It was certainly raining men at Estoril, in Portugal, on Sunday - but it was men on motorcycles. Enough rain poured in from the nearby Atlantic Ocean to even keep the golfers off the magnificent courses that get the tourists 'flooding' in to this particular part of the world.

It was that rain that placed the 4.182km circuit, that was only hosting it's third ever MotoGP Grand Prix race, in the record books.

No less than 90 riders crashed during Friday, Saturday and the soaking Sunday race day which puts the Portuguese circuit on top of the crashing list, since the Fallers Register was introduced seven years ago.

There was no indication of the carnage that was about to follow during practice and qualifying on Friday and Saturday. Despite some Saturday rain, 23 riders fell during the opening two days, but as the monsoon like conditions prevailed on Sunday for the 125, 250 and MotoGP warm-up and races, the records, like the riders started to tumble like ninepins in the spray.

When a bedraggled 19-year-old American John Hopkins crossed the finishing line at the end of a gruelling 28-lap MotoGP race, as the last rider who'd not been lapped, no less than 67 of the world's very best Grand Prix motor cycle racing stars had tasted the tarmac or the gravel at the most westerly MotoGP venue in Europe. It was a staggering figure with some riders crashing as many as three times on a Sunday - that will go down in MotoGP folklore.

The three warm-up sessions gave an indication what was to follow in the proper contests. Fifteen riders crashed in what is regarded as a setting-up session for the races while a world champion actually crashed on his sighting lap for the 125cc race. In the three races there were 51 fallers in four and a half fours of mayhem that far outweighed anything that had happened since records began in 1996.

Similar conditions five months ago at the opening grand prix of the season at Suzuka in Japan brought down 75 riders over three days and that was a record that most experts felt would never be beaten. The combination of the pouring rain and the Estoril circuit proved them wrong. Third in the list of crashing circuits this year was Donington Park in England where 59 riders fell over the three days.

The most incredible fact to emerge from these rather frightening statistics is that no rider was seriously injured in any of the crashes. That speaks volumes for the new attitude and approach to safety over the last decade.

Circuits have worked with the teams and riders to improve safety, riders are using more sophisticated equipment to protect their bodies under impact while medical facilities have improved beyond recognition. It all adds up to a sport that has always been dangerous at any level but which has done absolutely everything to make it as safe as it can possibly be.

There were many heroes and some incredible tales to tell over a few welcome beers in motor homes, restaurants and bars in Portugal on Sunday evening when of course the rain had stopped. Some had happy endings while others did not.

The crasher of the day award went to 19-year-old Spaniard Toni Elias who crashed three times from his Aprilia in the 26-lap 250cc race. Despite losing a footrest he remounted three times, shook the gravel from his leathers and eventually finished in 13th.

His team-mate Fonsi Nieto fell in the esses while lying second in the race, remounted and continued in seventh place. He fought his way back to second and took the lead when Naoki Matsudo crashed with just five and a half laps remaining and leading from the second lap. Nieto went on to win the race.

The drama began even before the start of the 24-lap 125cc race when world champion and championship-leader Manuel Poggiali crashed his Gilera on the sighting lap. He was forced to start from the last row of the grid on his second machine only to force his way back to fourth place. Then he crashed again and lost his championship lead to Frenchman Arnaud Vincent who won the race.

Italian veteran Lucio Cecchinello set a very good example to his team. He is both Manager and rider together with Alex de Angelis in his 125cc Aprilia team. Both riders crashed twice in the race but the Manager still managed to remount for a second time to finish a brilliant sixth. The 32-year-old was down in 25th place after his first crash and 15th after his second and for many was the winner of the rider of the day award.

The real fall guy in the 28-lap MotoGP race was Spaniard Sete Gibernau. In similar style to Matsudo in the 250cc he was leading comfortably with just four and a half laps remaining when he crashed in a great cloud of spray and sparks to hand the race to world champion and championship-leader Valentino Rossi.

Two riders - Jeremy McWilliams and Shinya Nakano - crashed but remounted to finish in the points. McWilliams was a brave ninth and Nakano 12th. West Honda Pons star Loris Capirossi was not so lucky and could not continue when he fell from eighth place on lap seven.

It's a Sunday in the rain that MotoGP will not forget in a hurry and will not want repeated for a very long time, if ever. Watch that weather forecast next time out in Rio.



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