South African GP Results - 500 Class

Colin MacKellar
by Colin MacKellar
Round 2 in South Africa, and the last chance to set the tone before the series moves into the continental circus of European weekends. It was tough, but youth and Honda triumphed in the end......

2001 South African GRAND PRIXTRACK: WelkomDATE: 22 April 2001WEATHER: Hot, cloudy 500cc Race Results (28 laps)------------------Pos No. Rider Nat Bike Time/Diff--- --- ----- --- ---- ---------1 46 Rossi Ita Hon 45'03.4142 65 Capirossi Ita Hon 0.6603 11 Ukawa Jpn Hon 7.5304 56 Nakano Jon Yam 8.6535 6 Abe Jpn Yam 9.2246 1 Criville Spa Hon 13.2117 1 Roberts USA Suz 13.3058 3 Biaggi Ita Yam 13.6639 4 Barros Bra Hon 17.35710 15 Gibernau Spa Suz 21.69711 17 v.d. Goorbergh Hol Proton 37.64912 12 Aoki Jpn Hon(2) 48.58713 10 Carduso Spa Yam 1'01.11014 14 West Aus Hon(2) 1'06.17315 8 Walker Gbr Hon 1'08.255 Rossi top of the heapRace long battle with Capirossi, but Roberts strong at start

Two out of two is a damn fine way to start any years racing, so Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda) must be pretty pleased with the way the race went. Actually he had to work very hard for the win, with a bike that was not responding as it should and some strong competition from Loris Capirossi (West Pons Honda), with a gaggle of other riders joining in the fun throughout the race. For a time it looked as if Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki) had overcome the difficulties that have plagued the team so far this season , as he led the field for the opening laps, but his challenge failed and he dropped back into the clutches of the Criville (Repsol Honda) and Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha) fighting for 8th. place.

Rossi had secured his first 500 pole position late in the second qualifying session on Saturday and he was accompanied on the front row by Capirossi, Nakano (Gaulois Yamaha) and McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha). McCoy was looking to repeat his shock win from last season at a track that is considered to give the Yamahas an advantage. Both Nakano and McCoy got away well, but it was Capirossi who got the best launch as the starting lights faded out. Leaning into the first left-hander, he was surprised by Roberts who made a Kamikaze dive for the lead underneath the Italian, forcing him wide and back into seventh place. It was a brave move by the American who was desperate to be in the leading group at a track that is low on passing places for the 500 bikes. Rossi slipped past Roberts as he recovered from the late braking move, but Roberts moved back ahead almost immediately, with McCoy and Abe (Antena 3 D'Antin Yamaha) just behind. The leading trio pulled a slight gap on Abe in the opening laps, with Ukawa (Repsol Honda) and Nakano making it al all-Japanese contest for 4th. The other Japanese rider in the race, Nori Haga (Red Bull Yamaha), spoilt his perfect record for the weekend with a crash out of 10th. spot on lap 5. The leaders settled down with Roberts in the lead and Capirossi taking up the back of the pack of 7 riders. McCoy tried a couple of passes on Rossi, but most only lasted a couple of corners.

Halfway through the race, it was Abe's turn to attack Rossi after McCoy dropped back from an abortive passing move on the Italian. On lap 14 Abe took Roberts, with Rossi pushing past soon afterwards. This was the beginning of the end for Roberts who slipped further down the field to loose contact with the leading group. For 4 laps Abe led the race, but on lap 18 Rossi swept by, to be joined shortly afterwards by Loris Capirossi. On the same lap, Gary McCoy slipped off after trying to pass Roberts on the inside of a right-hander, and the distraction this caused gave Capirossi all he needed to break away and start to chase Rossi. By lap 20, Rossi and Capirossi were well clear of Abe, Ukawa and Nakano, with Roberts, Criville and Biaggi another 3 seconds behind them. For the next 6 laps it looked possible that Capirossi would chase Rossi right to the flag, but with a lighter fuel load, the front end that had felt heavy at the start of the race began working well and Rossi pulled away, finally setting the fastest lap time on the last lap. Roberts was also able to speed up at the end of the race and was able to hold off Biaggi to come home in 7th. place.

The fact that Rossi had to fight harder for the victory might give his opponents some encouragement, but actually they may well be even more discouraged to realize that even when his bike is not set up perfectly, he is able to compensate and take the win all the same. If it wasn't for the change in regs to allow 4-strokes next season, I'd say the start of the Rossi era is upon us.

Other commendable results were Antony West's (Dee Cee Jeans Honda) 500 debut which brought him 14 th. place on a Honda twin and Chris Walker (Shell Advance Honda), who scored the last point of the race and got his season tally off the mark.

Pass of the Race: Has to be the first turn lunge of Kenny Roberts to lead the field into the race. It kept his hopes alive for half the race and give Suzuki fans some hope that the season is not lost already.

Next race Spain 6 May

Get in your Inbox
Colin MacKellar
Colin MacKellar

More by Colin MacKellar

Join the conversation