May 15, 2005 World Champion Valentino Rossi extended his lead at the top of the MotoGP World Championship with a victory from pole position at the French Grand Prix this afternoon. The Italian World Champion recorded the fastest ever motorcycle lap of Le Mans in qualifying yesterday and followed it up with a new lap record on the very last lap of the today's 28-lap race in order to hold out fast-finishing rival Sete Gibernau. Rossi’s win makes it three wins and a second from four starts so far this season, and particularly heartening for Yamaha was the competitiveness of Rossi’s team-mate Colin Edwards who started from second place on the grid, led the race until the final laps when he was mown down by the Rossi/Gibernau juggernaut but easily finished ahead of the field to make up the podium.
With Rossi making a poor start, Edwards charged to the front and led the way for the first 20 laps. Meanwhile, Rossi made his way through the pack from sixth place and joined the American ahead of the field, making his first attempt to pass on lap 18 as Sete Gibernau (Honda) closed in from third place.
The Italian's attempted manoeuvre failed as he ran wide on the exit of the corner, allowing Edwards to recover the lead and Gibernau to steal through for second. However, three laps later the World Champion was back on the charge, passing Gibernau and then Edwards on consecutive laps, this time hanging on to the lead.
With Gibernau passing Edwards in the same corner as Rossi, the pair went head-to-head for the final eight laps and set a scorching pace. The breathtaking battle went all the way to the final lap, when Rossi set a sensational new circuit record to secure victory by 0.382 seconds from the Spaniard. His championship tally now stands at 95 points from a possible 100 giving him a 37 point advantage over Marco Melandri (Honda, 58) whilst Edwards now moves up to sixth overall with 41 points. The result also extended Yamaha's lead in the constructors' and teams' World Championships.
The French based Fortuna Yamaha Team's home MotoGP brought home a good result with young MotoGP rookie Toni Elias building on his solid 12th placed qualifying performance to end the 28 lap event ninth, behind Kawasaki mounted Shinya Nakano and ahead of Troy Bayliss (Honda). This was despite losing ground on the opening lap when Elias had to avoid the crash of Carlos Checa (Ducati). Elias' Spanish team-mate Ruben Xaus also finished the day with a solid 12th place.
Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team) first: "At the start of the race we were lucky that it didn't rain and we were able to put on a fantastic show. It was a difficult and long but great race, although I made my life more complicated by messing up the start. But I made positions up lap by lap with some good overtaking moves and eventually caught Colin. I stayed behind him for a while because his rhythm was good and nobody was catching up, but then Gibernau arrived very fast from behind so I decided to try and overtake and push to the maximum. Every lap I was better and better and I set the fastest time of the race on the final lap, so that shows the excellent progress we have made with the setting of the bike. I took pole position, the fastest lap of the race and the victory and Colin was also on the podium, so it has been a perfect weekend for us. The bike was very precise and I was able to get the power down well so this looks good for the coming races. We continue our work here tomorrow. I'm not sure what I have to test but I'm very happy to stay if we can make even more progress. I'm looking forward to Mugello and hope to see lots of Italian fans there."
Sete Gibernau, Movistar Honda MotoGP, second: “Today we’ve returned to where we should be, fighting to win races. I’m particularly satisfied because we’ve had a lot of problems in qualifying to find a good race pace and without the help of Michelin and the incredible job done by my team, this result was unthinkable. At the start it took me a while to get used to the bike and the tyre but I didn’t lose my head or my confidence and gave it everything to arrive at the front. It was incredibly tough becuase I needed an opportunity to rest and allow the tyre to cool down but they didn’t let me. When I saw Rossi pass Edwards I went with him. I had a clear idea of whereabouts I was going to pass him but I made a mistake on the corner before and it was impossible. In any case this is a very important result.”
Colin Edwards (Gauloises Yamaha Team) third place: "I desperately wanted to win that race but the other guys were just too fast today! Basically we took a gamble on the race tyre because with the limited dry track time in practice we only had five laps on it and didn't know if it would work towards the end of the race. I got a good start, got into my rhythm of mid-34s and knew that should be enough to keep me at the front. If you'd have said to me you have to get into the 33s I'd have told you there was no way I could do those times! But then Valentino and Sete came through and their pace was incredible. The tyre got really hot and I had of couple of moments, so I just decided to make sure of third place. It's an overdue reward for the phenomenal job the team have been doing and now we have a firm base to go from for the rest of the season."
Davide Brivio, Gauloises Yamaha Team Director: "It was a fantastic day for us - almost perfect! Valentino took the victory and extended his lead in the championship, which is good to be able to take to Mugello in the next round. It was a very important podium for Colin - I have always believed that he was capable of this kind of performance. Today was a result of the hard work put in by the team over the winter and the first three rounds of the season. Now we want to see both riders on the podium as much as possible!"
Marco Melandri, Movistar Honda Moto GP, fourth: “We suffered a loot at the start of the race but from there on I managed to set a good pace and I’m satisfied with this result. The warm-up didn’t help with the tyre choice because the track was quite damp and I think I chose a compound that was a little too hard for me. It was only my second dry race of the season and we gathered a lot of important information. We’ll have to work hard during the test tomorrow to improve our performance in the first part of the race”.
