Gibernau defeats Rossi in photo finish
27 July 2003
Sete Gibernau won today's German Grand Prix by just 0.06secs after emerging victorious from a fierce race long fight with Valentino Rossi, that looked to be going the Italian's way until the very final corner.
Rossi had led from turn one, only to find himself caught by the Spaniard, whom he then let by at two-thirds distance. With the Repsol rider studying the Catalan's every move a last lap pass was inevitable and he duly took Sete on the penultimate turn - but the race wasn't over...
Qualifying saw Max Biaggi take his second in a row after snatching the top spot from Jeremy McWilliams by just 0.002secs - officially the closest ever premier-class pole position - after the British rider looked set to take an historic pole on what promises to be the final outing for the nimble Proton KR3 machine at this tight and twisty circuit.
Loris Capirossi also produced an excellent late lap to gatecrash the front row despite the fact that his Ducati had never completed a single lap at the Sachsenring before this weekend. Meanwhile, Valentino Rossi - still suffering the effects of a cold – was left fourth.
Whilst Capirossi was the surprise package on the front row, his team-mate Troy Bayliss did likewise on the second row, qualifying sixth fastest on his first visit to this difficult track. Sete Gibernau starts from just in front of the Australian in fifth, whilst Carlos Checa and Tohru Ukawa complete the second row.
Nobuatsu Aoki was unable to match the efforts of team-mate McWilliams after an excellent last lap faded in the final section, leaving him ninth. The Yamaha trio Shinya Nakano, Alex Barros and Marco Melandri complete the third row with a little over a second separating the top fifteen riders.
Into today's race and when the red lights disappeared the Ducatis made their now usual strong starts, but Rossi would outbrake Capirossi into turn one, with Bayliss third, ahead of Gibernau, Melandri, McWilliams, Ukawa, Jacque, Aoki and a poor starting Biaggi.
Gibernau soon pushed his way past Bayliss, but by lap three Rossi had a visible advantage over Capirossi and the rest of the field, the #65 struggling on his spare machine after watching his number one bike burn this morning. The Italian would lose two places at once later that lap when both Gibernau and Melandri broke through together.
However, with Melandri passing Gibernau as well as Capirossi, the Catalan first faced repassing the reigning 250cc champ before he could turn his attention to Rossi. This he achieved within a lap and the #15 Telefonica Honda was soon closing the 2.5secs gap.
Meanwhile, Biaggi was clawing his way back up the order after his dreadful start – holding sixth behind Capirossi by lap four and lapping faster than anyone. His rise through the pack continued unchecked until he came upon Bayliss, now third, who refused to budge.
Clearly being held up, Biaggi finally forced his way past the #12 through a right-left flick on lap 10, paving the way clear for him to attack the fellow RCVs of Gibernau (2secs ahead) and Rossi (a further 1.1secs).
However, disaster struck less than a lap later for the Roman when he lost the front on the apex of a high speed left hander, sending the shocked #3 cartwheeling through the gravel trap and into his first retirement of the year.
Biaggi's demise left the top two now 3secs clear of Bayliss, the Australian now a lonely third, with the frantic battle for fourth between Melandri, Checa, Ukawa and Hayden taking place over 5secs behind him.
Gibernau, riding the screaming 'unsilenced' RCV, continued to reel in Rossi, and after studying the Italian for several laps dived inside the Repsol rider into turn one, on lap 20 – but Rossi appeared to want him to lead...
The #46 then hounded the three-times 2003 race winner, shadowing his every move and making 'dummy' overtaking manoeuvres at almost every turn in an attempt to either unsettle Sete or simply plan his final attack.
The championship top two circulated in nose-to-tail formation right until the penultimate lap when Gibernau attempted to escape, but Rossi responded and the two began the last lap just 0.23secs apart.
Gibernau led most of the lap, but Rossi stuck to his plan and outbraked the Spaniard on the downhill left hander with just a few turns to go. Vale then took a defensive line into the final turn to ensure his victory - but bobbled slightly as he did so.
By contrast, Sete swung through the apex and cut inside the reigning world champion as the pair began a frantic uphill drag race to the flag. With momentum on his side the Spaniard ducked behind his fairing and beat a shell shocked, and fuming, Rossi by just 0.06secs – fantastic.
Gibernau couldn't contain his delight as he crossed the line, while Rossi was left shaking his head – and looking decidedly 'sulky' on the podium, his loss made painfully worse by Gibernau's ecstatic celebrations and more than one 'firm' stare was exchanged between the pair.
Looks like Vale will have plenty to think about in the two-week gap to Brno.
Meanwhile, Bayliss took his second podium finish with a lonely third, while team-mate Capirossi just nipped ahead of Nicky Hayden on the last lap for fourth – the AMA champ having the best race of his young GP career.
Melandri crashed out of the fight for fourth with six laps to go, joining early race faller Haga in the gravel, whilst Hopkins was forced to retire when his engine let go. The already injured Barros crashed from his Yamaha at the midway point.
McWilliams faded from his early effort and eventually finished twelfth, one place behind Aoki, while Kenny Roberts marked his return to GP action in 15th. McCoy was top Kawasaki one place behind him and ahead of home hero Hofmann.
Gibernau has now cut Rossi's lead to 29 points, with four race wins to Rossi's three.
Full results to follow...
20. de Gea