Sete escapes to victory!
28 June 2003
Sete Gibernau started today's rain delayed Dutch TT as he would go on – launching from his second row start and diving underneath both Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi to take the lead through the fast kink that is turn one.
He and Biaggi then broke the opposition and were left elbowing each other as they exchanged the lead for the next nine laps – but the Roman couldn't stop Sete escaping to victory, in what was arguably the best race of his life.
Qualifying had seen Loris Capirossi add a second pole position to his growing collection of accolades with Ducati, the #65 outpacing fellow Italians Max Biaggi and Valentino Rossi to become the first rider to lap the historic TT circuit in under the two-minute mark.
Carlos Checa continued his improving form with the fastest time ever by a Yamaha M1 at Assen, completing the front row in fourth place. Checa's late effort knocked factory colleague Olivier Jacque back to the second row in fifth place, just moments after Jacque had done the same to team-mate Alex Barros.
The fourth factory Yamaha rider, Marco Melandri, also appeared briefly on the front row but eventually slipped to the back of the second row in eighth behind Sete Gibernau on the Honda.
Assen ace Colin Edwards was another victim of the late shuffle at the top of the time sheets, dropping all the way back to the third row in ninth despite having challenged Rossi and Capirossi for top spot throughout the session.
Into today, and all previous form was practically thrown out of the window by a post warm-up downpour, which had resulted in two first-time winners in the preceding 125 and 250cc races.
With the MotoGP stars having had no wet weather running at Assen this year – and to make matters even worse the track was now drying – the teams were forced to gamble on their race rubber and set-up.
Unlike the support races, full wets would now not be needed (unless the rain returned) and the majority of the field lined up on a mixture of slicks and/or intermediates – with frantic choices changing by the second... literally anything could happen in the next 19 laps.
To add to the confusion, the race was declared 'dry' minutes before the start, meaning that should the rain return, the race would be stopped and restarted (as happened at Le Mans). Only trouble was lots more rain looked to be on its way...
Regardless, that decision meant that riders would now gamble for a dryer set-up, since if it got wetter the race would now be stopped anyway. More frantic changes... Then guess what: As the riders made their way around the circuit on the formation lap – it began to rain... Lets start all over again.
Eventually the grid reformed 20-minutes later for what even the organisers now decided was a 'wet' race, with all riders reverting to a full wet set-up (including tyres, steel brakes, softer engine mapping, traction control settings) to suit the worsening conditions.
The 'wet race' decision, meant there was now no chance of stopping the event (whatever the weather did) and when the red lights finally disappeared to release the now 23-rider field, it was Biaggi and Rossi who were side-by-side into turn one – before Gibernau rocketed up the inside and threw his Telefonica RCV under the pair of them in brave move from the Spanish rain master.
Chasing the top three through the opening part of the lap were Jacque, Barros, Bayliss, Edwards and Melandri – pole sitter Capirossi having had a horrendous first few turns as he sought to tame his Desmosedici.
By contrast, team-mate Bayliss was putting his renowned wet weather skills to good use – slicing past Barros and soon attempting to follow the Brazilian's Gauloises Yamaha team-mate Jacque in finding a way around now fourth placed Rossi.
By lap two a lead group of seven – Gibernau, Biaggi, Jacque, Rossi, Bayliss, Barros and Edwards – were beginning to pull a gap over Checa, Ukawa, Melandri, Capirossi, Hayden, Kagayama and Hofmann, while Biaggi put a move on Gibernau as he attempted to up the pace.
Gibernau settled into the #3's tow, and the pair were soon leaving the rest of the pack to contest third as they swapped the lead several times, whilst setting new lap records with every circulation.
Biaggi still held the lead over the line at the start of lap four, but Gibernau then made his move inside the Italian on the run up to turn one - the two almost interlocking elbows at 150mph - before Biaggi gave the Telefonica rider room to slot ahead.
But behind the pair an Aprilia former WSBK ace was making waves through the water – and it wasn't Edwards. Haga had now worked his way into eighth and was the fastest man on the track as he closed down his illustrious team-mate ahead of him.
Meanwhile, Rossi and Bayliss were back ahead of Jacque and leaving the Frenchman behind to deal with Barros and the two closing RS Cubes.
