19 October 2003
Rossi wins Island thriller - despite penalty!
Valentino Rossi has won today's Australian Grand Prix despite being given a 10secs penalty early in the race, the Italian being made aware of his punishment and charging hard to beat Loris Capirossi by 15secs at the finish - in a race full of passing, accidents, incidents, weather fears and tyre-smoking bike control.
Qualifying had seen Rossi clock a record lap of 1min 30.068secs to secure the front slot on today's grid by 0.428 seconds from Capirossi. Home hero Troy Bayliss had suffered a high-speed fall midway through the session, but recovered to set the fourth fastest time and secure a front row start behind Sete Gibernau.
Bayliss' last gasp effort denied Nicky Hayden a first ever front row start in a double blow to the American, who had been held up by Gibernau on a potentially pole-setting lap. Hayden's effort was still enough for fifth spot on the grid, however, and he would be joined on the second row by Honda colleagues Max Biaggi and Tohru Ukawa, who sandwich Yamaha rookie Marco Melandri in sixth and eighth places respectively.
One year on from his astonishing pole lap on the 500cc Proton KR3, Jeremy McWilliams once again declared his love for Phillip Island with an encouraging tenth place on the team's new V5. McWilliams was one of seventeen riders to improve on his record from last season, forming an incredibly tight grid which sees the front five rows separated by just over two seconds.
But that was in the dry. Race day would dawn - as predicted - cold and wet, leaving the field with only the morning warm-up to find a suitable set-up. The half-hour session would end with Rossi and fan favourite Bayliss (who fell) almost a second clear of the rest of the field.
Nicky Hayden (+0.9secs), Max Biaggi (+1.5secs), Sete Gibernau (+1.9secs) and Tohru Ukawa (+3secs) completed the top six, but rain masters Jeremy McWilliams, Nobuatsu Aoki and Garry McCoy took seventh, eighth and ninth respectively to put them in with an outside bet of glory this afternoon.
By contrast, those who struggled in the tricky conditions were Fortuna Yamaha riders' Marco Melandri and Carlos Checa (19th and 20th), Aprilia Colin Edwards (21st) and Gauloises Yamaha riders' Alex Barros and Olivier Jacque (23rd and 24th).
Into this afternoon's main event and - miraculously - the circuit was drying rapidly, helped by a strong breeze and some welcome sunshine (although it was still very cold), but it only caused even more headaches for teams and riders with tyre choice now critical. Should they go for an intermediate/cut slick compound to cope with the occasional puddles and in case the rain returns, or gamble on a slick in the hope that the track would continue drying?
All would pick the latter – having done every session but the warm-up on such tyres, the teams had much more data on wear rates and endurance behaviour. Also, no-one would lose out significantly if the weather should change, since they would all be in the same 'boat' and the race would simply be stopped if it became dangerous.
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