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Rossi wins titanic Brno battle

17 August 2003

Valentino Rossi rode arguable the race of his life in Brno today, taking revenge on Sete Gibernau by overtaking the Catalan on the final lap - after 22-laps of non-stop MotoGP heaven - and clinging on by just 0.04secs as the pair raced side-by-side to the chequered flag.

But the race was far from a two rider affair with the Ducati's of Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi both in contention under the closing stages.

Qualifying had seen Rossi match Max Biaggi's Friday battle cry by setting a new pole position record to puts him at the front of the MotoGP grid.

Biaggi, in desperate need of a victory as he looks to cut back a deficit of 57 points to Rossi, started the session with the psychological edge as he defended provisional pole but crashed just two minutes into the session and was forced to qualify on his reserve machine.

However, his time stood firm at the top of the standings until the final twelve minutes of the session, when Sete Gibernau set a fast lap to ignite an exciting finale. Moments later Nicky Hayden burst under the two minute mark for the first time to move up to second spot, only to be outdone by Biaggi and Checa with a minute remaining.

By this time Rossi was already mounting his late attack and the World Champion scorched to a time of 1min 58.708secs with just seconds left on the clock. Biaggi and Capirossi, whose modified Ducati ground to half earlier in the session, tried to react as the chequered flag fell, but both faltered and were forced to settle for third and fourth places respectively behind Gibernau in second.

Checa's chain broke halfway through the session but he returned to seal the front slot on the second row as Hayden was relegated to seventh by Troy Bayliss. The Australian's last gasp effort shaved almost two seconds off his provisional qualifying time and pushed Tohru Ukawa out to eighth.

Meanwhile, Shinya Nakano spent the afternoon in a local hospital after a huge crash in morning free practice left him with concussion and a swollen eye, but the Japanese rider miraculously escaped serious injury and would start today's race from fourteenth.

With nerves on a knife-edge, it was Bayliss who seized the early advantage as 24 (WCM's David de Gea didn't take the start due to a lack of spares) screaming MotoGP machines hurtled into the long 180-degree turn one to start the much anticipated 22-lap main event, with Rossi, Gibernau, Biaggi, Capirossi, Checa, Hayden and Barros following the Ducati star.

Biaggi soon worked his way past Gibernau to slot in behind his archrival, while Bayliss was impassable up front as a five-way fight between the Aussie, Rossi, Biaggi, Gibernau and Capirossi developed – with Checa and Hayden still in touch.

By lap 6 (of 22), what some believed would be a short-lived stint at the front for Bayliss was fast looking like genuine pace as he held his own ahead of Rossi, who in turn was having his every move carefully studied by Gibernau – all while Biaggi and Capirossi disputed fourth.

Was Rossi planning to use Bayliss as a blocker...?

All looked to be revealed when Rossi outbraked Bayliss to lead for the first time on lap 9 – only for Troy to tough it out around the outside and cut back ahead of the Italian, Sete must have been smiling as he watched the #46 being pushed around ahead of him.

Rossi tucked back into second for a further lap, then his patience ran out and after three further attempts in successive corners finally got ahead and tried to disappear. Gibernau read the situation and pushed past Bayliss with an all-or-nothing move half a lap later, leaving the pressure on fourth placed Biaggi (now in a Ducati sandwich) to do the same if he wanted his eighth Brno win.

So, by the midway point the top five - Rossi, Gibernau, Bayliss, Biaggi and Capirossi - were separated by just 1.1secs, and just a lap later there was a further lead change when Gibernau breezed past, leaving Vale with the combative Bayliss to contend with once again.

Meanwhile, falling back fast was Biaggi, who by lap 13 had slipped down the order to sixth (behind Checa, just ahead of Hayden) with mystery problems - the Roman Emperors already slim championship chances disappearing with every position lost.

But all eyes were now on the mouth watering Gibernau, Rossi, Bayliss and Capirossi fight up front, with the Ducatis showing no sign of fading – while Rossi lost out badly when he tried to grab the lead, but ran wide and slipped to fourth.

A truly fantastic display of motor racing skill then followed as all but Capirossi took turns to lead as all four fanned out across the wide Brno circuit and thrilled the fans with some ultra-brave overtaking moves.

Into the closing stages and there was still little to chose between the top four, with only Bayliss suffering visible tyre problems and slipping to fourth (behind Rossi, Gibernau and Capirossi) as a result – but the whole group was still covered by 0.5secs.

But Ducati's dream day would come to an end with three laps to go when Capirossi's V4 lost all drive and ground to a frustrating halt, leaving Bayliss a safe looking second ahead of Checa, while Rossi and Gibernau were now locked in a straight two way fight for victory.

Onto the penultimate lap and Rossi ran a touch wide, which was all Gibernau needed and before the Italian could correct himself the Catalan was alongside – and underneath. Clearly desperate to retaliate Rossi almost ran into the back of the blue Honda shortly after running wide yet again, but as the final lap began he was back on the #15's rear wheel.

Gibernau kept the lead for the first half of the lap before Rossi made a gutsy outbraking move at the bottom of the hill and somehow held his RCV on the racing line to prevent Sete cutting inside.

But it wasn't over yet and Gibernau was soon climbing all over the back of the orange RCV – and actually drew alongside through the final fast left-right sequence.
With both riders sliding their rear Michelins onto the start-finish straight, Gibernau looked to have the better drive - but Rossi ducked behind his fairing and clung on by 0.4secs, punching the air fiercely as he laid his Sachsenring ghosts to rest – while Sete slammed his head into the fuel tank in anger, before regaining his usual composure and politely congratulating his opponent.

Bayliss duly took another well-deserved podium to give Ducati some consolation after Capirossi's demise, while Checa rode consistently to fourth ahead of former team-mate Biaggi and Hayden.

Edwards was top Aprilia in twelfth, Pitt surprise top Kawasaki in sixteenth – just ahead of Suzuki's John Hopkins – while both WCMs, and Proton KRs, failed to finish.
Rossi's slow down lap saw possibly one of his most bizarre post race celebrations to date as members of his fan club – dressed as chain-gang prisoners in black and white stripped clothes, attached a fake ball and chain to Rossi's leg, then gave him a pick axe with which to hit a large rock…!

The podium celebrations were of equal magnitude as a clearly relived Rossi smiled from ear-to-ear as he took his fourth winner's trophy of the year, then ran to soak his team (still with ball and chain attached) after Sete did his best to drown the 24-year-old with his runner-up's bottle of Frexinet.

Rossi and Gibernau now have four wins each, but the Italian has extended his championship lead back up to 34 with six rounds to go.

Full results to follow...

1. Rossi
2. Gibernau
3. Bayliss
4. Checa
5. Biaggi
6. Hayden
7. Barros
8. Ukawa
9. Tamada
10. Melandri
11. Jacque
12. Edwards
13. Haga
14. Nakano
15. Kiyonari
16. Pitt
17. Hopkins
18. McCoy
19. Hofmann
20. Roberts


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