Pedrosa wins Shanghai showdown, Rossi 'retyres'
14 May 2006
Amazing MotoGP rookie Dani Pedrosa has won his first ever premier-class victory - at only his fourth attempt - after defeating team-mate Nicky Hayden in a dramatic Chinese Grand Prix.
Fresh from his first MotoGP pole position on Saturday, Pedrosa slipped to fifth through the long 'roundabout' first turn - but then fought his way past Shinya Nakano, Sete Gibernau and John Hopkins before taking the lead from Colin Edwards just before the halfway mark of the 22 lap encounter.
However, Repsol Honda team-mate Hayden - fifth on the grid but seventh after turn one - had moved through the pack with Pedrosa and was soon in second place; the factory RCV riders then breaking easily away from a 'chattering' Edwards as they fought flat-out for victory over the last ten laps.
Hayden closed to within 0.6secs of the reigning 250cc champion with four laps to go, but Pedrosa absorbed the constant pressure, responded by setting the fastest lap of the race - and pushed his lead back over the one-second mark in the closing stages for the first of what will surely be many MotoGP victories.
The usually stone-cold Spaniard allowed himself a rare celebration as he crossed the finish line - grabbing his helmet in disbelief, before punching the air with delight and waving to the 32,402 fans for the rest of his slow down lap. By contrast, Hayden shot past his team-mate without acknowledgment while he came to terms with the painful loss... which was at least soothed by a much-improved 13-point world championship lead.
But Pedrosa must now also be considered a solid championship contender, having now climbed to third in the standings, just 2-points from Capirossi, and - with both Pedrosa and Hayden now on one MotoGP win apiece - the battle for team supremacy is sure to reach new heights.
Meanwhile, the fight for the final podium position between Edwards and Hopkins looked likely to be decided at the final corner, but Hopkins - yet to take a MotoGP podium - just lost touch with his fellow American in the final stages after a race long battle. Nevertheless, it marked by far Suzuki's best ever dry MotoGP (four-stroke) performance, while Edwards crossed the line 13-seconds behind Hayden for his much needed first podium in Camel colours.
But on the other side of the factory Yamaha garage, team-mate Valentino Rossi had another afternoon to forget; the reigning five-times MotoGP World Champion initially struggling to make progress from his lowly 13th on the grid, before finding speed and climbing to fifth at the halfway point.
As at other events this season, the handling of Rossi's M1 continued to improve as the race wore on - and by lap 15 he was nose-to-tail with Edwards and Hopkins in the fight for third. But disaster struck on the following lap when the Italian suddenly backed off and, soon after, pulled into the pits - without his front fender.
A chunk of rubber had been thrown from his front tyre, wiping out the fender, but Rossi was looking at the back of his bike - apparently thinking that it was the rear tyre which had failed. The real problem wasn't spotted when he pitted either - and the Italian was sent out with a new rear tyre, before realising the cause of the problem as he exited the pit lane.
It ultimately mattered little since Rossi was left around 18th after the pit stop. He then completed the rest of the lap at cruising speed before pulling into the pits and retiring. Rossi was using the same front tyre as the other Michelin riders, with the exception of Kenny Roberts. The Doctor has now slipped to sixth in the world championship standings, 32-points from the top. Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen was the only other non-finisher, falling early in the race.
Behind the top four, Pedrosa's fellow rookie Casey Stoner looked like a possible podium contender once again - sitting behind Rossi, in sixth, by lap 14. But the Honda LCR rider's hopes of two podiums in-a-row ended when he ran off track on the following circulation, dropping the young Australian back to tenth.
Nevertheless, he produced a gusty fight back - passing Ducati team-mates Gibernau and Loris Capirossi, then Turkish Grand Prix winner Marco Melandri and fellow Honda rider Makoto Tamada, to take fifth at the chequered flag.
After a strong early showing, Nakano slipped back to tenth - just ahead of Toni Elias - with the second ZX-RR of Randy de Puniet collecting twelfth. Kenny Roberts, Carlos Checa and Alex Hofmann completed the point scorers.
The French Grand Prix at Le Mans, round five of the 2006 MotoGP World Championship, takes place next weekend.
Chinese Grand Prix:
12. de Puniet