Valentino Rossi takes his second consecutive win with a rousing victory over Sete Gibernau at Catalunya.
“This was a surprise for us, for sure,” explained Rossi. “It was a difficult win, the track has a long straight like Mugello so we lose at the end of the straight but the bike is good for turning. It was a hard race, the pace was very fast. I am very happy, the team is happy, we all work very well together. After a while, Sete starts to leave but I see him slipping and sliding and I was able to catch him. We are here, we are here for the win. But we still need to improve.”
Fortuna Yamaha’s Marco Melandri finished third, his best ever MotoGP result. “This morning I could tell my bike was quite good, and after five laps I saw my rhythm was quite good also. So this is a great day for me! I could see on my pit board my improvement every lap. When Carlos began to catch me, I pushed harder and then saw my gap improve.”
The highest finishing American was Colin Edwards in fifth, Kenny Roberts was 17th after pitting to get a new rear tire; John Hopkins, Kurtis Roberts and Nicky Hayden were all DNFs. Gibernau retains the championship lead by five points over Rossi.
Valentino found himself at the front initially but Gibernau took the lead after Rossi went wide on the left at Caixa. But Rossi wasted no time in catching back up and was all over the Honda pilot a short time later.
Repsol Honda’s Alex Barros low-sided out of the race on lap five. Proton rider Kurtis Roberts pulled in moments later, ending his race. About that same time Rossi and Gibernau began to pull away from Melandri, putting a three-second lead over the 2002 250 champ at the end of ten laps.
Gibernau led laps 12 and 13 but Rossi was always probing, always looking to pounce. He got his chance when Gibernau ran wide on the exit of the long Renault turn. A lap later Gibernau pulled out of Rossi’s draft on the front straight and took over lead at the start of lap 15.
Nicky Hayden pulled out of the race about half way through, with mechanical problems. Either the rear shock had gone bad or a rock holed the radiator, depending on who you’re talking to – regardless, the Repsol Honda team cannot be happy with a pair of DNFs.
Rossi was back in front at the end of 19 but Gibernau was right behind him. At this point Melandri was 33 seconds behind the leaders.
Suzuki’s John Hopkins was next to pull out of the race. Soon afterwards his teammate Kenny Roberts came in too. Fortunately for Suzuki all he needed was a new rear tire. When Roberts rejoined the race he managed to hook up with Gibernau and Rossi and ran with then for a few laps. He was actually turning almost the same lap times and in fact was faster than Rossi on lap 22.
With five laps to go, it was Rossi from Gibernau while Melandri was riding around in a lonely third place. Gibernau powered by Rossi for the lead as they started lap 22. But Rossi was taking tighter lines through the corners and you could just tell he was not too concerned with being in second place.
Ducati’s Troy Bayliss had a big, tumbling crash in the closing stages – ending a decent run by the Aussie.
The smooth riding Rossi went back to the front in Elf corner at the end of the front straight and held it, despite a big, smoking slide on the exit of the corner. From that point Gibernau had nothing for the champ. Starting the last lap, Rossi was in lead by half-a-second, Gibernau was just sliding too much to catch him. “The Doctor” was off to win number three in 2004.
“Like I said yesterday, tire choice would be important,” explained Gibernau. “We cannot run a hard a tire as Yamaha, they have more traction, the Hondas were slipping. We had to run a softer tire. Here, you can see I am surrounded by Yamahas. Others give excuses, I give no excuses. My congratulations to Valentino and Marco. Now we need to get together with Honda, there are no other Hondas up here, we must continue to work hard.”
Nicky Hayden had hoped to be a contender in 2004 but things have not gone his way to this point. Two straight DNFs for the 2002 AMA Superbike champ leaves Hayden 10th in the points and none too thrilled about it. Pacing and upset after today’s race, Hayden nonetheless managed to hide the true feelings he had after today.
Hayden started on the front row and after the first lap was way down in 16th. “We had a problem with the clutch all weekend on the same bike. I had to slip the clutch all the way to the first turn, after that it was just slip, slip, slip.
“Then I picked up a rock in the radiator really early, the first or second lap. I had steam on my visor on the second lap, then the bike started running hotter. It almost seized up, it wasn’t fun out there. I had a serious moment out there, it locked up in the two left-handers at the bottom of the hill.
