Barros wins after breathtaking season finale
3 November 2002
Alex Barros took victory in an epic season ending Valencia Grand Prix, which began with a horrific startline crash involving a stalled Carlos Checa being hit by Jose-Luis Cardoso, and ended with Barros and Valentino Rossi riding over the edge on their RCV's as they duelled to the final corner of the 2002 season.
Yesterday, Max Biaggi had taken an emotional final pole position of the 2002 season in his last ride for the Marlboro Yamaha team, ahead of non improvers Barros (looking for his fourth successive podium on his fourth RCV ride) and Daijiro Kato while shock of the session came from the two stroke of Garry McCoy – winner at Valencia in 2000 - who took a front row start on his YZR500.
Late session crasher Carlos Checa led the second row, ahead of World Champion Rossi, who was left back in sixth – but with no major complaints about his RCV and looking forward to today's race, where he had the opportunity to equal mentor Mick Doohan's all time season win record if he took what would be his twelfth victory of 2002. But the Honda hero has never won in the premier class at the circuit before.
The start of toady's 30 lap race would prove easily the most dramatic of the year as firstly Garry McCoy jumped the start by a mile from the outside of the front row, then behind him Carlos Checa sat stationary on the grid for the second time this season, after stalling his M1.
The results of this was horrific as Jose Luis Cardoso – who's started from 21st on his d'Antin run Yamaha – hit his countryman square on from behind, launching Cardoso through the air and leaving him slumped against the pit wall with the front of his YZR500 completely destroyed.
Checa, despite being thrown down the road, was able to jump to his feet and over the pitlane wall – while marshals' ran to Cardoso's aid. It looked as though the race would have to be red flagged, but waved yellows slowed the field for their return run past the pits (with Barros leading Biaggi, Rossi, Kato, Nakano, Ukawa and McCoy) and Cardoso was soon stretchered away.
Much to the relief of everyone he signaled with a slow wave of his right hand that he was ok as he was maneuvered into the medical centre. Amazingly – and it was truly amazing given the impact – a smiling Cardoso would later return to the pitlane some 20mins later and watch the remainder of his home Grand Prix apparently unharmed.
Meanwhile, as Cardoso was being examined, Aoki fell from his Proton at turn one and brought the curtain down early on his two-stroke career. But back on track, and with the waved yellows now gone, Barros was leading Rossi by 0.6secs with Biaggi third ahead of Kato, Ukawa (the man Biaggi needed to beat for second in the championship) and Nakano, while McCoy was called in to serve a 5secs stop/go penalty for his jump start.
Lap 6 and local hero Sete Gibernau, winner of last years race, straight lined the fast turn one, sending him into the deep gravel and heading straight for the tyre wall. Fortunately, the Spaniard brought his V4 back under control and paddled back on track to rejoin in 18th on his final ride for the Suzuki team.
Just one lap later McCoy's miserable day came to an end and the man who had a black armband on to signify the 500cc's demise ended his season in the Valencia gravel. The significance of this was that - together with retirements by Laconi (crashed), Checa, Aoki, Cardoso and Gibernau's excursion – MotoGP new boys Andrew Pitt and David Garcia (on the Proton) were now in the points in 14 and 15th respectively.
Tetsuya Harada, who's announced his retirement late last night (see separate story) saw his last GP turn more eventful than anticipated as he was forced to pull into the pits for a tyre change on lap 9. The Japanese ex-250cc World Champ would rejoin and complete his last 20laps on a GP machine.
Back up front and the race had turned into yet another Barros and Rossi show as the pair dropped third placed Biaggi by 4.5secs, with Kato a further 1sec behind but 5secs ahead of countrymen Ukawa and Nakano. Top two-stroke man was now Loris Capirossi, in his final ride for the West Honda Pons team, in eighth, and chasing down Kenny Roberts.
Approaching the mid stages of the race and Rossi was shadowing Barros – but occasionally running slightly off-line to illustrate that it wasn't easy keeping pace with the black and white machine.
The two remained inseparable from laps 12-17, but it was notable that their pace dropped and Barros looked to be almost crawling at one point as he tried to force Rossi to pass. The Italian, who'd been carefully watching Barros' every move, was reluctant to do so and the #4 star had to literally wave Rossi past – before vale returned the favour on the start-finish straight.
