Marco Melandri came to within a whisker of imposing a shock MotoGP regime change in the Middle East yesterday, when the injured Italian was just a few corners from outracing world champion Valentino Rossi for what would have been a first ever MotoGP victory, in Saturday's Qatar Grand Prix.

Despite being left with over 30 stitches in his right foot after a clash with his fellow Italian two weeks ago in Japan, Melandri showed no signs of weakness as he worked his way swiftly through the lead pack to hold third, ahead of Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards, and behind Rossi and race leader Sete Gibernau, by lap 5 of 22.

Melandri made his first pass on Rossi to take second on lap 10, but Rossi then retook the position and began to reduce Gibernau's lead. By lap 15 it was down to just 0.4secs from a high of 1.1secs, but Melandri had ideas of his own and passed Rossi yet again on lap 17 - and immediately set about challenging his team-mate.

Just one lap later Melandri pounced up the inside to snatch the lead - the first time that Gibernau had been passed since the race began - and the Spaniard didn't react well to it, running into the gravel as he immediately tried to counteract Melandri's bold move.

Gibernau rejoined the race to finish fifth, but all the action was at the front with a straight two-way fight between Rossi and Melandri, as Hayden dropped back in third.

Melandri was able to fend off Rossi at turn one at the end of the start/finish straight for the next two laps, before Rossi cruised past along the home straight on the penultimate circulation.

Valentino's usual tactic is to then deliver a crushing lap to keep his rival from retaliating, but Marco shadowed him and then dived up the inside five turns from the flag, only to run wide on the exit and hand victory back.

Rossi held on for the win, but Melandri had showed that even when injured he is a match for the world champion in speed, determination and race long endurance.

"That was a wonderful race after a bad moment for me," said Melandri after claiming his second runner-up position of the season. "I felt good after practice, the bike was ready and we did a great job with Michelin.

"I didn't get a good start in the race, took it calmly for the first few laps and lost a bit of time as I made up the positions. I passed Edwards and Hayden to catch up with the leaders, the bike was running perfectly and my only thought was to finish on the podium.

"It is almost impossible to overtake here - but on the last lap I couldn't not have a go! I tried to pass Valentino but I made a mistake and ran off track. Despite that it was an incredible race and I'm really pleased to be back on the podium after a tough couple of weeks with the injury.

"Now I'm third in the championship and the fight for second is still on," concluded Marco, who is now just 2-points behind Repsol Honda's Max Biaggi in the battle for second.

 

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