Rossi claims historic win for Honda
8 April 2001
Valentino Rossi wrote his name into the record books by claiming Honda's 500th win today at Suzuka, in a race that will be remembered for the intense grudge match witnessed between Rossi and archrival Max Biaggi.
Biaggi, third on the grid, made a storming start to lead Capirossi into the first corner, with Nakano third ahead of Abe, McCoy and Roberts who had moved up from ninth, while Rossi languished at the tail end of the top ten.
Capirossi showed he was not prepared to follow his fellow Italian as he steamed inside Biaggi through the Esses, while Nakano also passed Biaggi soon after.
British Superbike runner-up Chris Walker took an early exit from his first 500cc Grand Prix after braking too late for the chicane and clashing with Cardoso. The Brit claimed full responsibility for the incident and later sportingly apologised to the Spaniard.
Lap 2 saw Alex Criville (twelfth) run out of road at the Spoon curve, while Garry McCoy began challenging Biaggi for third, whom he duly passed a lap later before quickly moving into second when Nakano also fell victim to the flying Australian.
By now Rossi was also on the move, as he smoothly swept his way into fifth, while at the front McCoy completed a terrific lap by taking the lead from Capirossi at the 130R.
Rossi caught up to Biaggi on lap 4 who briefly eased the pressure from the Nastro Azzurro rider by putting Capirossi between them, before Rossi also passed the West Honda Pons pole sitter.
So, by lap 5 the order at the front of the race was: McCoy, from Nakano, Biaggi and Rossi.
By now Rossi was climbing all over the back of Biaggi's Yamaha and attempted to pass at the hairpin, Biaggi was having none of it though and held his line around the outside, while Haga successfully past Capirossi with a characteristically brave move.
Rossi, still shadowing Biaggi, looked like he would pass the Marlboro rider after getting a better exit from the final chicane. However, as Rossi drew alongside Biaggi he elbowed the #46 rider forcing him onto the grass at high speed, as the battle between the two Italian descended into a grudge match.
Rossi's reaction was to try even harder, attempting to pass on the inside at the Spoon curve, but Biaggi 'leaned' on the youngster once again and he was forced to submit – briefly losing a place to Ukawa in the process.
The pass was finally made along the start/finish straight with Rossi chopping sharply across the nose of Biaggi's machine and then 'hand signalling' his displeasure at Biaggi's previous manoeuvre(s).
Rossi, now released, soon passed Nakano and then leader McCoy, again going into the Spoon curve, so that the order by lap 8 was Rossi, from McCoy, Biaggi and Haga.
Biaggi moved past McCoy in pursuit of Rossi, while Rossi began to build a small lead.
Meanwhile Noriyuki Haga continued to charge and was up to third by lap 11 – before crashing, for the third time this weekend, after losing control of his Red Bull Yamaha and sliding into the gravel.
Haga's exit allowed Ukawa to close on Biaggi and the two began a thrilling duel, passing and re-passing each other, while Rossi built his lead to 1.5secs, with McCoy fourth, Abe fifth and Nakano sixth.
Two laps later Ukawa found a way past Biaggi at the chicane and immediately set off in hot pursuit of leader, and fellow Honda rider, Rossi. Biaggi's slid continued with McCoy also passing the Italian for third and then Ukawa for second into turn one at the beginning of lap 17.
Meanwhile, World Champion Kenny Roberts Jr.'s nightmare weekend continued, as he languished down in eighth on the Telefonica MoviStar Suzuki. This would soon become seventh however, when 500cc rookie Ukawa spectacularly high-sided as he accelerated out of the chicane.
As the unfortunate Japanese rider and his Repsol Honda slid down the track, the pursuing Biaggi was forced to slow allowing both Nakano and Abe to pass the Italian.
To the order on lap 18 of 21 was therefore: Rossi 3.508secs ahead of McCoy, followed by Nakano, Abe and Biaggi.
Abe however, soon past Nakano at the 130R, with Biaggi dropping the Gauloises Yamaha rider back a further place as he too crept by at the chicane, and set off in pursuit of Abe and the final podium position.
Biaggi shadowed the Japanese rider until the very last lap when moved into third and immediately began pressuring McCoy for second. McCoy absorbed the pressure and held off Biaggi to the line, while Valentino Rossi won at a track where his previous best finish was just eleventh.
Full classification to follow…
1. Rossi 44mins 51.501secs
2. McCoy +0.724secs
3. Biaggi +0.956secs
4. Abe +1.176secs
5. Nakano +2.256secs
6. Barros +14.515secs
7. Roberts +22.876secs
8. Capirossi +28.732secs
9. Criville +34.478secs
10. Checa +53.765secs
11. van den Goorbergh +58.688secs
12. Aoki +1min 17.338secs
13. Haslam +1min 17.681secs