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Rossi rules in Portugal

7 September 2003

Valentino Rossi became the first rider in 2003 to take back-to-back MotoGP victories today at Estoril, the Italian overcoming early leader Max Biaggi to take a comprehensive victory – while the final podium position would be decided right at the line.

Qualifying had seen Loris Capirossi claim his third pole position for Ducati as Italian supremacy once again shone through with Capirossi, Biaggi and Rossi sweeping the front three positions. Capirossi's time of 1min 38.412secs was also a new pole position record and the former 125cc and 250cc World Champion admitted even he was surprised by his pace.

Behind the Italian trio, Sete Gibernau was forced to settle for a front row start in fourth, despite improving his time on his second machine after first crashing and then running into the gravel as he pushed to improve his rhythm.

After setting the second fastest time yesterday, Olivier Jacque was baulked by a slower rider in the final two sections of a last gasp lap which had him on course to snatch pole. However, the Frenchman equalled his best ever grid position on the Yamaha M1 with fifth place, just ahead of former team-mate Shinya Nakano. The pair are joined on the second row by factory colleague Carlos Checa and the second Ducati ridden by Troy Bayliss.

Tohru Ukawa was one of the major victims of the improved pace, dropping from the front row to the third, where he was joined by Makoto Tamada, Marco Melandri and Alex Barros.

Further down the order, Spanish rider David De Gea would pilot the WCM four-stroke on its race debut from 22nd on the grid - ahead of 2000 winner Garry McCoy's factory Kawasaki, Nobuatsu Aoki's Proton V5 and his own team-mate Chris Burns - who unfortunately wouldn't start after damaging his machine in a morning warm-up fall.

Onto race day, and when the red lights disappeared it was something of a surprise to see Biaggi beat Capirossi's fast starting Ducati into turn one, while Gibernau tucked into third ahead of Rossi, Bayliss Jacque, Nakano, Ukawa and Checa.

That order would remain to the end of the first lap, when Rossi slipstreamed past Gibernau for third by turn one – then pitched his RCV inside Capirossi a few turns later to set his sights on the rapid Roman up front.

It took Vale just two laps to close Biaggi's slim lead and shape the battle at the front into a two-by-two-by-one affair with he and Biaggi contesting the lead, Capirossi and Gibernau fighting over third (0.7secs behind) and fifth placed Bayliss dropping back into the clutches of Melandri and Ukawa.

Biaggi, riding with the latest un-silenced RCV exhausts for the first time, continued to thwart Rossi's efforts to pass him for the next ten laps, but got the 'hurry-up' call when nearest championship rival Gibernau was released from behind Capirossi when the #65 ran wide on lap 11 (of 28).

However, despite almost hitting his rival's rear wheel at almost every turn, Rossi would remain second until lap 13 when he smoothly slipstreamed alongside the yellow Camel liveried machine and took the lead into turn one.

Rossi – eager to avoid a repeat of the last lap battles of recent events - then set about breaking the opposition, knocking out a 1min 39.3secs stunner to claim a 1secs lead next time over the line, with Gibernau/Capirossi a further 2.4/3.4secs back.

Meanwhile, Bayliss was fast recovering after looking to struggle with early grip problems. The Aussie was firmly back to fighting form by lap 17 and battling to retake Melandri and Ukawa (respectively) for fifth.

With three to go, Bayliss had dropped Melandri and was crawling all over Ukawa, while team-mate Capirossi was doing likewise with Gibernau for the final podium place.

However, the top two poistions were effectively 'locked down' with Rossi 3.6secs ahead of Biaggi, who in turn held the same sizable advantage over the Calalan.

Of the battles to be decided, Capirossi stung Sete for third with a brave outbraking move into turn one on the last lap, but Gibernau responded to cut inside the #65 at the chicane and looked to have third in the bag – before being left stunned as Capirossi rocketed out of the final turn and shot past on a pure horsepower fight to the flag.

But some 5secs ahead of the photo finish for third, Rossi was already celebrating his fifth victory of the year; becoming the first rider to win back-to-back races this year; matching Mick Doohan's records of 17 consecutive podium finishes – and increasing his championship lead over Gibernau.

Vale and his Repsol Honda team were clearly ecstatic at a return to their dominance of the past, and after celebrating in spectacular style on his slow down lap, Rossi grabbed a toy monkey in parc ferme... then carried it on his shoulders to the podium!

Further back, Ukawa held off Bayliss for fifth, ahead of Melandri, Checa and a fighting Hayden. Tamada made a welcome return to form with tenth, while the Aprilias / Suzukis / Protons finished two-by-two in 14th and 15th /17th and 18th / 19th and 20th respectively.

Pitt was sole finishing Kawasaki in 21st, just ahead of David de Gea – who took the WCM four-stroke to its first finish.

Full results to follow...

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


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