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Rossi surfs to Shanghai victory - Jacque second!

1 May 2005

World champion Valentino Rossi has 'surfed' to victory in soaking conditions at the inaugural Chinese Motorcycle Grand Prix, the Yamaha star riding faultlessly during an action packed thriller headlined by a heroic ride by replacement rider Olivier Jacque - who recorded his and Kawasaki's best ever MotoGP result after fighting his way through the field to frighten Rossi at the finish.

As many had feared - and some had hoped - after a largely dry Saturday, rain returned with a vengeance for race day at Shanghai, producing a scattering of 'loose canons' among established frontrunners Sete Gibernau, Alex Barros and Valentino Rossi during the morning warm-up.

Pole sitter Gibernau would set the pace during the 20-minute session - but his nearest rival was MotoGP returnee Jurgen van den Goorbergh! The Dutchman had qualified just 19th in his replacement ride for Konica Minolta Honda's Makoto Tamada, but well and truly shone through the showers this morning.

Meanwhile, 12th on the grid Troy Bayliss took third ahead of Camel Honda team-mate Barros, with Rossi fifth and 16th on the grid Ruben Xaus sixth. Repsol Honda's Max Biaggi, starting his 200th GP today, also did his hopes of radically improving on his frustrating 14th place grid position no harm by claiming seventh this morning.

When the grid lined up for the start - led by a top six of Gibernau, Marco Melandri, Loris Capirossi, John Hopkins, Nicky Hayden and Rossi - the rain was still falling heavily and as the green lights went out it was Hopkins who got a jump on the field into turn one, followed by Melandri, Gibernau, Roberts, Hayden, Rossi, Elias, Capirossi, Biaggi, Bayliss, Jacque and Rolfo.

Not to be outdone by his young team-mate, Kenny Roberts made it a Suzuki one-two by carving confidently past the Movistar Honda duo a few turns later - and then took the lead as the field made their way onto the back straight for the first time. Soon after, with Hopkins fading slightly, Rossi moved into third... just ahead of Toni Elias!

The MotoGP rookie had made a stunning start and was riding like a man possessed but, like Barros, would later be given a ride-through penalty for apparently jumping the start.

The first signal for which was given on lap 3 of 22 but Elias - understandably given the spray - initially struggled to see it, although both he and Barros would eventually serve their 'time', and go on to claim 14th and 11th at the finish.

Meanwhile, by the start of lap 3, Rossi and Roberts had begun to break away from the field, leaving a frantic battle for third in their wake. Within that pack were Jacque and van den Goorbergh who were both already making their presence felt as they moved up the order together, holding eighth and ninth.

But at that stage, few would have predicted that either would be in contention for eventual victory, but then neither - it transpired on lap 5 - would Roberts; the former world champion's GSV-R suffering terminal mechanical problems at the most cruellest of moments and leaving the American to limp back to the pits pondering what should have been as he dropped out of the lead.

Roberts' demise put Rossi up front for the first time, and his five-second lead should have meant that - barring a serious mistake or technical problem - he could ride a measured race to the flag, monitoring the opposition. And that's exactly what happened, Rossi's lead staying about five-seconds right up until Lap 18...

Meanwhile, by lap 6, the man who would later force the Gauloises Yamaha team to construct a new name for Rossi's pit board - they didn't have the letters O and J - was just starting to make a serious impression.

Jacque and van den Goorbergh had continued to embarrass the full time riders by moving into fourth and fifth with a third of the race gone, but the Frenchman would finally distance himself from the Dutchman's RCV when he stole third from Biaggi - after a determined defence - on lap 8. Surely that was the best even he could hope for, given the standard of the two riders ahead of him?

By the halfway stage of the race Rossi had also, against previous wet weather form, increased his lead over Sete to 6.3-seconds, but Jacque was now just 0.6secs from the Catalan's rear wheel - and setting the fastest laps of the race.

Gibernau fought to keep the Kawasaki rider behind him, but appeared to be suffering from some form of rear tyre problem - there had been predictions of overheating issues, despite the standing water, due to the length of the 200mp/h back straight - and some head-shaking as the #15 crossed the start-finish line made clear he wasn't happy.

By contrast OJ was riding like he'd been born on a ZX-RR, and shot past Gibernau on lap 14 to cross the line, with eight laps to go, 6.1secs behind Rossi. It seemed a long shot, but his relative speed suggested he might just have a chance of victory - but would he choose to gamble his first ever MotoGP podium on such a possibility?

The answer was yes. From Lap 15 to 19 Jacque cut Rossi's lead down to 3.3secs, before the six-times world champion - now being visibly forced to push - held that margin for a lap, only for Jacque to close to within 2.5secs as the last lap began.

Ultimately Rossi held his nerve and, after glancing over his shoulder out of the final turn, took victory by 1.7secs over Olivier. It was hard to tell which rider was more pleased; an ecstatic Rossi punching the air before stopping and kissing his Yamaha, while the Kawasaki team threw their hands out at an equally delighted Jacque as he crossed the finish line.

But it wouldn't be Gibernau joining them on the Shanghai podium; the Catalan's titles woes taking yet another downward dive as he was deprived of third by non other than team-mate Melandri halfway around the last lap.

Marco, riding with Andrea Dovizioso's helmet after suffering vision problems with his own in the wet at Estoril, built his pace up from a steady start to finish as the top Honda rider - the excellent young Italian claiming his second podium from three RCV races and moving into second in the world championship standings, 25-points behind Rossi, in the process.

Gibernau would hang on to cross the line fourth, just 0.6secs in front of Biaggi's Repsol Honda, with van den Goorbergh a further two-seconds back for an excellent sixth - a result that Tamada, arguably, would have struggled to better today.

After his spectacular start Hopkins looked to have settled into fourth before running wide on lap 6, dropping the 21-year-old to 11th. He would fight back to seventh at the finish, one position ahead of countryman Colin Edwards.

Nicky Hayden was never a contender today and crossed the line ninth, one place clear of Xaus, while Loris Capirossi was the lone factory Ducati finisher in 12th – the Italian sitting 9secs ahead of WCM's James Ellison, who recorded his second points finish in a row with thirteenth, in front of Elias, Moriwaki wild-card Tohru Ukawa and D'Antin Ducati's Roby Rolfo.

Joining Roberts on the DNF list were Checa, Nakano, Bayliss and Battaini – all but Nakano were caught out by the conditions, while the Japanese was forced to pit with technical troubles.


Chinese Grand Prix:

1. Rossi
2. Jacque
3. Melandri
4. Gibernau
5. Biaggi
6. van den Goorbergh
7. Hopkins
8. Edwards
9. Hayden
10. Xaus
11. Barros
12. Capirossi
13. Ellison
14. Elias
15. Ukawa
16. Rolfo


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