25 May 2003
Sete storms two-part thriller.
Having no such trouble was Jacque, the homer hero isn't renowned for his wet weather prowess, but had overtaken WSBK rain specialist Edwards by lap four, and was soon despatching Haga, then fourth placed McWilliams as the crowd support grew.
Back up front the top three remained 'poker faced' as they shadowed each others every move, Rossi and Gibernau trading second occasionally with five laps to go, while tested the waters with an attempted move inside Barros – only to find the Brazilian ride the outside line around him.
Rossi was visibly the most spectacular of the trio, prepared to let the rear of his Honda wander spectacularly – particularly under braking for the first chicane – as he experimented with grip levels and different lines.
The deadlock was finally broken on lap 9 when Gibernau produced a surprise move, cleverly making sure he was ahead of Barros even before the braking area to give him the necessary advantage over the Brazilian.
That move ignited Rossi and he made use of his earlier track research to slide inside Barros on the tight, double apex, final turn. With Barros, although unable to find that little bit extra to threaten the Hondas, easily close enough to exploit even the smallest of errors ahead of him.
Rossi made his move on Gibernau on the penultimate lap – replicating his outbraking move on Barros into the final turn to start the final 4kms of the French Grand Prix a fraction ahead of Gibernau – trouble was had he shown his cards too soon…?
Sete had ridden a near perfect race, pushing when necessary, but just as significantly for the sometimes emotionally driven Spaniard, he'd shown he was prepared to tuck in behind his opponents and be patient. Perhaps a lesson learnt from his early race fall at Jerez.
With Gibernau all over Rossi's rear wheel in the early as the last lap began, the French fans knew a battle to line was in stall – and with both bikes bucking and sliding under the pressure, neither rider would disappoint.
Gibernau made his inevitable move midway through the final lap, Rossi immediately responded with a outbraking move, but ran wide – allowing Sete to square the turn and retake the position. The Repsol rider then slotted back into Gibernau's slipstream, for an all-or-nothing gamble at the final turn, where he'd overtaken Barros and Gibernau before.
Rossi swept out wide on the run up to that tight right hander, backing his orange and black RCV in as hard as he could, but Gibernau was ready for the move and braking incredibly late in a desperate attempt to defend his position.
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