It was clear that both had learnt lessons from their previous battles, starting at Motegi where Barros had studied Rossi's lines for a while before spotting a weakness – exploiting it – and going on to take victory. Max Biaggi ruled out a repeat in Malaysia by outpacing the pair of them, but in Australia two weeks ago Rossi had followed Barros until the closing stages, whereupon he stole a late victory.
While Barros was commanding all the attention up front, his two-stroke team-mate's race came to an unscheduled end when he fell from his final ride before moving to Ducati. Capirossi's departure promoted McWilliams to top two-stroke in eighth.
Lap 22 of 30 and Barros had pinned the throttle back and was throwing down a clear challenge to Rossi: follow me if you can. The 32 year old Brazilian dropped his lap times down to low 1min 34secs and with the leading pair of RCV's squirming visibly under braking and acceleration the fight was well and truly on – with Rossi now facing the unenviable task of trying to pass Barros 'for real'.
Rossi's response was to dig deep and raise his game further, from laps 22 to 26 the gap between the two changed from 0.9secs, to 0.958secs – 0.718secs – 0.583secs – 0.374secs as the Repsol rider reeled in the machine ahead.
With three to go Rossi was near enough to make a move – but again chose not to and instead started the penultimate lap 0.4secs to the rear of Barros' Michelin – where would he try and make his move..? The last, tight, left hander looked likely if it came down to the final lap – but would Rossi instead try and surprise Barros was a move at turn one, using the slipstream, early on..?
Barros must have thought so and when Rossi was sucked forward and almost alongside on the last lap, Barros left his braking heart stopping late to compensate – too late in fact and he ran wide on the exit, over the kerbing and almost into the gravel. World he lose the second race in succession by making a braking error on the final lap..?
Rossi closed in for the kill, but as he turned inside Barros the GP veteran twisted his throttle sharply back and propelled himself over the kerbs and muscled back on track to hold the lead – just – as he chopped across Rossi at turn two – incredible.
Into the last part of the lap and Barros was holding on to the lead by fingertips, and must have known that the final turn would decide the race. As such he took a deliberately tight line under braking and entry for which Rossi just couldn't match.
As Barros accelerated out of the turn and towards the chequered flag, Rossi knew he'd been beaten and hung his head solemnly as he crossed the line 0.130secs behind the Brazilian – that hurt.
But Rossi being Rossi he wasn't about to dwell too long on what might have been and by the time Barros was punching the air with delight, Rossi too was waving to the fans before he, Barros and third placed Biaggi – whose efforts were rewarded by a standing ovation along the pit wall by his MYT crew.
The jubilant Barros – almost certainly in his last race for Honda before moving to Yamaha – eagerly obliged the local fans by stopping on his warm-down lap and watching the massive 'home made' firework display the Valencians' are so justifiably proud of.
Tetsuya Harada duly completed his final Grand Prix – in the points – in fourteenth after his unscheduled pitstop, while Pitt took usual points for Kawasaki with twelfth, behind Hopkins and Abe. Wild card David Garcia retired just after mid race distance after an impressive weekend.
“This race is very special for me,” beamed Barros in the post race pres conference. “It's almost certainly my last for the team after four years. I tried to push at the start, but when I saw Rossi close I decided to let him pass – then I got back ahead and pushed as hard as I could.
“I made a big mistake on the last lap under braking at turn one when the engine breaking caught me out,” admitted the Brazilian. “But I then braked really late at turn two and hung on.”
“Today Alex was faster than me,” began Rossi. “I gave it 100% but my only chance was a mistake by Barros because I couldn't attack him. At the last lap he made a small mistake but still braked 50m later than me at the next turn so no chance.”
In contrast to the glum looking Rossi, third placed Max Biaggi felt he'd achieved his objective – second in the World Championship. “I was a little disappointed I couldn't race anyone,” he began. “I tried my best, gave everything I could and just tried to control Kato and Ukawa behind me to secure second in the championship – which is a great result for where we were at the beginning of the year. We are second best and want to be the best, but lets see next year.”
Full results to follow…
7. vd Goorbergh