Honda Hubris Here

John P Burns
by John P Burns
2002 MotoGP World Championship, Round 16

Comunitat Valencia Grand Prix, Valencia, Spain

November 1/2/3


The inaugural season of four-stroke based MotoGP racing screechesto a breathless halt this coming weekend at the Circuito Ricardo Tormo,Valencia, with the majority of the top riders setting out to underlinethe supremacy of Honda men and machines yet again. The new breed of990cc four-strokes, introduced into MotoGP at the firstround at Suzuka, way back in April, have won all the 15 races so far andHonda RC211V riders have wrought victories in 13 of those. This virtualmonopoly of the top step of the podium has seen Honda win theManufacturer's Championship in some style, with the current Honda scoreof 365 points proving to be incredibly close to the theoretical seasonmaximum of 400, and with Valencia still to be counted a final total of390 is a distinct possibility.

The strength in depth of the entire Honda effort is further exemplified bythe number of total podium places scored by Honda riders so far, 32 froma possible 45, a ratio of over 70%. Of those 32, no fewer than 27 (60% ofthe total) were scored by riders of the awesome RC211V V5 four-stroke,the dominant machine of the new MotoGP era.

The pre-eminent rider of the modern era, Valentino Rossi (RepsolHonda TeamRC211V), has been an equally assertive force in the Rider'sChampionship,cantering to his latest crown with four rounds left to run, andtaking 11race wins thus far.

The most recent of his successes came at the penultimate PhillipIsland round on 20 October and it proved to be Rossi's 50th careerwin in all classes of Grand Prix competition. One more maximum pointsscore would bring Rossi's total to 12 premier class wins in a season,a mark which would equal that previously set by another Honda GP legend,Michael Doohan.

Valencia could well bring yet another record to the prolific 23-year-oldItalian rider, as only a further five points will improve his current haulto equal Michael Doohan's total of 340 in a single year. Having only oneDNF on his copybook this year, and no other finish worse than second,the formbook favours Rossi to set a new points record once the Valenciandust has settled.

The Ricardo Tormo track has not been the kindest circuit to Rossi or Hondain the three-year history of the most recently inaugurated Spanish-basedGP, with no premier class Honda rider having ever won at the 4.005kmcircuit near Cheste, situated in the outskirts of the city of Valenciaitself. Rossi, now four-times a world champion (125cc in 1997, 250cc in1999, 500cc with Honda last season and now the first ruler in MotoGP) hasnever won at Valencia in any class, despite his frequently demonstratedspeed. Second-quickest in qualifying last season, Rossi's chances ofthe win were overturned in the race after a downpour in the run up tothe start made it a lottery in terms of tyre choice - a gamble thatRossi ultimately lost to finish 11th.

Rossi's Repsol Honda Team has tested at Valencia this season, shortlybefore the Estoril MotoGP race, with Rossi setting comparable times withhis best of the 2001 weekend, while working his way through a series ofpotential suspension and chassis set-ups.

Capable of winning on every sort of circuit, Rossi is confident thatthe tight and compactly laid-out Ricardo Tormo track, with a plethoraof tricky sections inside a stadium-sized boundary, can be added tohis outstanding tally of 11 different 2002 season winning venues.

"We tested at Valencia earlier in the year and I hope that the informationwe gathered then will help us in the effort for another win," saidmotorcycle sport's latest Superstar. "The championship fight is overbut I really want to win another race."

One championship battle very much alive is that for overall second, withTohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V), injured at a crucial part of theseason, now only one point behind Yamaha rider Max Biaggi. Valencia willthus be a man-to-man showdown for Rossi's team-mate Ukawa, who feels upto the task. Having been faster than Rossi in testing in August, Ukawahas every right to feel that Valencia will be a good circuit for him.

"I have to beat Biaggi again next weekend to finish second in thechampionship, and that is what I intend to do," asserted theresurgent Ukawa.

With a win first time out on the awesome RC211V, at Twin Ring Motegiin early October, Brazilian firecracker Alex Barros (West Honda PonsRC211V) has been something of the star of the MotoGP show ever since,securing third and second places immediately after his first race on theV5 four-stroke. Pushing Rossi all the way in the most recent races, Barroswill be out to score another notable success at Valencia, the homecountry of his Honda Pons team.

Said Barros after an impressive ride in Australia; "Phillip Island wasa great race between Valentino and myself. Since I have ridden the samebike as Rossi we are equal on victories with one apiece, and in the lastGrand Prix I will try and win again."

The two-strokes may be an endangered species in the new MotoGP world,but some riders have been able to upset the expected finishing order inindividual races, notably Barros before he was given the RC211V and histeam mate Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500).

Capirossi is the most successful season-long Honda two-stroke rider,despite his injurious crash at Assen, which put him out of the points inthree straight races. Two third places have been his best reward so faron his way to seventh in the table, but the former 125 and 250cc WorldChampion has attacked wherever possible on his nimble but outgunned NSR.

Held back by a problem with vibration from the front end of his machineduring the last round in Australia, Capirossi has made his feelingsplain about the Valencia race.

"It has been difficult to predict which circuits allow the two-strokeriders to compete for at least a podium, but I hope Valencia is one ofthem, so that I can add to my score of top three finishes," said thequietly determined Italian.

Equipped with an RC211V since the Brno race, way back in round 10, DaijiroKato (Fortuna Honda Gresini RC211V) has had some excellent rides, albeitfrequently marred by ill fortune in the final analysis. He will thus beparticularly keen to prove his undoubted talent with a race win beforehis rookie premier-class campaign winds down to a halt on Sunday evening.

He stated after his fourth place at Phillip Island; "Now I can relaxa little then go to Valencia where I hope to finish the season in thebest possible way."

Conducting valuable real race development work for the Bridgestone tyrecompany, Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Kanemoto Racing Honda NSR500) has beenin improving form in the last couple of races, his fifth place at PhillipIsland easily his best finish of the year, especially after it backed upa glorious front row qualification. A podium finish was a tantalisingprospect after his good PI start, but his eventual fifth was more aproduct of being out-accelerated down the straights by the four-strokesthan any other factor. Encouraged by his ride at Phillip Island, van denGoorbergh hopes to improve on even his season highpoint of fifth place.

"I would like every race to be like Phillip Island, because finally I hadan opportunity to show my true abilities," said the satisfied NSR rider."Bridgestone's progress has been amazing and I hope we can continue thislevel of competitiveness at Valencia, especially as most of the trackis all about cornering speed and changes of direction."

Tetsuya Harada (Pramac Honda NSR500) scorer of three top ten finishesearlier in the year, has been swamped by the increasing numbers offour-stroke machines on the grid in 2002 and now sits 17th in the table.

Robby Rolfo (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) has now secured third placein the 250cc series, and as such is Honda's highest-placed rider. A racewin is missing from his otherwise fulsome season-long CV, and if hecan overcome some consistent machine set-up challenges in qualifying,Rolfo will confirm himself as one of only two or three favorites forthe Valencia win.

"I have suffered with a front end feel problems all season. If we canuse our time in qualifying well and find a good set-up then anythingis possible," said Rolfo. "I hope to use my hard cornering style to themaximum on this twisty track and I will be trying to win as usual."

Rolfo's team-mate Emilio Alzamora (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) has hada difficult season in many ways, but the Spanish rider sees Valencia asthe perfect place to make his mark.

"I'm waiting for Valencia to put in a good race and to give my fansa good result," said the former 125cc World Champion.

For Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Jr Team Honda RS125R), his chancesof taking the 125cc crown evaporated during the last three long-haulraces, but the young Spaniard knows that another win, to add to his Assenand Motegi triumphs, will be particularly appreciated on his home soil.

"No matter what happens at Valencia I will be third in thechampionship but my only aim is to win the race in front of the Spanishcrowd."

In addition to Pedrosa's team-mate Joan Olive, another Junior team memberwill ride as a wild card at Valencia, Julian Simon.

The 125ccc Championship title is the only one yet to be decided butthe unquestioned enthusiasm of the large Spanish crowd will ensure that theground-breaking 2002 MotoGP year will end on a high note even if thefrequent bouts of inclement autumnal weather return once more.

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