This morning, we ran some really old tires in the warm-up – I mean these tires had gone more than race distance. During the race, I couldn’t really charge, I was just trying to stay upright, trying to finish.”
Hayden was moving up lap by lap and got as high as ninth before the big Honda had enough – his last lap was the 16th of 25.
“That’s racing, as they say,” said a dejected Hayden.
Kenny Roberts finished outside the points but his time spent following the leaders around gives him a ray of hope that the Suzuki has the potential to be competitive. He says he got into a big rear wheel slide, which he thinks was caused by Hayden’s water. He said just as Hayden was really slowing down, he (Roberts) got into the slide and figured the tire was gone and that’s why he came in for the new tire. He then hooked up with Rossi and Gibernau.
“I had the best seat in the house, I was starting far enough away not to influence the outcome of the race in any way, and for me it was a nice few laps behind Sete and Valentino. I know once we get our bike working as good as theirs later in the year, I will be able to influence the outcome.”
1. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Yamaha, 44:03.255
2. Sete Gibernau, Spain, Honda, 44:03.414
3. Marco Melandri, Italy, Yamaha, 44:17.178
4. Carlo Checa, Spain, Yamaha, 44:22.468
5. Colin Edwards, United States, Suzuki, 44:24.460
6. Ruben Xaus, Spain, Ducati, 44:26.102
7. Shinya Nakano, Japan, Kawasaki, 44:27.269
8. Max Biaggi, Italy, Honda, 44:27.359
9. Norick Abe, Japan, Yamaha, 44:38.931
10. Loris Capirossi, Italy, Ducati, 44:34.030
Circuit length 2.94 miles, 73.5 miles Fastest lap: Gibernau, lap 2, 1:44.641, 101.05 mph avg., new record.
Old record: Rossi, 2003: 1:435.472, 100.25 mph avg.
Point standings after five races:
1. Gibernau, 106
2. Rossi, 101
3. Biaggi, 80
4. Checa, 49
5. Barros, 48
7. Melandri, 38
8. Capirossi, 34
9. Abe, 28
250 MotoGP Recap
Randy De Puniet wins his first race of the year with a sensational victory over Daniel Pedrosa. It was his second straight win at Catalunya and is his fourth 250 win. De Puniet maintains his points lead in the championship over Pedrosa.
De Puniet and Pedrosa, the defending 125cc champion, were the class of the field and no one could get close as they ran their own private battle.
The last five laps of the race saw the top two swap places and paint, well clear of third place man Toni Elias.
On the 23rd and last lap, De Puniet led across the line, Pedrosa went into the lead halfway around the circuit when he went up the inside of De Puniet heading into Campsa corner.
But De Puniet went back to the front at the La Caixa left-hander. Pedrosa slipped back a bit and despite a last-last surge through the final two right-handers that lead back onto the front straight, De Puniet had too much of a lead and Pedrosa fell short by 0.109-seconds.
“It was a very difficult race today,” said winner De Puniet. “Danny was riding very fast and hard and I could not get away from him.”
250 GP Results:
1. Randy De Puniet, France, Aprilia, 41.29.955, 97.67 mph avg.
2. Daniel Pedrosa, Spain, Honda, 41:30.064
3. Toni Elias, Spain, Honda, 41:39.476
4. Sebastian Porto, Argentina, Aprilia, 41.50.826
5. Fonsi Nieto, Spain, Aprilia, 42:04.292
6. Hiroshi Aoyama, Japan, Honda, 42:07.524
7. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Aprilia, 42:12.02
8. Alex Debon, Spain, Honda, 42:15.805
9. Anthony West, Australia, Aprilia, 41:15.893
10. Franco Battaini, Italy, Aprilia, 42:16.190
Track length: 2.94 miles, 23 laps, 67.66 miles Fastest lap: Pedrosa, lap 11: 1:47.292, 98.54 mph, new record. Old record: Rossi, 1998, 1:47.585, 98.24 mph
Points standings after five races:
1. De Puniet, 98
2. Pedrosa, 90
3. Porto, 63
4. Nieto, 56
5. Elias, 54
6. Rolfo, 41
7. De Angeles, 40
8. Debon, 37
9. West, 36
10. Aoyama, 35