Max Biaggi, Repsol Honda Team, fifth: “A very, very hard race. After the warm-up crash I didn’t think I could race. The pain never left me. When I put on my leathers my back was in such a bad condition that I never thought I could make it to the chequered flag. Then, adrenaline and my big desire to do good gave me an incredible fuel. Anyhow at the end of the race I almost couldn’t get off the bike. After this I can only be happy about this fifth place: these are 11 important points for me and my team. Our job starts again from tomorrow. There is a lot to do to come back competitive in time for the Italian Grand Prix.”
Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda Team, sixth: “Just really, really disappointed! I got a good start and it all felt great but about 10 laps from the end it started to feel like last week in the rain. I got a lot of chatter as the race went on. We don’t really know why. We need to find out! It’s a pretty lame excuse but the bottom line is I just went backwards. It’s been a hard weekend but I felt we were in with a chance after all the great work the team put in. It felt good to be running up front but I want to do that all race. I’m not looking forward to a three-week break now. I just want Mugello to come next weekend!”
Loris Capirossi, Ducati Marlboro, seventh: "I had a fantastic start! After that I found that I could easily stay with the leaders, the bike was working really well, so it seemed like my Desmosedici could fight for a podium finish. But from lap ten onwards I needed more rear traction, so I had to ease my pace. It's not been easy here because we only had one fully dry session, so I wasn't able to try so many tyres. I chose the same tyre that worked so well during my ten-lap endurance run yesterday afternoon. Of course, I'm not happy with seventh, but I am happy that we were strong for ten laps. Our relationship with Bridgestone has only just started, we're improving step by step."
Ducati MotoGP project manager Livio Suppo: "This was a complicated weekend because the weather changed every session - sometimes wet, sometimes dry, sometimes in between - which made it difficult to work on tyre choice. We are still in the early stages of our relationship with Bridgestone, we are on a learning curve, and we learned a lot today, our second dry race with them. Carlos chose a tyre with a more durable compound, so it's a shame we couldn't verify its performance over race distance. Loris was able to run with the leaders early on, which was good, it shows that we have a good package. Now we just need to continue working at making the tyres even better. We are looking forward to Mugello."
Shinya Nakano, Team Kawasaki, Eighth: "My start was fast, I had a good feeling and tyre grip in the early laps and I felt comfortable. But for some laps I had trouble into turn one judging my braking point, I wasn't as fast as I usually am in this part of the track. Then, when my good feeling returned, I felt a small misfire with the engine and immediately thought that I must try and finish the race; I didn't score any points in China two weeks ago, so this was very important."
Toni Elias, Fortuna Yamaha Team, ninth: "The crash that happened in the first chicane lost me a fair bit of ground because I had to avoid Carlos, who was on the ground in front of me. After that I managed to latch onto the second group and from then on I could stay with them, but the first group were already gone - their pace was that high! I was trying to make up some of the lost ground but I had to ride past my limit to do so and I didn't fell comfortable doing that, especially as the track wasn't offering the same grip as yesterday. We are testing here tomorrow and I am sure it will prove very valuable for or Mugello preparations."
Troy Bayliss, Camel Honda, tenth: “I’m happy to have finished the race, to have had a good battle with Olivier Jacque and to have beaten him. Of course, there is still ground to be made up, because I’m still not comfortable on the bike, not as I need to be to ride at the limit anyway. I did my fastest lap on the last one, so there is obviously room for improvement as regards set-up. So I’m happy to stay behind to test tomorrow, I want to try and get the most possible out of the session.”
Olivier Jacque, Team Kawasaki, Eleventh: "This race was a special experience for me, because it was my first race in the dry on the Kawasaki. I learned a great deal today, which I hope will help in the future if I get another MotoGP opportunity. I made some braking mistakes early on in the race, and then ran up the escape road at the second chicane. Later in the race I found a fast rhythm and just got faster and faster; I'm very happy to finish like that. I tried to catch Bayliss at the end after he passed me, but I just couldn't get close enough."
Harald Eckl, Kawasaki Team Manager: "After Shinya's strong qualifying performance this result is a little disappointing for everyone in the team, as we expected a top six result was possible in the race. The technicians are still checking on Shinya's engine problem, but he heard some noise and felt a misfire, so he did the right thing to ride for points. As for OJ, he did another fantastic race for Kawasaki, with limited testing and practice in the dry. He is still learning about the Ninja ZX-RR and Bridgestone tyres, but he gave us a great result, second in China, which was obviously a highlight for the team."
Ruben Xaus, Fortuna Yamaha Team, twelfth: "At the beginning of the race I was struggling to find a race pace. But once I started feeling comfortable I was able to ride with Bayliss, Jacque and Kenny. I was able to improve my times, which is very important. Tomorrow we are testing and I'm looking forward to developing on what I have achieved today."
Kenny Roberts Jr, Team SUZUKI MotoGP, 13th: Notable absence from team statement.
