A 4-Stroke Wins at Suzuka!

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
OK, since you all want to watch things before you read about them, we'll just tell you it was a historic race. Oh, and a 4-Stroke won. And it wasn't a pit bike.

Read on if you'd like the story...

The combination of Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) andhis all-new Honda V5 four-stroke proved unbeatable in today’s historicJapanese GP, the first event of MotoGP racing’s new four-stroke era.

Despite atrocious weather conditions at the high-speed venue and theefforts of unflinching rival Akira Ryo (Suzuki), Rossi and the RCV werevictorious, giving Honda its first four-stroke GP win in 35 years. Coming across the finish line in third place was Yamaha's Max Biaggi on his M1 four-stroke.

The last man to ride a Honda four-stroke to GP success was the late, great MikeHailwood, who won the factory’s final outing in its original four-strokeera at Mosport, Canada, in September 1967. A dozen years later Hondareturned to the GP fray with the fabulous oval-pistoned NR500, but thoughthis machine earned Honda a huge amount of four-stroke technical expertiseit never beat the then-dominant two-strokes. The man in charge of NRdevelopment was Suguru Kanazawa, fresh out of university. Today Kanazawa,now HRC president, was at Suzuka to see his earliest and most recent workbear fruit.

“Our goal has always been to win GPs with four-stroke machinery, so today’svictory is very meaningful to me and everyone else at Honda,” saidKanazawa. “We are still benefiting from what we learned from the NR500.”

The race, held at the circuit which Honda founder Soichiro Honda had builtin 1962, was a real thriller. Rossi made a steady start from pole position,which he achieved in dry conditions at the very end of yesterday’s finalqualifier, completing the first lap in fifth place.

Considering this washis first real ride in wet conditions with the RCV, apart from thismorning’s warm-up and a handful of laps during Sepang tests back inFebruary, he knew he had to learn as he went along. The Italian thus rode atypically intelligent race, moving into third on lap four, behind ShinichiItoh (Team HRC RC211V) and leader Ryo. From there he bided his time,watching and learning from the locals, before sneaking past Itoh intosecond at half distance. Then six laps from the flag he moved into thelead, resisting constant counter-attack pressure from Ryo to win by 1.5seconds after setting the fastest lap of the race on the final lap.

“When I woke up this morning I wasn’t so happy to see that it was raining,like most riders, I’m sure,” said Rossi, who has now won 14 GPs for Honda.

“We were only 14th in warm-up but I stayed calm and made sure I got a goodstart. It’s very important to stay with the leading group in theseconditions, because only then can you understand where the limit really is.So I used this tactic and when I could overtake some riders I did it at thechicane. Then I was with the wild cards, Ryo and Itoh, who both know thistrack very well in the wet. When it was just me and Ryo I could see he wasfaster in some parts and I learned from that. Also, I have ridden theSuperbike in the wet here, so that helped. This weekend has given me verymuch emotion, both good and bad, because I had two crashes in practice. Itwas a good race for sure, now I’m very happy!”

This crucial success was Rossi’s third consecutive Suzuka win, followinglast July’s Eight Hour victory (achieved aboard an SP-1 Superbike inpartnership with American rider Colin Edwards) and last April’s Japanese GPvictory aboard his NSR500 two-stroke, which gave Honda its 500th GP success.

Race Classification MotoGP: (Laps 21 122.241 km)Pos/Rider/Nation/Team/Motorcycle/Time/Km/h1. Valentino ROSSI /ITA/ Repsol Honda Team HONDA 49'32.766s/ 148.033 km/h2. Akira RYO JPN/Telefonica Movistar /SUZUKI 49'34.316 s/147.9553.Carlos CHECA SPA/Marlboro Yamaha Team YAMAHA 49'41.119 147.6184. Shinichi ITOH JPN /Team HRC/ HONDA 49'43.595s/ 147.4955. Norick ABE JPN / Antena 3 Yamaha d'Antín/ YAMAHA /49'53.189s/ 147.0226. Alex BARROS /BRA /West Honda Pons /HONDA 50'05.025s/ 146.4437. Nobuatsu AOKI JPN/Proton Team KR /PROTON KR 50'12.399s/ 146.0858. Regis LACONI FRA /MS Aprilia Racing /APRILIA 49'40.232 140.630/ + 1 lap9. Loris CAPIROSSI /ITA/West Honda Pons /HONDA 49'44.518s/ 140.428/+ 1 lap10.Daijiro KATOH /JPN/ Fortuna Honda Gresini HONDA 49'48.895s/ 140.223/+ 1 lap11.Tetsuya HARADA JPN/ Pramac Honda Racing / HONDA 50'07.870s/ 139.338/+ 1 lap12.John HOPKINS USA/ Red Bull Yamaha WCM /YAMAHA/+ 5 lapsFastest lap: Valentino Rossi, 2m 19.105s 150.645 km/h (Unofficial new laprecord)WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS:1. Rossi 25, 2. Ryo 20, 3. Checa 16, 4. Itoh 13, 5. Abe 11, 6. Barros 10,7. Aoki 9,8. Laconi 8, 9. Capirossi 7, 10. Katoh 6, 11. Harada 5, 12. Hopkins 4.
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