Sete shines through Spanish rain
2 May 2004
Sete Gibernau has won a wet Spanish Grand Prix after a perfect ride in treacherous conditions saw the Telefonica Honda rider absorb race long pressure from Max Biaggi, to take his first victory of the season.
Just as Welkom had been a two rider race, so was Jerez, but this time world champion Valentino Rossi would play only a supporting role after it became clear that his Yamaha didn't have a suitable set-up to fight at the front.
Gibernau led into turn one ahead of the #46, but Biaggi would pass his countryman on lap two and Rossi was soon in the unfamiliar situation of having the likes of Yamaha team-mates Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri blast past him.
Rossi's M1 simply never looked comfortable on the soaking circuit and after a few relatively minor warnings from the rear wheel, Vale was thrown out of the seat on lap 12 of 27 when his machine tried to highside him.
Although he managed to save it, the mistake cost Rossi fourth as Alex Barros shot past and - after re-passing a fading Checa - Valentino would spend the remainder of the race trying to hold position.
Rossi's lack of pace left Melandri as top Yamaha and although dropped by the top two Hondas, the Tech 3 rider would hold a strong third until - with 8 laps to go - he fell from what would have been his first MotoGP podium, handing the position to Barros.
Not that Melandri was alone in falling; the treacherous nature of the circuit meant that Ruben Xaus, Troy Bayliss and Shane Byrne all fell into retirement within the first two laps, while the likes of Capirossi and Fabrizio would run off track before taking the chequered flag.
Meanwhile, having shadowed Gibernau right from lap one, Biaggi outbraked the Catalan for the lead at the halfway point – just as even more rain began to fall. Whether Max simply felt the time was right to pass or was worried that the race would be red flagged remains uncertain, but he would keep the lead for just one lap before running wide and losing the position.
Despite that mistake, Biaggi remained locked to the #15's rear wheel as the pair pulled further and further away from field - and with eight laps remaining the battling duo held a 27secs lead over third placed Barros. That would almost double by the end.
The crucial moment came with five laps to go when Gibernau pulled a one-second lead - his biggest advantage over Biaggi since the Roman had moved into second - and Sete's plan to break the former multiple 250cc world champion before the last laps worked perfectly as he firstly held that gap, while Biaggi attacked, then increased it..
Sete thus began the last lap with a two-second lead, enough to prevent a lunge from Biaggi and careful passing of further lapped riders, now inside the top ten, ensured Max was never in a position to deny Gibernau an emotional home victory.
The Telefonica rider, who'd been playing down his chances all weekend, was as animated as ever when he finally crossed the line to celebrate with the 100,000 plus Jerez crowd.
Biaggi wasn't too disappointed either, and the near 50-second margin between himself and Barros proved that once again he'd raised his game... but once again another rider had raised there's just a tiny bit more.
Nevertheless, both Gibernau and Biaggi are now ahead of Rossi in the title chase, with Sete a point ahead of Max, and Valentino a further two points back.
Indeed, The Doctor could have been further behind had he not managed to hold off a charging Nicky Hayden, the American making an impressive comeback after being bumped down the order early on to close to within a few tenths of Rossi by the flag – how Repsol Honda would have loved it if he'd beaten him...
Behind Hayden, Checa recovered from his mid race fade to finish sixth, ahead of Colin Edwards, while Kenny Roberts picked up his first points of the year with eighth for Suzuki.
Nakano also had a strong end to the race for Kawasaki's first top ten of the year, while Michel Fabrizio gave WCM a dream day by taking tenth, despite his earlier fall.
Abe, Capirossi, Hofmann, Aoki and Hopkins completed both the point's finishers and total finishers after eight riders failed to reach the flag.
Of those, Neil Hodgson was arguably the most unlucky, the reigning World Superbike champion having ridden faultlessly in only his second MotoGP start to rise as high as seventh on lap 17 when he passed Checa... only for his d'Antin Ducati to break down for the second race in succession shortly after.
Race results – Spanish Grand Prix: