Preview Rio Grand Prix, Jacarepagua, Brazil
2002 MotoGP 500 World Championship, round 12
Rio Grand Prix, Jacarepagua
September 19/20/21 2002
UKAWA HOLDS KEY TO ROSSI'S RIO TITLE BID
Honda hero Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) heads to SouthAmerica this week ready to secure his fourth World Championship in justseven years. The remarkable 23-year old has dominated this year'sfirst-ever MotoGP series, winning nine of the first 11 races, and carriesan 89-point advantage into Saturday's Rio Grand Prix. If he wins the race,with sole title rival Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) fourth orlower, Rossi will be crowned World Champion.
The Rio omens are good for Rossi. The Italian has been victorious on hislast four visits to Jacarepagua, in fact he's only once failed to win atthe circuit, during his debut 125 GP campaign way back in 1996. He won the'97 Rio 125 GP on his way to that year's 125 World Championship, he won the'99 250 GP to clinch that year's 250 crown, he scored his first dry-track500 success at Rio the following year and last November he won theseason-ending Rio 500 GP, having already wrapped up to the last-ever 500title. So he obviously gets on well with the bumpy and slippery track.
"For sure it would be good to win the title in Rio because it's a greatplace to party!" smiles Rossi, who enjoyed a riotous title-winningcelebration at a Rio yacht club after his 250 victory three years ago. "Butthe only important thing is to win the title, 'when' doesn't matter. Ithink we can have a good weekend because we sorted a few problems atEstoril two weeks back. Since Brno we'd been having some braking trouble,it was difficult to get the bike stopped but that's fixed now, so I'menjoying riding the bike again."
Rossi's overall Honda record is phenomenal. Since joining the marque at thestart of the 2000 500 season, he has won 22 premier-class GPs from 43starts. But winning again on Saturday may not be enough to hand him thetitle with the Pacific, Malaysian, Australian and Valencia GPs still to go.Team-mate Ukawa is also pretty handy at Jacarepagua, situated close to theSouth Atlantic coastline 20km outside the city of Rio de Janeiro, and ifthe Japanese finishes in the top three, Rossi will have to wait a few weekslonger for his coronation. Ukawa took pole position for last year's Rio 500GP, when, like Rossi, he was riding a Honda NSR500, though he crashed outof the race. And he's finished on the Rio 250 GP podium on three occasions,in 1999 and 2000, when he finished second, and in 1997, when he was third.Also, Ukawa is on fine form at the moment, finishing third at the lastthree GPs, despite suffering the effects of two big accidents.
"I want to continue the good podium run I'm having at the moment," saysUkawa who is most concerned with defending second overall from Max Biaggi(Yamaha), who is just 12 points further back. "My third place at Estorilincreased the gap between me and Biaggi and I need to keep it that way forthe rest of the season. I like the Rio track, I've had three 250 podiumsthere and last year I scored my first-ever 500 pole at the circuit. Thisyear I must make sure I don't crash again, I can't afford to lose the points."
If Rossi's focus is aimed at securing the MotoGP title, Brazilian AlexBarros (West Honda Pons NSR500) is concerned only with winning his home GPfor the first time. Barros has been contesting World Championship events inBrazil since 1988, scoring his first home-country points the following yearwhen he finished tenth in the Brazilian 250 GP, then held at Goiania. In'92 he took eighth in the Brazilian 500 GP at Interlagos. And two years agohe came within 0.970 seconds of winning his home GP when he chased Rossiover the line at Jacarepagua. But the 32-year old from Sao Paulo knows thathe will have a difficult job trying to stay with Rossi's RCV V5 four-stroke.
"It will be another difficult race for us, because Rio is a fast track,"says the top two-stroke MotoGP rider who hopes to have his first race on anRCV at the Pacific GP on October 6. "The four-strokes are much faster thanthe 500s in a straight line, there's no way we can even hold theirslipstream, so they'll have a big advantage down the main straight. I thinkwe can be faster through the curves, I know I'm really quick through thefinal section of the circuit, and I know I'm very strong on the brakes,which is useful at the end of the big straight. But it's a case of weighingup the time we gain and the time we lose, and overall the four-strokes willbe faster. The only time we really have an advantage is on Friday, when thefour-strokes are starting from zero on set-up, because this is their firsttime at the track."
Daijiro Kato (Fortuna Honda Gresini RC211V) aims to get back on track atRio after recording a no-score at the Portuguese GP two weeks ago. Racingan RCV V5 for only the second time, after he'd finished a brilliant secondin his Brno debut, Kato slid out of the rain-lashed GP. "I want it to bedry for Rio!" smiles the reigning 250 World Champion who won last year'sdamp Rio 250 GP. "Estoril was difficult for me because I've had so littletime on the bike, it was wet for much of the second day of practice andthen it rained heavily for the race. If the conditions are better at Rio Ibelieve I can fight up front, just like I did at Brno. Rio is never an easytrack because it's slippery even when it's dry, especially if the weatheris hot. Riding the RCV there will be very interesting!"
Barros' team-mate Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500) also tumbled atEstoril and he too hopes to be back in the points at Rio. "But I think wewill have trouble staying with the four-strokes," says Capirossi, who hasonly once finished on the podium in Brazil, when he took third place in the1999 Rio 250 GP. "Maybe the weather may intervene like last year, becausethe confusion could help us close the gap on the four-strokes."
Tetsuya Harada (Pramac Honda NSR500) expects a challenging weekend at atrack that has never been kind to him. The Japanese finished outside thetop ten in his two previous premier-class outings at Rio, in 1999 and 2000,and never did better than second in his various 250 rides at the track."Much will depend on the conditions, sometimes Rio is very slippery, othertimes it's just a little bit slippery," he says. "This will be my firsttime there with a V4 500 and we'll need all the set-up time we can get, soI hope the track isn't too dirty when we start practice on Thursday, and Ihope it stays dry."
Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Kanemoto Racing Honda NSR500) had been hoping forhis best result of the year in the rain at Estoril but he was sidelined bya quickshifter problem after running third in the early stages. "That'ssometimes how things turn out you're all set for your best result, thensomething tiny goes wrong," says the Dutchman. "Rio will be interesting forus because it's got a strange surface, but Bridgestone have been makingsome good strides forward, and I'm sure they'll have something good for theconditions."
In the 250s, Robby Rolfo (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) plans to put thememory of a miserable Portuguese GP well and truly behind him. The Italianwas given a stop-and-go penalty for allegedly jumping the start, but cameback superbly to finish fourth, just 23 seconds down on winner Fonsi Nieto(Aprilia). Without the controversial penalty, he would surely have won therace. "I was robbed, there's no way I jumped the start," says Rolfo. "ForRio I want to get the best-possible result to erase that memory. I needmaximum points, though it's going to be tough for me to catch Nieto insecond overall."
Rolfo's team-mate Emilio Alzamora (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) had agreat race in Portugal, taking sixth place in his comeback ride followingsurgery to correct 'arm pump' problems. "The surgery seems to have workedreally well," says the Spaniard. "So now I'm just looking forward togetting back to riding like normal. Rio is always a complicated weekendbecause the asphalt is in poor condition, but it's the same for everyone,of course. If we can work well during the first two days of practice, I'mconfident I can get a good race result."
Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Jr Team Honda RS125R) comes to Rioholding third overall in the 125 World Championship, just five pointsbehind second-placed Manuel Poggiali (Gilera) and a further 23 behindseries leader Arnaud Vincent (Aprilia). The 16-year old took a bravetenth-place finish at Estoril, despite a mid-race fall, but had hoped forbetter after taking pole position for the fourth time this year. "We gotthe bike perfect for the dry but then it rained for the race, that's thesecond time that's happened this year!" he smiles. "Rio is quite difficultbecause it's so bumpy, but we got the bike working well at Estoril. It'llbe an important race because I've not given up on the title yet. I justhope it doesn't rain again because I don't like riding in the rain."
Team-mate Joan Olive (Telefonica Movistar Jr Team Honda RS125R) is chasinga place in the World Championship top ten. A no-scorer at the past two GPs,Olive knows he needs a good points haul at the next few races. "Luck wasagainst me again at Estoril, maybe it'll be better at Rio where I had oneof my best rides last year," says Olive.
GP racing stays out of Europe for the next month, with the Pacific GP atMotegi, Japan, followed by the Malaysian and Australian GPs on thefollowing two weekends. The 2002 season concludes back in Europe, atValencia in Spain, on November 3.
More by Elliot Strong