Rossi thunders to victory down under
16 October 2005
Valentino Rossi won his eleventh race of the season today at Phillip Island, the Italian beating Nicky Hayden after a tense, tactical, battle which saw the pair locked together until Rossi made a late race burst - clinching his seventh Australian Grand Prix victory and with it the 2005 MotoGP Manufacturers' world title for Yamaha.
Qualifying had seen Hayden clinch his third pole of the season, from Rossi, while an unconfident Sete Gibernau completed the front row ahead of top Bridgestone rider Carlos Checa who - although demoted to row two on qualifying tyres - had, in contrast to Gibernau, lapped consistently fast on race rubber.
But morning warm-up had resulted in a further shake-up, with the other Repsol Honda of sixth on the grid Max Biaggi surprisingly setting the pace by 0.189secs from lone factory Ducati rider Checa and Biaggi's team-mate Hayden, with Rossi and Gibernau completing the top five.
Meanwhile, with Thomas Luthi and Dani Pedrosa having won the125cc and 250cc races, the seven RCV riders had been denied the chance to claim Honda's 600th GP victory - that honour going to 2006 MotoGP rider Pedrosa - but a premier-class Honda win would still prevent Yamaha wrapping-up the Manufacturers' Championship...
When the red lights went out, Hayden converted pole into a turn one lead - ahead of Rossi, Checa, Edwards, Gibernau and Melandri - while Biaggi's race lasted less than half a lap after he was flicked off his factory RCV while trying to make up places under braking for the Honda hairpin. The Roman would remount, but immediately retire.
Man on the move up front in the early laps would be Melandri, who had passed his team-mate Gibernau and Colin Edwards by the end of lap one and was soon catching the top three of Hayden, Rossi and Checa ahead.
Marco would demote Checa at the Honda hairpin on lap three, but the race now had a new leader with Rossi having swept past Hayden in turn one. The American then suffered a further blow when he was passed by Melandri but - just as Rossi was starting to make a break up front - Hayden began his recovery, throwing his #69 machine past Melandri on the run-up to Lukey Heights and immediately reeling Rossi back in.
But while the top two began to break away, Checa was fading back from Melandri and starting to come under pressure from countryman Gibernau - with the pair swapping fourth several times by lap 11 of 27, while the top five were still covered by two corners.
Indeed, the fighting between the two Spaniards seemed to spur them on and, just after the halfway mark, they were now in podium contention - having now caught Melandri. But events ahead were to soon place all three in with a chance of victory.
Rossi, having been caught by Hayden after his early attempt to break away, had been unable to shake his former team-mate - with the pair wheel to wheel from laps 8 to 17. Rossi's reaction was to change tactics and, instead of fighting a flat out war, decided to break Hayden's rhythm with inconsistent lap times - and then by simply backing right off.
Hayden finally took the bait and went into the lead along the home straight on lap 17, but by then the chasing trio had caught the top two - and it would be Hayden who paid the biggest price. For when Rossi retook the lead on lap 19, Melandri dropped Nicky a further position by passing him under braking at the Honda hairpin.
The pair would swap positions several more times before Hayden finally found a firm advantage over the #33, but the combined effect of the squabble and Rossi's victory charge up front, meant that Hayden was now one-second from the #46 with five laps to go.
The Kentuckian did all he could to close the gap - and was clearly faster than Rossi through the sweeping Haysheds section that leads up to Lukey Heights - but Valentino excelled in other areas, with the end result that the pair were practically equal... and Nicky needed more than that.
Hayden would close the gap down slightly by the time the last lap began, but Rossi was always just out of reach - however, behind the top two, a thrilling battle for third was still raging and would go down to the flag.
Having been crawling all over the back of Melandri's Movistar Honda for several laps, Checa had slipstreamed past the Italian for the final podium position into turn one of the final lap - but Melandri retook the place at the Honda hairpin.
Marco then made his machine as wide as possible through the following corners, and was still ahead as the pair made their way through the final sequence of fast left hand turns that leads to the finish. But it was then that Checa, who had already shown a considerable top speed advantage, tucked into Melandri's slipstream and stole a one-day-late Birthday present by pinching third by just 0.017secs at the flag.
But four-seconds earlier Rossi had racked up his fifth consecutive Australian Grand Prix victory and handed Yamaha a clean sweep of the 2005 world championships with the Riders', Teams' and now Manufacturers' crowns all going to the Japanese company in its 50th anniversary season.
Hayden, although unable to build on his solitary MotoGP victory to date, could take considerable pride from his second podium in a row - and the fact that his runner-up position, combined with the non-scores for Biaggi and (non-starter) Loris Capirossi, means that he is now level with Melandri for second in the championship, with two races to go.
10secs behind Marco on track today was team-mate Gibernau, whose pre-race fears proved correct, while Edwards was an equally lonely sixth after Alex Barros suffered a worrying high-speed fall from that position on lap 23.
The Camel Honda rider lost the front through the Haysheds section at well over 100mph and slid quickly across the grass on his back before striking an inexplicably high edge to a gravel trap.
The force of the impact launched Barros several metres into the air before he rolled, rag doll like, to a halt - his RCV having self destructed alongside him. Barros was conscious but had taken a huge impact to his ribs and was clearly in pain.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian's temporary - and perhaps future - team-mate Chris Vermeulen recovered from a poor start, from 14th on the grid, to take an excellent 11th on his RCV debut in his home race. The World Superbike championship runner-up had been as high as 10th, but was outfoxed by lone Suzuki rider John Hopkins on the last lap after a long duel with the Anglo-American.
Five-seconds ahead of Hopkins were Fortuna Yamaha rider Toni Elias, Konica Minolta Honda's Makoto Tamada and Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano - who all crossed the line less than 0.1secs apart - while Elias' team-mate Ruben Xaus, D'Antin Ducati's Roby Rolfo, plus WCM team-mates James Ellison and Franco Battani completed the points scorers.
Kawasaki stand-in Olivier Jacque would finish 16th and last after outbraking himself at the Honda Hairpin, and then taking a pit stop, before returning to finish the race.
Full results to follow...