Results From Rio Grand Prix, Rio, Brazil
Yes there was a race this weekend. In fact it was in Brazil. Well, um, anyway, if you want to know about it... well, you know the drill.
Soooo... how 'bout the weather?
ROSSI WINS WET RIO RACE AND MotoGP CHAMPIONSHIP
Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) scored his tenth win of the 2002 season and in doing so was crowned champion of racing's premier class for the second successive year, with only 12 of 16 rounds completed. The latest triumph of man and machine also means that Honda's RC211V and Rossi have taken the first title win in the new era of four-stroke based MotoGP regulations.
Rossi's championship winning race performance was the culmination of a dramatic and incident filled 24-lap event at the Nelson Piquet circuit, situated in the outskirts of Rio. His main championship rival Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) fell after completing only one lap, and from then on Rossi appeared content to sit behind Kenny Roberts (Suzuki) until lap 14, when the Italian rider subsequently took the lead, a lead that was only headed for a corner or two during the rest of the 118.392km race. A rash of crashes meant that there were only 14 finishers at a drenched Rio circuit.
Showboating to the finish by repeatedly backing the rear of his V5 Honda into the fast turn one, despite the soaking track surface, Rossi kept his head throughout to end his race 1.674 seconds clear of second place rider Max Biaggi (Yamaha); the only other man in with a pre-race mathematical possibility of overhauling Rossi's points total.
For Rossi, winning the first ever MotoGP championship under the new combined 990cc four-stroke/ 500cc two-stroke formula was more than just an ambition achieved. Proof of his joy was evident during an extravagant post-race celebration, which saw Rossi hold a replica World Cup soccer trophy aloft for the cameras, alongside members of his fan club dressed in Brazil strips - a homage to the host country's status as the most successful nation in world football.
"It is fantastic to win this world championship. It's my fourth world title and that is like a dream for me," said the 23-year-old Italian-born London resident. "We were really hoping for a dry race because we had worked so hard to get better settings for the dry. But it was wet and it is always difficult in these conditions.
"On the second lap I read 'Ukawa Out' on my pit board so I was happy to follow Kenny Roberts. Then the rain started to fall too hard to let me see properly in the spray from his rear tyre. I knew which way the track went, but I could not actually see it, so I decided to overtake. I could see the track clearly from then on but I knew from my pitboard that Max Biaggi was closing behind and realised he would not give up. When Carlos Checa came past it was like he came from another planet until he fell. After that I wanted to keep the gap to Biaggi behind and make sure of the win."
Summing up his 2002 season to date Rossi said: "We did a lot of work on the new machine in the winter and Honda came up with a very good bike from the beginning of the season. So we had a clear advantage for the first three or four races. Then the other manufacturers started to catch up, but to win ten races and take the title four races early is fantastic."
Rossi's impressive points total, after 12 of 16 races, is 270, with Biaggi now second on 160 and Ukawa third on 156.
Local hero Alex Barros (West Honda Pons NSR500) was the top two-stroke finisher, in a fine fourth place, overcoming his lowly start position with some élan.
"I am not frustrated to be one place off the podium at my home race," said a smiling Barros. "I rode well and I won the two-stroke race so I am very pleased about that. I did not have the same traction as the four-strokes but my back tyre performed very well. Now I am fourth in the championship and if I ride the four-stroke in Motegi then I will be able to fight to keep this position."
Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500) finished seven seconds behind his team-mate, after displaying caution and aggression in equal measure.
"I am happy because I consider I had a good race," said Capirossi. "I did not make a good start and in the beginning I took it easy in order to gain more and more confidence in the difficult track conditions. When I felt more comfortable I stepped up the rhythm, but I had a lot of difficulty passing riders in front of me."
Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Kanemoto Racing Honda NSR500) started well, fourth into the first turn, but fell back to a final ninth place after failing to find sufficient grip from the front end of his machine over full race distance.
Said the disappointed Dutchman; "I could do 2'04"5, maybe 2'04.0 laps but no more; that was my limit because the front tyre would not allow me to go any faster. I am a little disappointed because we had a good first two or three laps."
A 13th place finish for Tetsuya Harada (Pramac Honda NSR500) was the result of the Japanese rider having to ride conservatively due to a lack of grip.
"We have been having problems with the set-up from the beginning of the year until now," said Harada. "In the dry we have a lack of grip and in the wet we also have a lack of grip. In any conditions it is the same for us. I did not try to push hard because of this today and was careful to bring the bike home."
Tohru Ukawa saw his slim chances of overall championship success disappear when he fell from his machine on lap two, while lying in fourth position. The fully wet track proved to be the undoing of many riders, but for Ukawa, the price he paid was heaviest of all.
