For the fourth time this season - fifth if you count Donington, where he 'won' after Rossi's post race penalty - Max Biaggi was forced to play the 'bridesmaid', finishing second after leading confidently for the first half of the 28 lap Portuguese Grand Prix.

The Roman made the early running after getting a smooth start and an unhindered run into the often chaotic turn - and by the end of the first lap had pulled a 0.6secs lead over Rossi.

But by lap four the Repsol rider was right up with Biaggi and right in his wheel-tracks. Max remained unflustered and rode faultlessly at his own rapid pace. Indeed, the pair were circulating in the low 1min 39secs bracket and no one could stay with them.

However, Rossi made his break on lap 14 and Biaggi had no immediate answer to the onslaught. The World Champion slid past him at turn one and then turned the screw, immediately pulling out a one second advantage by the end of that lap. He remorselessly motored on, and by the final few laps was 3.6s ahead before easing off on the last lap.

"It's good to be here talking about a podium finish," said Max. "We made a big step forward here and I want to thank my team. When I was first into turn one I was relieved and then set a fast rhythm because I knew that only a few riders could maintain it. But I knew Rossi had a speed margin from practice.

"This was a good Grand Prix for me and I just want to win some races soon," confessed Biaggi, who has gone over a year without winning on track.

But no matter how frustrated Biaggi may be, team-mate Tohru Ukawa is in a much more diffult situation: Running the full factory RCV as used by Rossi, Gibernau and Hayden, the Japanese has rarely matched Biaggi's pace despite his superior machinery and his best result has been a fourth at Jerez.

Yesterday, the amiable Tohru was hampered by a tenth placed start - but fought his way through to fifth at the flag.

"I had a good race, but there is still more work to do," he conceded. "The problem is the start where I lose too much ground and then I cannot make it up to get with the leaders. I must improve in the qualifying sessions so I can start the race from the front row, or at the most the second row, but when you are on the third row it is a disaster.

"However, I am feeling better, particularly after the practice session we did in Brno the day after the Grand Prix. Now I must not lose concentration and work very hard to be in the front at Rio," concluded Ukawa.

"I am very satisfied because things have not gone our way for the last two races and this weekend the team overall has put in a strong performance," commented team owner Sito Pons. "Max had a great race and Tohru has taken a big step forward. We are moving in the right direction, although we are all conscious that we have to improve still further, and today's result is a just reward for our efforts."

 

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