The Valentino Rossi/Sete Gibernau stranglehold on MotoGP 2004 ended in dramatic fashion at Rio today, when Makoto Tamada took his first ever GP victory after a thrilling seventh event of the season – which saw both championship leaders crash out and Bridgestone break Michelin's domination of the premier-class.
Yesterday, Kenny Roberts shocked the MotoGP world when he and Suzuki returned to the top for the first time in four years – and gave Bridgestone their first MotoGP pole since Australia 2002.
The surprises then continued further down the order as Max Biaggi (second) and Nicky Hayden (third) left no room on the front row for championship leaders Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau: Rossi struggled to adapt his M1 to the Jacarepagua track and qualified just eighth, while Gibernau was demoted to second row after running out of time to use a qualifying tyre.
Joining the Spaniard on row two would be Honda colleague, and home hero, Alex Barros (fifth) and Ducati's Loris Capirossi, who recorded his best grid position of the season so far with sixth. Makoto Tamada, who scored his only MotoGP podium at Rio last year, was the next best Bridgestone user behind Roberts, in seventh, one place ahead of Rossi and the top Kawasaki of Shinya Nakano.
Morning warm-up had seen Gibernau prove that - despite his final qualifying woes - he still had an enviable race pace; leading the 20-minute session from the fellow RC211V of Hayden (+0.194secs) - with Barros, Tamada and Biaggi ahead of pole sitter Roberts (+0.6secs) and Rossi (+0.66secs) left seventh.
When the red lights went out several hours later, Roberts immediately found himself under pressure from Biaggi and after some firm defence the Roman, together with Hayden, used Honda horsepower to blast past the Suzuki... but greater drama was unfolding behind as championship leader Gibernau made his first real mistake of the season, falling from sixth place after losing the front of his Telefonica Honda on just the second circulation.
That error left Rossi primed to take a firm championship lead and by lap 5 the Italian was still sitting comfortably in the middle of a eight man lead group comprising of Biaggi, Hayden and Barros (ahead of the Gauloises Yamaha rider) and Tamada, Roberts, Edwards and Capirossi behind him.
That group would split in two at around the lap seven mark, when Roberts began to fade further, which in turn allowed Biaggi, Hayden, Barros, Rossi and Tamada to break away from the American, and left Capirossi and Edwards trapped behind him.
Rossi would move into a potential podium position by overtaking Barros soon after, but Tamada began to demand attention on lap 10, when he too worked his way in front of the Brazilian – and set his sights on Rossi ahead of him.