MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi got his 2006 season off to a disastrous start at Jerez on Sunday, when he was hit from behind at turn one and thrown from his Camel Yamaha.

The culprit was Fortuna Honda's Toni Elias, who misjudged his braking point into the corner and hit Rossi's rear wheel, sending the Italian and his factory M1 sliding into the gravel.

The following riders all managed to avoid the mayhem, although Rossi's team-mate Coin Edwards was badly delayed as he took evasive action to miss the seven times world champion lying in the race track.

Nevertheless, Rossi emerged unharmed and was able to rejoin the race - albeit almost a minute down - and eventually finish in 14th position on his damaged Yamaha. Meanwhile, Elias recovered to a hard fought fourth place - before apologising to Rossi on the slow down lap.

"We knew this was going to be a difficult race but maybe not so difficult!" said Rossi, who had been battling chatter problems for much of the weekend and qualified just ninth on the grid. "I saw Toni come up on the inside and he hit me; this is racing and these things happen.

"I have known Toni for many years and he is a good rider. He apologised to me after the race so I told him not to worry - only to remember to brake next time and if it is too late then to hit another bike instead of me!

"Anyway I came back on the track and had a nice battle with Alex Hofmann. I am disappointed because I wanted to win the first race of the season but there is nothing we can do now. Only work hard to make sure we don't have these problems again and look forward to the next race in Qatar," he concluded.

Round two of the 2006 MotoGP World Championship, the Qatar Grand Prix, takes place on April 8.



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