MotoGP » 18 April 2004
Rossi, Yamaha and MotoGP win in Africa.
That perhaps boosted Rossi and late in the penultimate lap he made the move that would ultimately win him the race, diving deep on the brakes into a slow right hander and pushing Biaggi wide just two turns before the line.
The last lap then began with Rossi half a bike length ahead, but Biaggi had the inside line into turn one and both went frightening late on the brakes– Vale also chopping aggressively across the nose of the yellow Honda to prevent a pass, then exploiting his superior racing line to gain a few bike lengths on the exit of the turn.
Both rode the rest of the lap like their lives depended on it, and were again so evenly matched that while Rossi couldn't pull away, Biaggi couldn't quite get near enough for an all or nothing lunge.
Rossi held firm under the pressure and would wheelie over the finish line with his fist in the air, while the Yamaha pits erupted after their first victory since 2002. Vale would then exchange a brief, but significant, handshake with Biaggi before parking at the side of the track, totally overcome with emotion and exhaustion after such a titanic battle.
Fortunately, the Rossi celebrations of old were soon underway and a series of tyre-smoking donuts were seen delighting the Welkom fans before he returned to the pits to be mobbed by his mechanics, many of whom had taken a leap of faith to join him at Yamaha.
Gibernau would claim a respectable third, some 7.2secs behind the two Italians, but can draw comfort from that fact that he was the only rider who deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Rossi and Biaggi today: If there was any disappointment from Welkom, it was that the expected challenge from the likes of Hayden, Edwards and to a lesser extent Barros never even looked like happening.
Indeed, it would be over 18secs after Rossi crossed the line that Barros finished fourth, the Brazilian taking solid points on his Repsol Honda debut having defeated - then pulled away from - Hayden, Capirossi and Edwards following an intense battle.
Ten seconds behind the Texan came Tamada, who rode a lonely race to eighth, while Norick Abe justified his inclusion in the Yamaha outfit by finishing second best M1 in ninth, the Japanese beating Checa and Melandri.
To put Rossi's effort into perspective the three other Yamaha's (9th, 10th and 11th) were an average of 40-seconds behind the Italian today. Despite the technology, MotoGP, it seems, is still a riders sport.
Nakano slipped down the order at the start, but worked his way back up to an eventual twelfth after battling his former Yamaha colleagues for much of the race, while Kawasaki team-mate Hofmann faired much worse, stalling at the start before falling on lap 18.
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