Laconi - who continued his run of points finishes - and Checa. Sete Gibernau was the first of the Repsol Hondas to cross the line in eighth, while Jurgen van der Goorbergh got the better of the returning David de Gea in the battle of the non-V4s to claim tenth. Wildcard David Tomas took points for 13th, two places ahead of Britain's Phil Giles, who broke his world championship duck in 15th.
Rossi's exit served mainly to strengthen Roberts' hold on the championship standings, the American moving into an almost unassailable 66-point lead as the series moves into its final three races. Roberts admitted that his focus was primarily on taking the crown, and it was clear to see that the pressure is slowly lifting from his shoulders.
''I couldn't ask for more,'' he smiled afterwards, ''and must thank the team for all they have done this weekend. I also thank Max, who was trying to keep it stable behind me, and not stick his wheel in at every corner. There was no way I could catch McCoy, but then I have a lot more on my mind at the moment.''
McCoy's win took him level with the American with three victories in 2000, but the Australian was quick to say that he hoped to take the mantle for himself as the season winds down.
''I'm really happy to have won,'' he said, ''and really hope to keep this going. Admittedly, Kenny and Valentino are fighting for the championship, and find it hard to battle with me because they don't want to risk anything, but this is great.''
Fourth now in the championship, McCoy is not a threat to Roberts in terms of this year's title but, given his recent record, and the fact that he will be with the same team and machinery in 2001, the American must be beginning to wonder if this is where the biggest challenge to his defence is going to come from next season.
The qualifying session dominance of the Chesterfield Tech 3 Yamaha team was mirrored in the race as Shinya Nakano crushed the field to win his fifth race of 2000 and cut the championship lead of team-mate Olivier Jacque to 22 points with three races to go.
Having recovered from his horrific looking crash at the Portuguese Grand Prix a fortnight ago, Nakano proceeded to dominate the race from his second place on the starting grid once he had passed the identical bike of polesitter Olivier Jacque on the fourth lap. On a circuit which he proclaims to be one of his favourites, a string of fastest laps extended the Japanese rider's lead to over seven and a half seconds by lap 21, before easing off around the final tour to finish a comfortable four seconds ahead of the Frenchman.
For his part, Jacque, having made a good start from his fifth consecutive pole position, endured a somewhat boring race, maintaining an eleven second gap over the dice for third between Tohru Ukawa and Marco Melandri and recorded his ninth consecutive podium finish in the process.
The battle of the race, however, was fought out behind the leading pair, with a combination of the sheer riding brilliance and the handling of Marco Melandri's Aprilia around the twisty Spanish circuit finally proving superior to the straight-line power of Ukawa's Honda.
For the majority of the 27 laps, however, it was Ukawa who led the young Italian, with the decisive manoeuvre coming into the second corner with just three laps remaining. Melandri was then made to fight hard to resist no less than three overtaking attempts by the Japanese rider on the final lap to record his second podium finish in two races. This result may have all but finished Ukawa's championship hopes, as the gap to Olivier Jacque has extended to a massive 43 points leaving Spain.
Further back, behind the steady rides of Daijiro Katoh and Franco Battaini to fifth and sixth places respectively, another race-long battle ensued between Briton Jason Vincent, Anthony West, Sebastian Porto and local hero David Checa. Victory in this race of their own finally went to the Australian, West, closely followed by Porto, Vincent and Checa. The Briton, having started a poor nineteenth on his Aprilia, made up eight places on the first lap and eventually edged out Checa on the line by just five-hundredths of a second to demote the Spaniard to tenth.
Fellow British riders Jamie Robinson and Adrian Coates were not able to figure in the points, however, as they finished 19th and 23rd respectively.
The point scorers were rounded out by Alex Debon, Luca Boscoscuro, Ralf Waldmann, Shahrol Yuzy and Naoki Matsudo, with the German rider providing one of the rides of the races having recovered from a ten-second stop-go penalty. The penalty itself came as no surprise as the Aprilia rider found himself leading the race into the first corner from his sixth place grid position, having passed the entire front row before the red lights had gone out.
Roberto Locatelli strengthened his GP125 points lead by taking victory at Valencia, and seeing off the challenges of title rivals Youichi Ui and Emilio Alzamora.
The Italian recovered from a slow start to take the lead of the race on the fourth lap, and was never headed thereafter, although it was not always easy as the top four stuck together almost throughout.
In common with fellow title hopefuls, and front row starters, Ui and Alzamora, Locatelli had to watch as some unexpected names came to the fore on the opening lap. Ui's Derbi team-mate Pablo Nieto was the first to show, sprinting from the outside of the front row to take the lead at turn one, to the obvious delight of the partisan crowd, and the Spaniard held sway until Locatelli completed his charge to the head of the field.
Second and third were initially held by Arnaud Vincent and Gino Borsoi, both coming through from behind the expected front runners, but neither Locatelli or Ui were to be denied. Alzamora, however, found himself dumped back to seventh on the opening lap, and struggled to make an impression from then on.
Once in front, Locatelli attempted to repeat his Mugello display by pulling away from Nieto and the fast-closing Ui but, despite eking out up to two seconds over his pursuers, never made the decisive gap that would have put the result beyond doubt prior to the last lap.
Instead, the Italian found himself coming under pressure from the unlikely shape of Masao Azuma. The Honda rider had qualified well - in sixth - but, along with his team, had expressed some doubt as to whether his tyres would be able to last the distance. The seemed to be little trouble in the early stages, however, as the Japanese gobbled up the two Derbis, and quickly ate into the gap that Loca had established.
By lap twelve, the leader's advantage had been reduced from 2.2secs to just 1.6secs and, three laps later, Azuma was in front, drafting past Locatelli down the start-finish straight and into turn one. The Italian, however, was prepared to play a waiting game and, having given Azuma his head for a lap, promptly replicated the move to reclaim top spot.
Azuma's ragged style then allowed the gap to yo-yo, as he missed apexes and ran wide on several corners, but the Honda's pace was not in doubt, and Locatelli had to keep his concentration right to the end as it recovered from the mistakes to repeatedly close the gap.
Only now closing in as Azuma and Locatelli diced, the two Derbis were embroiled in a scrap of their own. Although both riders knew that, in terms of the championship, Ui had to be allowed to lead over the line, Nieto was keen to prove the point that he was the faster of the two and, on lap 21, Ui eventually relented and allowed the Spaniard through.
The pair's attempts at using the faster man to draft up to the leaders was never likely to work, however, and Nieto dutifully ceded the advantage back to Ui with two laps to run to enable the Japanese to stay in touch in the standings.
Further back, though, Alzamora was forced to watch as his championship chances slipped away. Slow to recover from his poor start, the Spanish hero quickly found himself isolated in fifth, and appeared to be wrestling the Telefonica Movistar Honda at every turn. A forty-plus points deficit would seem to suggest that the reigning champion will not repeat in 2000.
Likewise, fellow Honda runner Mirko Giansanti will also be kissing goodbye to his title hopes, after a poor qualifying session left him in a position to be swallowed up by the rest of the grid after a particularly awful getaway. The young Italian found himself third from last going into the first turn and, despite battling back to 13th by the flag, will not have scored enough points to keep himself in contention.
Locatelli's win moved him further ahead of UI and, with Azuma's dogged pursuit of a first win this season pushing him between the protagonists, the Italian's lead has risen to 24 points - almost the equivalent of a race win. With three flyaway rounds - including one in Japan -remaining, there is still time for Ui to recover, but Locatelli looks increasingly secure in his championship challenge.