Gibernau takes dream win!
27 April 2003
Sete Gibernau rode a faultless race at South Africa today, passing early leader Troy Bayliss and holding off Valentino Rossi in a fabulous final five lap showdown, that resulted in the Spaniard taking his second ever premier class victory, and a perfect tribute to his late team-mate Daijiro Kato.
Yesterday, Gibernau claimed a highly emotional first ever MotoGP class pole position, less than a week after his team-mate Daijiro Kato died of injuries sustained at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The weight on Gibernau's shoulders this weekend has been immense, and the Spaniard produced a performance that would have made the #74 proud as he outpaced Valentino Rossi (making his 50th premier class start today), Max Biaggi (looking to become the highest ever GP points scorer, should he finish 11th or above) and Loris Capirossi (who took Ducati's first GP podium since 1972 at Suzuka).
Meanwhile, Rossi, Biaggi and Capirossi were also looking to claim Italy's 150th premier class victory, which would put them level with current record holders America.
Fifth placed Nakano was delighted with his top Yamaha accolade, while Edwards and former WSBK rival Bayliss looked ready to shake up the established stars today, starting from eighth and ninth respectively.
But before the grid lined up, the GP paddock - as well as fans at Welkom and around the world - held a minute silence to remember Daijiro Kato.
In what was naturally a highly emotional moment, Gibernau and the Telefonica Movistar team stood together with a pit board paying tribute to their fallen comrade, while Team Boss Fausto Gresini held one of Kato's helmets, complete with a picture of the #74 in action attached to the visor.
With their respects paid, the riders began the difficult task of getting back into 'race mode' - just as lifelong racer Kato would have wanted - and the grid soon assembled, ready for the 2.00pm (local time) start, under the intense African sun.
With the riders anxiously waiting for the lights to disappear, the start was red flagged with just seconds to go when it became apparent that Kenny Roberts' Suzuki had blown-up on the warm-up lap, depositing what turned out to be a huge amount of oil on the circuit.
Marshals quickly attempted to clean up the mess, with a rather generous amount of cement dust, while other riders rushed to ask Kenny where the problem had occurred, for their own safety. Between (the quick) turns 3 and 5 was his answer.
The machines then returned to the pitlane to top up their fuel and wait for the start procedure to begin again for what would be a full (28 lap) race, while Suzuki also set to work on a spare bike for KR Jr.
Following a 50-minute delay, the second start procedure began without problem, but as soon as the lights went out Nakano almost stalled his M1, causing the field to take evasive action – but no sooner had that near miss taken place than Colin Edwards veered sharply to his right, on the run down to turn one, and slammed into McWilliams.
It was unclear exactly what had triggered the accident, the Texan's right foot just seemed to come off its peg (possibly after tangling with Hopkins) then the bike speared to the right and, since Edwards started on the left of the grid, sent him straight into the pack.
A number of riders were collected, with McWilliams losing out the most as he was forced off track and into retirement – although he kept it on two wheels – and even managed to avoid the tumbling Edwards who almost fell under his machine.
The double WSBK champ limped away unaided from the heavy accident and was taken to the medical centre and, fortunately, any injuries are not thought to be severe.
The chaos at turn one, combined with the apprehension of the front row riders – who would have been first through the cement dust – played right into the hands of Troy Bayliss and from his ninth placed start the Aussie was leading the field by the mid point of lap one. Fantastic.
And he wasn't just leading in some kind of 'got lucky, lets see how long I can stay here' way, the #12 was riding with the kind of confidence that made him such a WSBK legend, and proving he'd lost none of his fight.
So by the end of a chaotic first lap the order was: Bayliss, from Gibernau, Biaggi, Rossi, Abe, Ukawa, Hayden, Checa and Barros – with Capirossi having run well wide during that lap, dropping him back to 13th.
The feisty Italian was soon wringing everything he could to get back on terms with the leaders, working his way up to 11th by lap 9, at which point he ran wide again – this time only just missing the tyre barrier - before calling it a day and returning to the pits with some kind of 'problem'.
