Rossi takes clinical Estoril victory
5 September 2004
Valentino Rossi has extended his world championship lead from 17 to 29-points over Sete Gibernau after delivering a faultless ride in today's Portuguese Grand Prix – an event which saw Makoto Tamada, rather than Gibernau or Max Biaggi, prove the Italian's nearest rival.
When the red lights went out it was Ducati's Loris Capirossi – riding in his 100th premier-class GP – who rocketed from eleventh on the grid to lead Rossi, Biaggi, Tamada, Melandri, Gibernau, Barros, Hopkins, Edwards, Checa and Kenny Roberts around the first turn.
Capirossi would then hold his own around the next sequence of corners, but as the field approached the ultra tight chicane for the first time Rossi dived inside to take a lead he would never lose.
However, further drama would occur as Biaggi – perhaps unsighted by Rossi's move – appeared to miss his braking point and, with his rear wheel in the air, ploughed into the back of Capirossi, sending his own Camel Honda to the ground.
Biaggi stayed on his feet, but couldn't remount his RCV and was forced to walk away from both the race and almost certainly his 2004 world championship chances (Biaggi is now 51-points from Rossi). Capirossi held his machine on two-wheels, but ran wide as a result of the impact and would slip to the back of the pack... although his race was far from over.
Tamada was the main beneficiary of the mayhem, and would slot into second behind Rossi, with Barros now third. Gibernau was naturally desperate to keep in touch with Rossi and was soon literally rubbing his front wheel on Marco Melandri's Spiderman leathers as he tried to extract fourth from the Italian ASAP. The pressure eventually told on the Tech 3 rider, and Gibernau would slot into fourth by the start of lap 3 of 28.
By that stage Rossi's race-winning plan was clear: push hard and break away early from the opposition. The factory Yamaha star was soon putting that plan into practice as he edged a few tenths away from Tamada with each successive lap – but more significantly, Barros and Gibernau were in turn unable to keep up with Tamada.
Meanwhile, Melandri's race came to another dramatic end when he fell out of fifth on lap 8, after touching a dusty white line under braking. The former 250cc world champion was sent sliding down an escape road unharmed, while his Spiderman liveried machine barrel-rolled itself to pieces.
Back on track and by the halfway stage Rossi had built a 3.8secs lead over Tamada, with Barros and Gibernau still nose-to-tail but a further 2.7secs behind, while Checa, Hopkins, Bayliss and Edwards completed the top eight.
But while positions were somewhat stationary upfront, Capirossi was making sure his 100th race would be remembered for all the right reasons as he charged from the back of the field at a frightening rate – and would incredibly catch and pass team-mate Bayliss for seventh on lap 17. A position he would hold to the flag. If only he hadn't been tagged by Biaggi...
Meanwhile, Tamada gave cause for hope in the Honda camp as he began to slowly but surely reel Rossi with 10laps to go – eventually closing to within 2.5secs. However, Rossi soon recognised the danger and would re-establish his lead at over the 3-second mark as the race entered its final phases. The battle for victory was effectively over.
But two positions still to be decided were for third - between Barros and Gibernau - and fifth – between Checa and Hopkins: Gibernau had been so close to Barros for so long that a move was always expected... but simply never came as the hard braking Brazilian held firm.
The Telefonica Honda rider would eventually bet his podium chances on a better exit out of the final turn, and while the Spaniard pulled almost alongside on the exit he soon lost momentum as he was forced over the kerb and briefly onto the grass as Barros held the racing line. The end result was fourth for Sete and the loss of 12 more points to Rossi.
Hopkins was also unable to find a way past Checa's factory Yamaha, but the 21-year-old would still claim a career best sixth – 0.6secs from the Spaniard – and on a day when Suzuki team-mate Kenny Roberts crossed the line just 14th.
But by the time 'Hopper' finished, Rossi was already celebrating with the Portuguese fans after taking his sixth race victory of the season – and, most importantly, increasing his championship lead to over the 25-point and one race mark... thanks partly to the strong performances of Honda riders Tamada and Barros.
Full results to follow...
Portuguese Grand Prix:
14. Kenny Roberts