Barros wins battle of the Pacific!
6 October 2002
Alex Barros produced a stunning ride on his RCV debut to defeat World Champion Valentino Rossi by 1.6secs in a straight all-out fight, on equal machinery, that went right to the flag in today's Pacific Grand Prix.
Completing a great day for the privateer West Honda Pons team was Barros' team-mate Loris Capirossi, who delivered yet another heroic ride to take third on his underpowered NSR500, in an incident filled race littered by mechanical failures for some of the pre-race favourites – resulting in a black flag for Max Biaggi.
Yesterday, Daijiro Kato had clung on to pole despite crashing midway through the session – and not improving on his Friday time – leaving him to bite his fingernails in the pits while Capirossi and Checa charged, ultimately unsuccessfully, for the top spot, but the Japanese went on to take his first ever MotoGP pole.
Fellow non-improver Max Biaggi would start today second, ahead of top two stroke Capirossi (the fastest 500cc around the circuit ever) and Checa (looking for his fifth podium this year), while newly crowned champion Valentino Rossi was also unable to improve in the second session and would line-up in sixth place – putting him on the second row for the first time since Germany, with RCV new boy Alex Barros fifth.
Rossi, though, would be well aware that if he should take victory today he would be the youngest ever rider to take 50 career wins in Grand Prix racing…
Attention would also be on Akira Yanagawa, the first rider in 20 years to take part in the premier class of GP racing on a Kawasaki. The last Kawasaki to compete in the 500cc class was ridden by Kork Ballington at the final race of the 1982 season in Germany, when he failed to finish the race after crashing. Ballington was also the last rider to score points in the premier class for Kawasaki, finishing 7th at the San Marino GP at Mugello, the penultimate round of the 1982 season.
Suffering a set back even before the start was Regis Laconi, the Aprilia rider not getting away on time for the warm up lap and leaving the twelfth place qualifier to start from the back of the field.
When the field charged into the tight first turn it was Capirossi who shot to the front, ahead of Kato, Rossi, Barros, Roberts and Biaggi. Rossi then dived inside the Kato midway around the lap, with Barros demoting the home hero one place further seconds later.
Rossi wasted no time in getting to the front as he took Capirossi at the final chicane before Barros lazily blasted past his team-mates two stroke along the home straight – with Kato also making use of four stroke power to make it an RCV 1-2-3.
Lap 4 of 24 and Kato gave the partisan crowd a lift by pulling off an incredible around the outside pass on notoriously hard to overtake Barros at the first turn hairpin. The Brazilian used his superior exit speed to regain the position along the following short straight – only for Kato to go around the outside again at the next turn.
Barros then put HRC's finest firmly in his place with a firm outbraking move half a lap later – and followed that up by taking the lead from “The Doctor” on lap 5, while his team-mate Capirossi turned heads by proving he wasn't about to be forgotten as the Italian actually gained time on the three four strokes ahead.
One lap later and Rossi made an uncharacteristic mistake when he outbraked himself at the end of the back straight, allowing Kato into second, while 10secs behind on track Sete Gibernau's miserable weekend came to a premature end when his Suzuki's engine blew.
But Gibernau's exit marked the start of a series of mechanical failures as Yanagawa's – and Kawasaki's – MotoGP debut finished when the ZX-RR seized and spat the Japanese veteran over the front and into the gravel. Akira was fortunately unharmed and clearly knows how to fall.
Then the spate of failures continued when a devastated Kato (by his cool standards) suddenly sat up and slowed – dropping down the order as he was struck by a mystery power loss problem, from which he would retire on the next lap.
The battle of the Pacific had now become a three way fight between Barros, Rossi and Capirossi respectively.
Into the middle stages of the race and Rossi turned up the pace with a series of fastest laps that put Barros under increasing pressure – but Capirossi wasn't to be forgotten and the top three had a lead of nearly 3secs over Biaggi, Ukawa, Checa and Roberts.
The speedy threesome stayed nose-to-tail, with Rossi appearing to be sizing up the Brazilian for a late race pass, while behind them Tohru Ukawa – who had an off in the morning warm-up – brought a smile to the Honda faithful by shooting past Biaggi for an all Honda top four.
However, it soon became apparent that Biaggi had become the latest to suffer possible engine problems when smoke began to creep from the back of his Marlboro Yamaha – leading the Motegi officials to black flag the #3 machine for safety reasons.
The Roman Emperor duly retired on lap 15, shaking his head with disbelief as he crawled into the pitlane and behind the impenetrable shutters of the MYT pit box for an autopsy. Rumours would later circulate that Biaggi's retirement had actually been the result of a massive tyre failure causing rubber to hit the bodywork and the resulting smoke. The true cause will be confirmed on crash.net as soon as MYT announce their findings.
Back on track and on lap 19 Barros appeared to let Rossi past and into the lead, in what was either a very brave – or foolish – decision. Rossi had been sizing up the black and white West livered machine for several laps and so Barros may have pre-empted a late race pass by allowing him ahead – but for that plan to work Barros would have to stay with the Repsol rider.
This he duly did and he must have smiled under his helmet as Vale lost the rear slightly under braking, allowing the Brazilian to cut inside for the lead – now with the knowledge gained of where Rossi's on track strength's were. Meanwhile, Capirossi appeared to have settled for a safe third, 2secs behind the battling duo.
Onto the penultimate lap and just 0.263secs separated the pair, with Rossi shadowing the #4 machines every move – but looking uncharacteristically ragged under braking.
As the pair began their all deciding last lap the race could have gone either way, but Barros hadn't put a wheel wrong all day and looked unlikely to crack now. By contrast, Rossi's RCV was twitching nervously under braking and acceleration, allowing the supremely smooth and confident Barros to edge out a buffer.
The Brazilian then used that to speed over the finish line with his fist in the air for a well-deserved win having set the fastest lap of the race on his final circulation. Rossi also looked satisfied with second – to give Repsol Honda the Teams' championship on a day when Honda wrapped up the Manufacturers' crown at the track they own.
Capirossi crossed the line for an excellent third on his NSR500, 7.6secs behind his victorious team-mate, whom he was quick to congratulate on the slow down lap.
Barros, who'd never sat on an RCV until two days ago, was justifiably delighted. “I want to thank HRC and the team for this opportunity – I was surprised how easy the bike was to ride. I just tried to keep in a rhythm as I didn't know what the tyres would be like at the end. I'm very happy,” beamed the Brazilian.
Rossi meanwhile, confirmed he'd had handling problems all weekend: “This was one of the hardest races of the year. The bike didn't work well and we had some problems with the clutch. I arrived at the corners not knowing if I'd make it around. The fight with Alex was fun – even if I lost!” said Vale.
Capirossi added: “In the last two laps I took it easy as I couldn't catch Alex and Valentino, but this race was fantastic for me.”
Full results to follow…