Rossi wins in Rio, Tamada takes podium
20 September 2003
Valentino Rossi dominated today's Rio Grand Prix, the Italian Superstar working his way steadily to the front then holding station for the remainder of the race, while behind him history was made as Makoto Tamada took his, Pramac Honda's and Bridgestone's first MotoGP podium.
Final qualifying had seen Rossi lap almost a second quicker under Max Biaggi's provisional pole time, the Repsol rider ensuring the front slot on the grid for today's race with a sensational time of 1min 49.038secs. Rossi's effort was 0.302 seconds quicker than closest challenger Loris Capirossi, who improved his own provisional time by almost a second on the Ducati.
Sete Gibernau crashed his Honda at the very end of the session but escaped without injury and would start from third, whilst Biaggi was unable to improve on his provisional pole time after crashing in morning practice, leaving him fourth on today's grid.
Troy Bayliss made significant progress in the final session to clock the fifth fastest time in the final seconds, closing the gap to the front row to just 0.166 seconds and provide real hope of another good showing for Ducati in today's main event.
Bayliss edged out the impressive Shinya Nakano, who makes the second row in sixth place for the second successive race, whilst Nicky Hayden quickly got to grips with the circuit on his first visit to Rio, qualifying seventh fastest ahead of Honda colleague Tohru Ukawa, who completes the second row.
Local favourite Alex Barros was unable to defend his provisional second row spot as the pace intensified yesterday and will start from the third row in eleventh. Colin Edwards did make a notable improvement on the Aprilia, moving up from twentieth place to twelfth and knocking Garry McCoy back to the fourth row in thirteenth - the Australian's best qualifying performance on the Kawasaki.
As well as Gibernau, John Hopkins and Olivier Jacque (twice) both crashed – Jacque suffered a nasty knock to his left foot, while Hopkins was left with multiple 'impact' injuries which would rule him out of today's race. Also in trouble, again, was WCM's Chris Burns – the unlucky Brit suffering a late gearbox problem that would put him several laps down.
Nevertheless, having seen two action packed support races, expectation was high for an equally thrilling main event, and when the red lights went out and the 22 rider field charged into the right hand turn one it was Capirossi who took the advantage – briefly, before Gibernau made a brave mood inside at turn two to head Loris, Rossi, Biaggi, Haydon, Bayliss (who nearly highsided at the start), Nakano, Tamada and Ukawa.
Rossi worked his way inside the Ducati rider towards the end of lap one, by which time Sete had stolen a 0.7secs jump on the chasing field, while the second Repsol Honda of Hayden was also threatening: the American crawling all over Biaggi for fourth.
It took just two laps for Rossi to reel Gibernau back in, and by the third lap the lead pack consisted of no less than twelve riders, with just 4.7secs separating Sete from Alex Barros.
Over the following laps, the group began to split in half as sixth placed Tamada pulled a small gap over Bayliss, to form part of the Gibernau, Rossi, Capirossi, Biaggi and Hayden battle ahead. And he wasn't done yet, the former WSBK race winner passed Hayden soon after – setting the fastest lap of the race in the process, and soon putting Biaggi under similar pressure.
Realising the situation, the Roman dived inside Capirossi for third on lap 7, leaving his fellow countryman to fend off the combative Japanese while he set his sights on the #46 machine ahead of him.
But he wouldn't have much chance to examine his enemy as the reigning world champion wasted no further time in overtaking Gibernau with a surprise move between corners. As is his habit, Rossi tried to leave the field shell shocked with an immediate new fastest lap, giving him a 0.7secs cushion by the end of lap 9.
Rossi then stretched away to the tune of 0.5secs a lap, but with over 14laps still to run The Doctor needed to walk a fine line between breaking the opposition and breaking his tyres. But for now everything was going his way, and instead all eyes were turning to the relentless charge of Tamada – who'd despatched Capirossi and was just 0.3secs from Biaggi and a potential podium finish!
Tamada put a precise move on Biaggi at the end of the long back straight, almost exactly on the halfway mark, and the seemingly unstoppable Pramac Honda rider then began closing the 1.8secs gap to Gibernau. Equally impressive was Hayden, who nailed fifth from Capirossi at around the same time, leaving Capirossi to round out the close fight for third between Tamada, Biaggi, Hayden and Capirossi.
Behind that quartet, Bayliss, Nakano and Ukawa were locked in a close fight for seventh, ahead of Fortuna Yamaha team-mate Checa and Melandri, with Barros, Edwards, Haga and Kiyonari completing the potential point's finishers with 10 laps to go.
With the top three – Rossi, Gibernau and Tamada – unable to make any impression on each other, the partying Rio crowd would be entertained by the Biaggi/Hayden battle as the sliding American attempted to stalk the four-times 250cc world champ.
As the race wound down Rossi was looking ever more comfortable with a 3.7secs advantage, although he was still firing flames from his under seat exhaust during hard braking, and getting his RCV sideways under power on the exit of most turns. Gibernau meanwhile, had checked Tamada's progress with a 4secs lead, although Makoto was clearly looking at his first podium finish and maintaining his comfortable buffer over the Biaggi/Hayden battle.
That pattern would continue to the flag, although Rossi's slides would get even bigger as he played to the fans in the closing stages, and he crossed to he line with fist in the air to win by 3.1secs from Gibernau, while Tamada duly took his, Pramac Honda and Bridgestone's first podium in the MotoGP class – the Japanese tyre company proving they've finally 'arrived' to take on the dominance of Michelin.
Behind the top three, Biaggi held of Hayden for fourth - in an all Honda top five - with Capirossi and Ukawa a lonely sixth and seventh respectively. Bayliss finished tenth on something of an off day for Ducati after their recent heroics, while home hero Barros came home just twelfth.
Both Aprilias and rookie Ryuichi Kiyonari rounded out the points, while McCoy joined Aoki, Jacque and Burns on the sidelines.
Full results to follow...
19. de Gea