Rossi takes breakthrough Sepang victory
10 October 2004
Valentino Rossi has put one hand on the 2004 MotoGP world championship after overcoming the challenge of Honda riders Alex Barros and Max Biaggi to win today's Malaysian Grand Prix - and take a commanding 30-point world championship lead with just two rounds to go.
Pole sitter Rossi lost the lead to second on the grid Barros as the field charged into turn one, while Hayden, Checa, Biaggi, Capirossi, Gibernau, Bayliss, Hopkins, Nakano, Tamada and Abe completed the early top 12.
Gibernau, desperate to reverse his poor start, would quickly pass Capirossi, while Hayden made a minor mistake that dropped him to fifth, giving a top six of; Barros, Rossi, Checa, Biaggi, Hayden and Gibernau as they crossed the line for the first time. Those six would quickly become the lead group and started to gap Suzuki's seventh placed man John Hopkins.
As is often his tactic, Rossi was eager to take the lead and break the opposition early – but his haste to pass late-braker Barros saw the Italian run wide at the final hairpin on lap two, before quickly recovering and trying again.
A second attempt would also result in the #46 leaving the racing line - again allowing a confident looking Barros to cut back inside - but midway around lap 3 he finally made a move stick, after changing tact slightly and opting for more of a block pass. But he still couldn't shake the Brazilian from his rear wheel...
Meanwhile, Biaggi had successfully outbraked former Yamaha team-mate Checa on lap 2, for third position, an event which seemed to trigger the Spaniard's decline and shortly after Rossi led the field over the start-finish line for the first time (lap 4 of 21), his team-mate was dropped to the tail of the still six-man group.
Free of Checa, Camel Honda rider Biaggi would take just two laps to catch - and then pass - Barros' Repsol Honda, the Roman looking like a different man from the person who had struggled with set-up in the previous two days of qualifying.
Indeed, Rossi was now just 1-second ahead of the #3 and the two Italians would still be locked together as the halfway mark arrived. By that point Barros had started to fade slightly, dropping 1.3secs from Biaggi, with fourth placed Hayden a further two-seconds behind – but Gibernau and Checa had slipped to almost 10-seconds from the #46.
Indeed, the two Spaniards were in real danger of been swallowed up by the fast closing second group of Capirossi, Tamada and Nakano (a clearly frustrated Hopkins having been forced to retire with mechanical problems as early as the second lap) while the third group of Bayliss, Edwards and Abe sat a further seven-seconds behind.
Despite their best efforts, Rossi and Biaggi would remain in deadlock - Biaggi unable to close below the one-second mark, while a wheel spinning Rossi couldn't pull anymore than a two-second lead - for the rest of the race and, with Barros and Hayden in a relatively lonely third and fourth, attention now turned to Capirossi and Tamada.
Both were now circulating at speeds almost identical to the top two; Capirossi would catch and pass Checa for sixth by lap 14, then grabbed fifth from Gibernau one lap later – the Italian sliding the rear of his Desmosedici as he hit the brakes.
Tamada was also fast becoming a factor, the Japanese having matched Capirossi's progress through the field and, after also despatching Checa and Gibernau, would overtake the factory Ducati rider himself in the closing stages.
However, Tamada won't have been pleased to finish only 1-second ahead of fellow Bridgestone rider Nakano, who claimed eighth place for Kawasaki – and was just few tenths from Gibernau.
But by then, having gently extended his lead to 3secs on the final lap, a delighted Rossi had taken the chequered flag – waving excitedly to his team, then the Sepang fans, before stopping with his friends further around the slow down lap for some 'special' celebrations – but what did they have planned?
When a brush was produced the penny dropped and Vale proceeded to sweep the ground in front of his Yamaha – a reference of course to his Qatar penalty – and much to the delight of his fans and the waiting photographers.
But 'revenge' aside, Rossi has now taken his seventh win of the season - matching previous Yamaha legends Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson - and most significantly increased his world championship lead from 14 to 30-points after title rival Gibernau limped home in a distant seventh.
Gibernau's attempts to congratulate Rossi on the slow down lap appeared to be ignored... while Biaggi's gestures were warmly welcomed. (Max would later claim a MotoGP first when he dropped, and smashed, his champagne bottle on the podium).
Rossi now needs to keep his championship advantage at 25-points or over by the end of next Sunday's Australian Grand Prix to take his sixth world title.
Full results to follow...