25 May 2003
Sete storms two-part thriller.
It was announced that the race would be re-started in 20 minutes time, for a 13 lap distance, with the new grid decided by the order in which they had finished (Rossi, Barros, Ukawa, Biaggi, Gibernau, Haga and Melandri). New for 2003 was also that the race would (thankfully) be a straight fight – no more confusing aggregate results.
All eyes thus turned to the likes of wet pace setter Jeremy McWilliams, Proton Team KR's only rider after Aoki crashed out early on. While the Kawasaki team must also have felt grateful for the interruption, given McCoy's speed yesterday.
However, it wasn't quite that simple – the rain soon stopped. This caused frantic activity in the pits and on the newly forming grid as tyre and even brakes (Carbon swapped for Steel) were flung in all directions as team and rider changed their minds almost every minute.
Most frontrunners choose a full wet set-up front and rear, with the notable exception being Biaggi, who - like some further back - opted for a cut rear slick in the hope of a dry line developing.
However, after the first of the two warm-up laps the Roman realised his error (there was more water around the other side of the track) and was joined by Jacque in pulling in to change his rear tyre, forcing them to start from the pitlane.
Ukawa joined his team-mate at the end of the pits soon after, the Pons team having had suspension problems to solve before sending him out.
When the restart came, Barros grabbed the lead into the first chicane, from Rossi, Gibernau, Haga, Edwards, McCoy, Roberts, McWilliams and Biaggi – who made a stunning recovery from his off grid getaway.
As early as lap two the contenders could be seen as Gibernau passed Rossi, then the top three began to pull away at a staggering rate from Haga at around 4secs a lap. Also on the move was McWilliams, passing Roberts and soon hounding McCoy on his two-stroke.
Although the semi-wet (soaking in one area, dry the next) conditions were not what McWilliams ideally wanted, the Ulsterman was stable able to exploit his corner speed enough to split the Aprilias of Haga and Edwards by lap 3.
Further back John Hopkins' punishing weekend came to harsh end when the rear of his Suzuki kicked out under braking and pitched the recent 20 year old hard over the bars, and onto his already sore shoulder. A dazed Hopper would have to be helped from the circuit by marshals after also taking a substantial knock to the head.
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