Capirossi crowned king of Catalunya
15 June 2003
Loris Capirossi took Ducati's first ever MotoGP victory today in a nail biting Catalan Grand Prix, which came to life when the tyres of then leaders Rossi, Capirossi, Biaggi and Gibernau began to slide in the scorching heat.
The action then turned frantic when Rossi missed his braking point twice, allowing Loris through and leaving the Repsol rider to make a tyre-smoking comeback from sixth...
Final qualifying had seen sizzling temperatures prevent many riders from improving on their provisional qualifying times and meant that Valentino Rossi's pole remained untouched.
The Italian could not beat his own previous best of 1min 43.927secs, but neither could any of the other riders, with only Olivier Jacque improving out of the top four.
Jacque qualified third to seal his second front row start in the MotoGP class - his first since setting pole position at the Sachsenring last year. Pole setter Rossi and second placed Loris Capirossi survived the 'Jacque attack', but home favourite Sete Gibernau was pushed to the outside of the front row, while the Frenchman's former team-mate Shinya Nakano was dropped to the second row.
Nakano was eventually edged further back by Jacque's current team-mate Alex Barros, who rose three places from his provisional position to seal fifth. Colin Edwards was in impressive form throughout the day, having set the fifth quickest time this morning, and he continued his progression on the Aprilia to move up to the second row in the afternoon. His final qualifying position of seventh is his highest so far in the MotoGP class.
Carlos Checa makes up the second row riding the Yamaha, after edging out his former team-mate Max Biaggi for eighth.
There were slight changes further down the grid, with Jeremy McWilliams – due to make his 150yth GP start today - improving two places to seventeenth on the Proton V5. The bike only made its race debut last weekend at Mugello, but McWilliams would start today's race ahead of two Honda RCVs and two Kawasakis.
When the red lights went out on today's grid, it was Capirossi who once again took the holeshot, leading Rossi, Gibernau, Jacque, Biaggi, Nakano, Barros, Checa, Melandri, Ukawa, Hayden, Edwards and Bayliss around the first chicane.
Eliminated soon after were McWilliams, Pitt and Yanagawa – last placed Pitt missing his braking point by miles into a tight right-hander and (despite hanging his inside leg off the footpeg to try and turn tighter) impact with the field in front was inevitable.
The #88 slammed into the Proton V5 of McWilliams, then the pair of them took out Pitt's Kawasaki team-mate Akira Yanagawa.
The Ulsterman immediately made his feelings clear as he furiously gave the embarrassed Australian a dressing down as they walked from the gravel trap, while behind them the unfortunate Yanagawa was left needing medical treatment for apparent chest injuries after having two bikes land on him.
Back on track and Rossi was now ahead of Capirossi, while Biaggi was soon working his way past Jacque and then Gibernau for an all-Italian top three. Meanwhile, Checa, Nakano and Barros were lining up to deprive Yamaha colleague Jacque further.
But playing no further part by lap six was WSBK champ Colin Edwards. Edwards had squandering his second row start after another poor getaway to leave him battling with countryman Hayden for 11th.
However, worse was to follow when his Aprilia suddenly cut out at the end of the straight on lap 5. He was able to restart the machine after losing five positions, only fir it to 'die' again a lap later, leaving the Texan to cruise into the pits and retirement.
Up front the race was developing into a two-by-two-by-two pattern, with Rossi and Capirossi 0.5secs clear of Biaggi and Gibernau, who in turn were 0.7secs ahead of Checa and Nakano.
So, by the midway point the order was: Rossi, Capirossi, Biaggi, Gibernau, Checa, Nakano, Ukawa, Barros, Hayden, Bayliss and Tamada. Jacque had now faded rapidly to 12th, before crashing out.
The close, but somewhat tactical race, really came alive with 9 (of the 25) laps top go when Rossi, desperate to drop the hounding Capirossi, missed his breaking point at the end of the back straight – allowing Loris to dive inside and into the lead.
Within a few corners Rossi was back on the Desmosedici's rear wheel, only to make yet another mistake in the early part of lap 17 when he narrowly avoided ramming the Ducati's rear, and was forced to sit up and run wide through the gravel, before rejoining in sixth, 4secs behind fifth placed Nakano.
Now the race was really on: Rossi could conceivably still win, but it would all depend on how soon he could get through Nakano, Checa, Gibernau and Biaggi – while Capirossi was now aware that he had Ducati's first ever GP victory within his grasp.
Rossi immediately punched out the fastest laps of the race as he closed the clear air between himself and the D'Antin rider, whilst Biaggi and Gibernau began squabbling over second – and were reducing Capirossi's 1.8secs lead by up to 0.5secs a lap!
But behind them the #46 was looming, and wit three laps to go he outbraked Nakano for fifth into turn one, then dispatched Checa a few turns later, before setting his sights on Biaggi (who'd been slipstreamed by Gibernau on the main straight). He arrived on the Camel rider's rear wheel at the end of the back straight and again took no prisoners as he immediately dived inside the Roman for third into the uphill left-hander.
Biaggi wasn't having that and returned the move mere metres later – only for Rossi to immediatley re-pass him on the entry to the final fast right-handers.
A truly fantastic lap by Vale was made complete when he took second from Gibernau into turn one on the penultimate lap – that meant the Repsol rider had shot from sixth to second in exactly one circulation.
Seeing Rossi escaping, Biaggi turned up the heat on fans favourite Gibernau, getting a run on the Barcelona born star onto the back straight and putting an outbraking move on him for third, or so he thought...
...As the Roman hit the brakes and eased ahead of the Telefonica Honda, his back wheel began skipping and he simply couldn't lower his speed enough to take the turn, forcing him to sit up and charge into – and through – the gravel, holding his Camel liveried racer right until it slammed into the tyre wall.
Both rider and bike were relatively unharmed and he would rejoin to finish 14th.
Onto the last lap and Rossi was giving his all to eat up the 1.5secs gap to Capirossi, sliding his rear wheel spectacularly around the sweeping Catalunya curves – but he would run out of time and with the #65 riding faultlessly to the flag was helpless to prevent the much anticipated first Ducati victory.
Behind them Gibernau took a safe third, while Nakano and Checa swapped placed several time on the final lap before the Spaniard secured fourth – and top Yamaha.
Capirossi was cheered over the line by his deliriously delighted Ducati team, jumping up and down on the pit wall, while Rossi took a sporting second – riding side saddle as he waved to the fans on the start finish straight after taking the flag, before sincerely congratulating Capirossi.
Loris himself was shaking is head with disbelief and literally fell to his knees with emotion as he returned to the pits and the waiting Marlboro Ducati team.
Further back Tamada utilised his Bridgestoen tyres for yet another late race charge, this time up to seveth, while Hayden will draw comfort from holding off Bayliss (who ran off track) for ninth.
The newest of the MotoGP rookies, Ryuichi Kiyonari had his best ride to date with eleventh - ahead of Haga and Melandri.
Lone Suzuki rider John Hopkins took the final point, while Aoki and McCoy completed the finishers.
Full results to follow...