Lap five saw Bayliss pull off the type of brave move he was so famous for in the SBK days as he swung his V4 around the outside of Rossi through a high speed curve, and set his eyes on the 1.5secs of clear race track between himself and Biaggi.
Unfortunately for the Aussie, his progress would come to an end shortly after when he ran off track and fell from his Marlboro machine, sliding through the grass and into the gravel. His only good luck was that the bike didn't stall and he was left to try for a Silverstone 2002 comeback repeat from 16th (just behind Nakano, and ahead of McWilliams).
Approaching the midway point of the 19 laps and the rain had now stopped, although with no wind the circuit wasn't ever going to dry, although a dryer line would start to develop.
Of note was that Kawasaki wild-card Hofmann was completing his portfolio of skills (testing, qualifying, dry races etc) by showing off his duck like rain abilities – the German was tenth for most of the race, battling Honda RCVs and Yamaha M1s – and ahead of the Suzukis, Protons and his ZX-RR team-mates.
Up front, it was clear that even without the pressure of Bayliss, Rossi could do nothing about the riders ahead of him. Gibernau and Biaggi were still just 0.5secs apart, but the Repsol rider was 4.5secs adrift. However, on the move were Haga and Checa, the Japanese overtaking his team-mate for fifth, while the Spaniard seized seventh from Barros.
Exactly on the halfway point, a decisive moment was reached when Gibernau and Biaggi began dealing with backmarkers – Sete slotting ahead of McCoy into the final chicane, but the Aussie couldn't move out of Biaggi's way and nearly high-sided trying.
The Roman would claw back the time lost, but by lap 11 Gibernau was starting to look as if he was on another racetrack to the rest of the field – lapping just 10secs from (dry) pole time and 2secs faster than anyone else.
Biaggi certainly hadn't settled for second, but when the Italian's customer spec Honda was seen wheel spinning all along the curved home straight it was clear he was suffering severe tyre grip problems and would need to concentrate on holding the 8secs gap to Rossi, in the remaining 8 laps.
Last place Aoki's event to forget almost came to a painful end on lap 12 when he fell from his V5, only to slide across the grass and back onto the circuit in front of Barros.
Somehow the Brazilian missed the Japanese, but it was so close he immediately checked back to be see if he he'd hit him. The view that greeted him of Aoki scampering away would no doubt have been of great relief.
Aoki's exit marked the end of Proton's day, with McWilliams having crashed out of 17th two laps earlier.
Attention now turned to the four-way fight for fourth between Haga, Checa, Jacque Edwards and Capirossi. Having been as quick as anyone for most of the race, Haga was now starting to find himself on the receiving end of pressure from Checa – and with two laps to go the Fortuna Yamaha rider would find a way past 'Nitro Nori'.
Perhaps eager to retaliate, Haga pushed his three-cylinder a little too hard on the exit of a curve – spitting him over the side and down the road at over 100mph. The Japanese was unhurt, but after throwing away Aprilias best ever MotoGP finish he was naturally more than a little frustrated.
Haga's departure left Checa a safe fourth, while Jacque would face pressure from Capirossi right to the flag.
Up front, Gibernau had simply gone faster and faster as the laps wound down, and crossed the line for his third victory of the year – and Michelin's 300th premier class triumph – standing upright with both hands out as if to ask where everyone had gone.
The answer was they were still led by Biaggi, but 10.1secs behind. Nevertheless, Max was delighted to have beat Rossi by 3.8secs at the flag, after taming his increasingly tail happy Camel Honda.
Checa duly took his second fourth in a row, from Jacque, Capirossi, Edwards and Barros – while Bayliss deprived Hofmann of ninth (inherited when Haga fell) on the very last lap. Nevertheless, the German still beat (of the finishers) four Hondas, a Suzuki, a Yamaha and his team-mates Pitt and McCoy.
Yukio Kagayama had been in the thick of the action in thirteenth (and ahead of Suzuki team-mate Hopkins) when he fell with five laps to go, while Melandri was forced to retire with apparent mechanical problems on the same lap.
Hopkins would bring his GSR-V home in fifteenth for the final world championship point.
Full results to follow...