Tamada wins wild Rio GP!
4 July 2004
The Valentino Rossi/Sete Gibernau stranglehold on MotoGP 2004 ended in dramatic fashion at Rio today, when Makoto Tamada took his first ever GP victory after a thrilling seventh event of the season – which saw both championship leaders crash out and Bridgestone break Michelin's domination of the premier-class.
Yesterday, Kenny Roberts shocked the MotoGP world when he and Suzuki returned to the top for the first time in four years – and gave Bridgestone their first MotoGP pole since Australia 2002.
The surprises then continued further down the order as Max Biaggi (second) and Nicky Hayden (third) left no room on the front row for championship leaders Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau: Rossi struggled to adapt his M1 to the Jacarepagua track and qualified just eighth, while Gibernau was demoted to second row after running out of time to use a qualifying tyre.
Joining the Spaniard on row two would be Honda colleague, and home hero, Alex Barros (fifth) and Ducati's Loris Capirossi, who recorded his best grid position of the season so far with sixth. Makoto Tamada, who scored his only MotoGP podium at Rio last year, was the next best Bridgestone user behind Roberts, in seventh, one place ahead of Rossi and the top Kawasaki of Shinya Nakano.
Morning warm-up had seen Gibernau prove that - despite his final qualifying woes - he still had an enviable race pace; leading the 20-minute session from the fellow RC211V of Hayden (+0.194secs) - with Barros, Tamada and Biaggi ahead of pole sitter Roberts (+0.6secs) and Rossi (+0.66secs) left seventh.
When the red lights went out several hours later, Roberts immediately found himself under pressure from Biaggi and after some firm defence the Roman, together with Hayden, used Honda horsepower to blast past the Suzuki... but greater drama was unfolding behind as championship leader Gibernau made his first real mistake of the season, falling from sixth place after losing the front of his Telefonica Honda on just the second circulation.
That error left Rossi primed to take a firm championship lead and by lap 5 the Italian was still sitting comfortably in the middle of a eight man lead group comprising of Biaggi, Hayden and Barros (ahead of the Gauloises Yamaha rider) and Tamada, Roberts, Edwards and Capirossi behind him.
That group would split in two at around the lap seven mark, when Roberts began to fade further, which in turn allowed Biaggi, Hayden, Barros, Rossi and Tamada to break away from the American, and left Capirossi and Edwards trapped behind him.
Rossi would move into a potential podium position by overtaking Barros soon after, but Tamada began to demand attention on lap 10, when he too worked his way in front of the Brazilian – and set his sights on Rossi ahead of him.
By the halfway stage, Tamada had passed the five-times world champion - and one lap later created a Camel Honda one-two by blasting past Hayden - while Rossi was about to commit a rare, and very costly error...
The Italian was holding an 'easy' fourth, 2secs clear of the fading Barros, when he lost the front of him M1 and slid into the Brazilian gravel. Rossi rushed to remount, but the damage had been done and he was forced to retire for the first time since Brno 2002, when a tyre failed, he hasn't crashed out of a race since Mugello 2001!
The Doctor's departure left the top three - Biaggi, Tamada and Hayden - to dispute victory, with Tamada looking by far the most threatening as he crawled all over his Roman team-mate, while Hayden was positioned ready to pounce should the yellow machines stumble.
After sizing up Biaggi for eight laps, Tamada finally hit the front with four to go; the Japanese seeming to sense he had the legs on Biaggi's Michelin machine and looked keen to break away before any last lap mayhem.
Whatever the plan – it worked: Tamada carried a commanding a 1.1secs lead onto the last circulation, with Hayden a further 2.4secs back for a safe third.
Even with the potential aid of a slipstream, Max simply couldn't close the deficit in the remaining 4.9kms and would cross the line 2secs adrift of a jubilant Tamada, who erupted in celebration at achieving his – and Bridgestone's – first ever MotoGP victory.
Biaggi's subdued body language contrasted sharply with that of Tamada's – and indeed Hayden's, the American appearing genuinely pleased for the Japanese – but when the disappointment of defeat subsides, the four-times 250cc world champion will surely take comfort from the fact that he's now right back in title contention, 13-points behind Rossi and Gibernau.
6secs behind Hayden was Capirossi, the Italian equalling Ducati's best finish of the year (in the twin-pulse's second race) after narrowly holding off the Hondas of former team-mate Barros and Texan Colin Edwards for the second half of the GP. By contrast, Capirossi's team-mate Troy Bayliss, using the four-pulse, fell on lap 4 after losing the front.
Kenny Roberts eventually brought his Suzuki home as second best Bridgestone machine, but was a distant seventh - ten-seconds behind countryman Edwards and four ahead of the top Yamaha of Norick Abe (eighth). Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano and Rossi's team-mate Carlos Checa completed the top ten.
Further back, John Hopkins survived a last lap collision with Kawasaki's Alex Hofmann - and then a tyre wall - to take the final world championship point in 15th.
Full results to follow...
Rio Grand Prix:
7. Kenny Roberts
19. Kurtis Roberts