20 September 2003
Rossi wins in Rio, Tamada takes podium.
It took just two laps for Rossi to reel Gibernau back in, and by the third lap the lead pack consisted of no less than twelve riders, with just 4.7secs separating Sete from Alex Barros.
Over the following laps, the group began to split in half as sixth placed Tamada pulled a small gap over Bayliss, to form part of the Gibernau, Rossi, Capirossi, Biaggi and Hayden battle ahead. And he wasn't done yet, the former WSBK race winner passed Hayden soon after – setting the fastest lap of the race in the process, and soon putting Biaggi under similar pressure.
Realising the situation, the Roman dived inside Capirossi for third on lap 7, leaving his fellow countryman to fend off the combative Japanese while he set his sights on the #46 machine ahead of him.
But he wouldn't have much chance to examine his enemy as the reigning world champion wasted no further time in overtaking Gibernau with a surprise move between corners. As is his habit, Rossi tried to leave the field shell shocked with an immediate new fastest lap, giving him a 0.7secs cushion by the end of lap 9.
Rossi then stretched away to the tune of 0.5secs a lap, but with over 14laps still to run The Doctor needed to walk a fine line between breaking the opposition and breaking his tyres. But for now everything was going his way, and instead all eyes were turning to the relentless charge of Tamada – who'd despatched Capirossi and was just 0.3secs from Biaggi and a potential podium finish!
Tamada put a precise move on Biaggi at the end of the long back straight, almost exactly on the halfway mark, and the seemingly unstoppable Pramac Honda rider then began closing the 1.8secs gap to Gibernau. Equally impressive was Hayden, who nailed fifth from Capirossi at around the same time, leaving Capirossi to round out the close fight for third between Tamada, Biaggi, Hayden and Capirossi.
Behind that quartet, Bayliss, Nakano and Ukawa were locked in a close fight for seventh, ahead of Fortuna Yamaha team-mate Checa and Melandri, with Barros, Edwards, Haga and Kiyonari completing the potential point's finishers with 10 laps to go.
With the top three – Rossi, Gibernau and Tamada – unable to make any impression on each other, the partying Rio crowd would be entertained by the Biaggi/Hayden battle as the sliding American attempted to stalk the four-times 250cc world champ.
As the race wound down Rossi was looking ever more comfortable with a 3.7secs advantage, although he was still firing flames from his under seat exhaust during hard braking, and getting his RCV sideways under power on the exit of most turns. Gibernau meanwhile, had checked Tamada's progress with a 4secs lead, although Makoto was clearly looking at his first podium finish and maintaining his comfortable buffer over the Biaggi/Hayden battle.
That pattern would continue to the flag, although Rossi's slides would get even bigger as he played to the fans in the closing stages, and he crossed to he line with fist in the air to win by 3.1secs from Gibernau, while Tamada duly took his, Pramac Honda and Bridgestone's first podium in the MotoGP class – the Japanese tyre company proving they've finally 'arrived' to take on the dominance of Michelin.
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