Meanwhile, up front Bayliss – who was being shadowed by Gibernau – was starting to slide the rear of his bike more and more on the notoriously tyre eating circuit, and it was no surprise when (on lap 10) he ran slightly wide after a rear wheel slide under braking, allowing the Telefonica machine to take the lead.
Despite his best efforts it wasn't long before Biaggi and Rossi had caught the Desmosedici, and it would be another mistake which gifted Biaggi second – but Rossi was soon to find it wouldn't be that easy for him.
The World Champion made his move soon after Biaggi, but must have been more than a little surprised when Bayliss retaliated by sticking his front wheel back under the Repsol Honda at the next turn... Rossi held firm, but then ran wide himself (at the same place he lost the 2002 race to Ukawa) – giving Bayliss the position back. That wasn't in the script.
By now Rossi was looking more aggressive than he's ridden for a long time, and with his RCV's rear wheel skipping under him, he went back ahead of Troy. But rather than setting about dropping the Ducati and closing down the 2sec gap to Biaggi, Vale slipped up again and Bayliss was only too pleased to grab the place back.
The five lap battle between them came to an end on lap 18 when Rossi made what would be his final pass on the Australian, who now just didn't have the rubber to hold a tight line and keep the throttle pinned.
By this stage Gibernau had a 2.5secs lead over Biaggi, with Rossi needing 1.5secs to catch the Camel rider.
Behind the top quartet, Abe, Ukawa and Barros were fighting just as furiously for fifth, with Norick surprising many by catching then passing his quick starting temporary team-mate Checa (now eighth, behind Hayden) to be top Yamaha heading into the final third of the race.
Man on the move in that group was Barros – clearly eyeing the top M1 title – who carved his way past Ukawa with 7 to go, then made short work of Abe, but Bayliss would be out of reach.
Instead, up front Rossi and Biaggi were beginning to reel Sete in, and the alarm bells were raised in the Gresini pits when Rossi – clearly the fastest man on track thanks to his harder (dual compound) tyres - took advantage of a Biaggi error to take second with five laps to go.
Over the next four laps Rossi cut the gap to Gibernau from 2.4secs, to 1.9secs, then 1.2secs, then 0.5secs at the start of the last lap. The tension was exhaustive in itself as all but Rossi's Repsol team willed the Catalan on.
With the Gresini team barely able to watch, Rossi – now riding with his usual smooth style – cut 0.2secs out of Gibernau's lead in the first sector, but Sete fought back through the fast middle part of the lap, and despite his RCV squirming underneath him, the #15 held firm through the final sequence of corners to take one of the most emotional victories in MotoGP history.
Immediately after crossing the line, Sete threw both hands in the air and pointed to the heavens in a clear gesture to his lost team-mate, which he repeated for the remainder of his slow down lap.
When he pulled into parc ferme, the Telefonica team – too overcome for words – simply mobbed the visibly exhausted 30-year-old, no-one quite knowing what to say after such a momentous, and yet reflective day, which had ended in nothing less than a fairytale manner.
Biaggi duly finished 4secs behind in third - to claim his place in history as the highest ever GP points scorer - with Bayliss a further seven seconds back to record his best finish in his short GP career. Ducati have now also led at both Grands Prix of the season so far, and were once again Hondas only real challenge.
Top Yamaha Barros was six seconds behind the Australian, with the Gauloises rider - together with Ukawa, Hayden and Abe - all nose-to-tail at the flag.
Checa took a distant ninth ahead of Jacque, while Nakano recovered to 11th after his startline disaster. Aoki brought his two-stroke home in an uneventful 12th, with Hopkins top Suzuki in 13th.
Tamada took 14th, ahead of Kenny Roberts and the two Kawasakis. A rider of McCoy's calibre will be devastated with his last place, although he at least gave the paying fans value for money by lighting up the rear - and leaving clouds of smoke - at every opportunity during the near hour long race.
Haga completed a weekend to forget for Aprilia by retiring with unknown problems on lap 13... thought to be a result of damage sustained during his team-mates first lap accident.
But the day rightfully belonged to Gibernau and the Gresini team, who have endured so much in recent weeks.
As Max Biaggi said after Sete took pole yesterday, some things are just meant to be.
The #74 must have been smiling.
Full results to follow...