"Obviously I feel disappointed," said Ukawa from pitlane. "The whole team has worked very hard over the weekend and I feel like I have let everyone down. I knew I had to put in a good start from the third row of the grid and at the end of the first lap I was fifth. Then I fell. I don't know why yet. Me or the machine? We need to look at the data and then we will find out. I just need to think positive and look forward to the remaining four races to do my best."
Daijiro Kato (Fortuna Honda Gresini RC211V) was forced off the track on the opening lap and failed to finish the race, having gone too far into the trackside gravel beds to return to the tarmac.
"I didn't see who touched me but I felt a bang on the side of the fairing and I found myself in the gravel trap - and fell," said a regretful Katoh. "I'm very sorry because we had a really good setting for the wet conditions."
In the 250 class, a strong race from the combative Robby Rolfo (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) delivered him second place, after a 22-lap demonstration of skill and concentration in changeable track conditions. The Italian got the better of every rider in the field except the runaway winner Sebastian Porto (Yamaha), scoring a solid 20 points to put himself back in the hunt for second place in the championship table. He now sits third on 160, behind Marco Melandri (Aprilia) on 228 and Rio crasher Fonsi Nieto (Aprilia) 183.
Rolfo, ninth in qualifying, rode hard in the early laps to break away with the leading group, and had to withstand pressure from several riders before gapping third place Franco Battaini (Aprilia) by 1.698 seconds at the flag.
"I am especially happy to get this second place result in Rio because of what happened in Estoril, when the final outcome was unclear. These conditions today were very difficult, possibly the most difficult of the year. At the start it was completely wet and consistent for everyone, then it started to dry, but only in places. It took a lot of concentration to be at the front of a group, pushing but not pushing too hard, and when I was clear in second it was difficult to judge the track conditions and know what sort of lap time was possible."
Rolfo's team-mate Emilio Alzamora (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) took seventh place after some mid-race worries when the track started to dry out.
"Yesterday I said that there was some possibility of me staying at the front of the race and it turned out that way," said a relieved Alzamora. "When the track dried my bike did not turn perfectly, but luckily the rain started again and the tyres carried me to the finish."
Leon Haslam (By Queroseno Racing Honda RS250R/W) scored a top ten finish, following on from his seventh place at Estoril, while Jakub Smrz (DeGraaf Grand Prix Team Honda RS250R/W) was the only other Honda-mounted finisher.
Haruchika Aoki (DeGraaf Grand Prix Team Honda RS250R/W), Jason Vincent (By Queroseno Racing Honda RS250R/W) and Eric Bataille (By Queroseno Racing Honda RS250R/W) all failed to finish more than three laps of the scheduled 22.
A wet but rapidly drying track was also a challenge to all in the smallest GP class, altering the pre-race 125cc qualifying formbook considerably as the 21-lap event began. A brief fall of rain a few laps from the end could not stop the inexorably progress to the top podium step by Masao Azuma (Tribe by Breil Honda RS125R), who took his first win of the year after hunting down early leading duo Arnaud Vincent (Aprilia) and Manuel Poggiali (Derbi).
In a career best performance, Gabor Talmacsi (PEV Moto ADAC Sachsen Honda RS125R) took fourth place, carrying on his good qualifying form to a race situation. Mika Kallio (Red Devil Honda RS125R) and Klaus Nöhles (PEV Moto ADAC Sachsen Honda RS125R) also took top ten finishes, with Kallio eighth and Nöhles ninth.
For Azuma the day started badly but eventually delivered him the best possible result. "I tried the race tyre in the wet morning warm-up and then a cut slick - and then I crashed!" said Azuma from the winner's circle, "so I knew exactly how hard I could ride in the wet. I did not think I could get to the leaders at the mid-point of the race but I continued to push and got past them. The performance of the Bridgestone rain tyres were very good, so a big thank you to them."
Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Jr Team Honda RS125R) was in the race for only two laps; with the Spanish rider the second to crash out on the greasy track surface, on his third lap. Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R) also fell on lap five, while in fourth position, but re-mounted to finish 24th.
For Pedrosa, who retained his third place in the championship despite his fall, it was a day of disappointments. "On the second lap, my engine seized at the end of the straight. I pulled the clutch in but when I released it again the rear wheel locked and I fell. It's a big disappointment because despite my bad start I had a good race pace and I was confident of having a good finish in the rain."
Joan Olive (Telefonica Movistar Jr Team Honda RS125R) had a tough race, finishing a lowly 22nd after a poor start.
"I made a really bad start, and found myself trapped in a big group of slower riders," said Olive. "Getting through that group cost me a lot of time and effort. I suffered by being too careful. When I wanted to react I was too far behind."
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