500cc Japanese GP Results

Colin MacKellar
by Colin MacKellar
Season gets going in Japan, and it's that crazy Italian rider showing the rest of the field how to ride the fastest bikes in the world. Rossi is going to be tough for anyone to beat and Roberts looks like he's going to be struggling with a Suzuki that just won't hook up out of the corners. Should be a great season though...

2001 Japanese GRAND PRIXTRACK: SuzukaDATE: 8 April 2001WEATHER: Warm, cloudy 500cc Race Results (21 laps)------------------Pos No. Rider Nat Bike Time/Diff--- --- ----- --- ---- ---------1 46 Rossi Ita Hon 44'51.5012 5 McCoy Aus Yam 0.7243 3 Biaggi Ita Yam 0.9564 6 Abe Jpn Yam 1.1765 56 Nakano Jpn Yam 3.2566 4 Barros Bra Hon 14.5157 1 Roberts USA Suz 22.8768 65 Capirossi Ita Hon 28.7329 1 Criville Spa Hon 34.47810 7 Checa Spa Yam 53.76511 17 v.d. Goorbergh Hol Proton 58.68812 12 Aoki Jpn Hon(2) 1'17.22113 9 Haslam Gbr Hon(2) Rossi very strongRoberts Suzuki team in crisis

Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda) will be this year's 500cc world champion. For many people, this was already clear before the bikes blasted off the grid for the first race of the year, but Rossi clearly demonstrated that he will be the rider to beat this year. After a lackluster set of qualification sessions, Rossi took a few laps to pas through the leaders to head the field, but from the 8th. lap, he had a clear road ahead of him. Pulling a 3 second advantage over the group fighting for second, he defended this lead through to the end of the last lap, easing through the final chicane and slowing as he crossed the line. A perfect race. In contrast, Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki) continued to struggle, as he has done throughout pre-season testing. He managed 8th. fastest time on the grid, lining up next to Rossi for the start, but was never in the hunt for victory at the top of the field. With complaints of lack of mid-range power from the Suzuki, it was difficult for Roberts to get good drive out of some of the slow corners at Suzuka, like the final chicane and the Esses. If Suzuki don't get him an engine with better characteristics in the next couple of GPs, he will be chasing a speck in the distance as Rossi piles on the points.

Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons) surprised friend and foe with a blistering qualifying lap to take pole position with almost a full second margin. He was able to keep the advantage as the race started and led the first two laps from Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha) and Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech3). However he faded fast and dropped back to mid-field unable to match the pace with what must have been a wrong tire or suspension choice. Lap 1 saw Chris Walker (Shell advance Honda) and Jose Luis Cardoso (Antenna 3 Yamaha) touch and crash at the chicane, with many more DNFs to follow before race end. The field was headed by a large group of riders including Biaggi, Nakano, McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha), Capirossi and Rossi. Nori Haga (red Bull Yamaha) had a bad start and looked to be out of contention after suffering two bad crashes during qualification. But he recovered well and joined the leaders by lap 5, along with Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda). For 5 laps it looked like Haga might be able to challenge for a good position, but on lap 11 he slid off unhurt. Ukawa seems to have really found his feet in the 500 class and pulled through to challenge for second place with Biaggi and McCoy, behind a disappearing Rossi. Rossi had hit the front on lap 8, but only after some very hard riding while trying to pass Biaggi. Coming on to the start/finish straightaway at the end of lap 6, he had tried to pass Biaggi on the outside, who went a little wide and stuck his elbow out into Rossi, who kept the gas wide open and rode 20 meters over the dirt but could not get past. When he finally passed 2 laps later, he raised his hand and what looked like a middle figure to Biaggi just behind. No love lost there, but they did shake hands during the press conference.

With Rossi clearly ahead, it was the battle for second between Biaggi, Ukawa, McCoy, Nakano and Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha) that got all the attention. Ukawa looked very strong and McCoy was backing the bike through the corners dirttrack style, sometimes gaining on the others but often not. It all got sorted out on lap 16 as McCoy took over second place and Ukawa third, followed by Abe and Nakano. On the exit from the chicane, Ukawa lost the rear end of the bike, which slid right into Biaggi's path forcing him to stand on the brakes and take violent evasive action. He squeezed by safely, but lost third place to Abe and Nakano. Taking a lap to get the heart rate back to normal, he closed up and passed Nakano and followed Abe into the last lap, with McCoy well ahead. Under heavy breaking into the chicane, Biaggi slid alongside Abe to take third and held it to the flag.

Alex Barros (West Honda Pons) had a quiet race to 6th. place behind Abe and Nakano, well ahead of Roberts who was just going for the points. Capirossi also managed to get the bike home in 8th. place for some points, well ahead of Alex Criville (Repsol Honda) who went off the track mid-race but managed to recover. Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha) was another rider to do some dirt tracking , but could still come home in 10th. The decimated field of finishers included Jurgen van de Goorbergh (Proton Team KR) in his first race for the Roberts team, who had not ridden the bike at Suzuka during the pre-season tests and suffered accordingly. Last place went to the youngest competitor ever at 500 GP level, 17 year-old Leon Haslam (Shell Advance Honda), who leaves the Japanese GP with 3 well-earned championship points.

It was a good day for Honda and particularly the 500cc race, which netted them their 500th. GP victory.

Next race South African GP 22 April 2001

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Colin MacKellar
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