FIM GP Results From Le Mans

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
Honda's Valentino Rossi was on pole, and it looked as though the Italian Stallion (sorry, Sly Stallone) would walk away with yet another win.

But then rain started to fall, as did some riders. And then it started to dry again...

Starting from pole on the closest qualifying grid ever, with just 2.215seconds covering all 20 riders, Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RCV211V)won his third race out of four so far this season at Le Mans today. Hetimed his charge into the lead from third place to perfection as therain-hit race was stopped two laps later. Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda TeamRCV211V) finished second after making much of the running, with Yamaha's YZR-M1-mounted Max Biaggi(Yamaha) third.

A 70,000 crowd watched Rossi take an early lead before Ukawa moved past himon lap nine as rain began to fall, Biaggi also going past at the same time.Biaggi then moved ahead to lead briefly before Ukawa moved inside him twolaps later on the revised 4.180km track, 125m shorter than last year.Drizzle continued to fall on the new part of the circuit and grip levelsbecame unpredictable. Lap times dropped by a second to around the 1m 38.5smark, then the light rain eased and the pace crept up again.

Rossi re-took Biaggi on lap 19 before stalking Ukawa and then divingunderneath him at the Chemin de Boeuf left/right chicane two laps later. Afew laps later the race was red flagged when the rain intensified, givingRossi his first-ever win at Le Mans, but the Italian would have beenhappier had he won under more usual circumstances.

"A race like this is difficult," said Rossi. "Much more difficult thannormal. It's 25 points for me, but it's just as easy not to finish the raceat all in these conditions. There was rain on the new part of the track. Onsome laps there was more rain, sometimes less, it was difficult and I wasvery lucky. I was conserving my tyres as it was not possible to go at 100per cent all the time. The rain was at its worst when the race was stopped,so yes, I have 25 points - but it was not an ideal way to finish a race."

Second-placed Ukawa was less fortunate. He was running a strong second whenthe flags came out and felt he could have made a bid for the win. "That wasreally difficult," he said. "I could have done with more laps and maybethings could have been different, but when the weather is like this, eventhat might not have helped me. I tried my best and did OK."

Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500) started form his lowest gridposition (seventh) since the German Grand Prix last year and finishedseventh after running as high as fifth in the early stages. "It was adifficult day," he said. "They were very strange conditions. I put on aharder tyre for the race expecting it to run cooler but it ran hotter. ButI have to be reasonably happy because I'm still third in the championship."

Valentino Rossi, Repsol Honda, 1st: "Races like this are very difficult.In some parts of the track is rain, in some parts sun. The conditions arevery unpredictable. I was lucky to finish. I made a good start but had alittle problem with he tyres so I attacked and made some fast laps and goto first position. The rain then comes and we stop the race. Sure, it's notthe best way to win a race but it's still 25 points and is good for thechampionship. I am happy to win at Le Mans at last."

Tohru Ukawa, Repsol Honda, 2nd: "Valentino put his hand up. When the raincomes we stop. I made a great start beating the two Yamaha's off the lineand followed Valentino for nine laps. He made a mistake and I led for 10laps. The bike felt great, much better than in practice. We madeadjustments to the suspension and I had much greater feeling in the race. Ishould be happy with second position but I'm not really. I have won onerace this season and I know I can win more. The gap is getting largerbetween Valentino and me. I now look forward to Mugello where I want to goone better."

1. Valentino Rossi (Honda)2. Tohru Ukawa (Honda)3. Max Biaggi (Yamaha)4. Norick Abe (Yamaha)5. Kenny Roberts Jr. (Suzuki)6. Nobuatsu Aoki (Proton)7. Loris Capirossi (Honda)8. Alex Barros (Honda)9. Regis Laconi (Aprilia)10. Jeremy McWilliams (Proton)11. John Hopkins (Yamaha)12. Sete Gibernau (Suzuki)13. Shinya Nakano (Yamaha)14. Jean-Michel Bayle (Yamaha)15. Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Honda)
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