21 May 2006
Rossi 'powerless' as Melandri wins Le Mans.
Marco Melandri has become the first double winner of the 2006 MotoGP season, after world champion Valentino Rossi lost a comfortable lead in Sunday's French Grand Prix at Le Mans.
After a weekend of unpredictable weather, heavy rain had again greeted the riders upon their arrival at the racetrack this morning - but, as on Saturday, it soon cleared - much to the delight of everyone accept the Bridgestone riders, who had dominated the wet warm-up.
However, while the 125 race was held on a drying track, with the following 250cc event fully dry, dark rain clouds suddenly began to gather just as the MotoGP grid assembled - prompting race direction to declare a wet race, meaning that riders could pit for a 'bike swap' should rain fall at any time during the 28 laps.
As it turned out, rain stayed away for the duration of the race - with the sun soon shining once again - but there was drama of a different kind at the first chicane; Rossi brushing the back of Dani Pedrosa's Repsol Honda, causing the Italian to run wide and hit home hero Randy de Puniet, who then fell from his Kawasaki after striking Sete Gibernau - with the Ducati rider and Colin Edwards both forced off track and into the gravel trap.
When the dust had cleared, Melandri was leading from fifth on the grid - only to be quickly passed by Suzuki's front row qualifier John Hopkins. Hopper then led until being passed by Rossi on lap 5, after which the Anglo-American and third placed Pedrosa clung determinedly to the #46's rear wheel.
But the hard-charging Hopkins, having been passed by Pedrosa, lost the front of his GSV-R under braking for an off-camber right hander on lap 10 - leaving Rossi and Pedrosa alone up front, marking their first duel together. Rossi was soon giving young Spaniard a riding lesson - pulling steadily away from the 20-year-old to hold a commanding lead of over 3 seconds when his Camel Yamaha suddenly ground to a halt on lap 21!
A clearly mortified Rossi was left to park the powerless machine at the side of the race track and, after sitting stationary, finally made his way back to the pits with his head in his hands - still trying to comprehend his second DNF in a row. Rossi would leave Le Mans just eighth in the championship and a massive 43-points behind leader Nicky Hayden.
Meanwhile, Hayden's team-mate Pedrosa - who looked set to claim his second victory in a row after Rossi's exit - was starting to struggle; the 250cc world champion paying the price for a soft tyre choice as he increasingly slipped into the clutches of Melandri and Ducati's Loris Capirossi.
Melandri, who took victory in Turkey, put his Fortuna Honda into the lead by outbraking Pedrosa into the turn one chicane on lap 24 of 28, while Capirossi squeezed past Dani for second position on the very final lap.
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