Team SUZUKI Chief Technician Tom O’Kane: “Kenny didn’t get a good qualifying position here yesterday after he nearly crashed on his fastest lap and that showed in today’s race. It’s really difficult to pass riders at Le Mans due to the nature of the circuit but his times towards the end of the race showed that if he had got away with the leaders things might have been very different.”
Team SUZUKI Team Manager Paul Denning: “I’m really disappointed. Today was different from Shanghai. We didn’t have the chance to win the race but we did have a chance for solid top-ten finishes. You can call it bad luck be we have to look at how we can make our luck better. We can’t afford to blame bad luck when that’s the only type of luck coming. I feel sorry for John but he never gave up and showed a true racing spirit by riding hard and completing a Grand Prix from what was basically a hopeless position. Kenny’s pace was good towards the end and showed that race-long consistency is there from the Bridgestone tyres. We now have a further day’s testing here tomorrow with some new engine and chassis parts as well as some prototype Bridgestone tyres. We start working on improving our chances of success tomorrow.”
Jurgen van den Goorbergh, Konica Minolta Honda, 14th: “During the last two sessions we didn’t make it to complete all the work that we have planned, therefore before the race I didn’t have a clear idea on which tyres to use during the race. Notwithstanding this, I have to admit that the type of tyres used during the race has revealed to be great and they allowed me to acquire confidence lap after lap. This has been only the second time in the MotoGP for me and I have to consider my self satisfied for the results obtained. Here I made it to have a great jump at the start and I found my self behind Bayliss and I thought I could have passed him, but at the crucial moment I made a little mistake which made me lose a couple of positions. After this fact I preferred to don’t risk anymore to don’t throw away the work done here. In the race I kept thinking on where to make the changes to adapt my riding style to the great performances of such a bike and at the end I felt a lot of more confident. I’m sure that if the weather condition would have helped us in the past couple of days, my performance could have been much better. I’m anyway very happy and I want to thank the Konica Minolta Honda Team that chose me for these two Grand Prix with the hope that I have given them back the trust they gave me.”
John Hopkins, Team SUZUKI MotoGP, 16th: “I’m absolutely devastated. We’ve worked hard all weekend and we qualified the bike well. I really felt we could have got a good result. Even on the spare bike - that didn’t perform quite as well as my main bike – I was able to run at a reasonable pace but I just didn’t have the target of any other riders to aim for. I’m sure my pace could have been a lot quicker if I had been with the faster guys. I have no idea what happened to my bike on the warm-up lap. I really feel for my team as they have worked so hard again this weekend. We now need to put this behind us, move onto the next race and have another go.”
Carlos Checa Ducati Marlboro, DNF: "Max moved off line to avoid someone and I couldn't brake because I was already leaned over into the corner. Sometimes racing is like this, but it's not easy to accept such bad luck, especially when we had the chance of a good result here. The bike is working so well at the moment, it's getting better all the time and we are doing everything we can to score good results. I can't carry this bad luck forever, so I'm looking forward to Mugello."
Alex Barros, Camel Honda, DNF: “I’m really disappointed, I certainly didn’t expect today to go like this. I was pushing a bit because I was trying to catch up with Max and Melandri, but it was hard work. I was giving everything and I lost the back end. I couldn’t control it and I got a big smack, but it was okay because it was a hard fall and could have been worse. It’s a shame because I take no points away from here, but now the world championship is the last thing on my mind. I want to recover and think about the next race, and getting back to winning ways. I like Mugello, I’ve won there before, so my objective is the same again.”
The next round of the MotoGP World Championship will be at Mugello in Italy on June 5th. Round: 4 - Le Mans MotoGP
1 V. Rossi Yamaha ITA 44' 12.223 2 S. Gibernau Honda ESP +0.382 3 C. Edwards Yamaha USA +5.711 4 M. Melandri Honda ITA +7.276 5 M. Biaggi Honda ITA +7.703 6 N. Hayden Honda USA +21.770 7 L. Capirossi Ducati ITA +24.664 8 S. Nakano Kawasaki JPN +35.940 9 T. Elias Yamaha ESP +38.062 10 T. Bayliss Honda AUS +52.607 11 O. Jacque Kawasaki FRA +53.302 12 R. Xaus Yamaha ESP +1' 0.342 13 K. Roberts Suzuki USA +1' 0.514 14 J. vd Goorbergh Honda NED +1' 17.993 15 R. Rolfo Ducati ITA +1' 32.233 16 J. Hopkins Suzuki USA +1 lap(s)
Lap Record and fastest lap ever: 1' 33.678 (Valentino Rossi, 2005)
Championship standings MotoGP 1 Valentino Rossi Yamaha ITA 95 2 Marco Melandri Honda ITA 58 3 Sete Gibernau Honda ESP 53 4 Max Biaggi Honda ITA 47 5 Alex Barros Honda BRA 43 6 Colin Edwards Yamaha USA 41 7 Shinya Nakano Kawasaki JPN 27 8 Olivier Jacque Kawasaki FRA 26 9 Nicky Hayden Honda USA 26 10 Loris Capirossi Ducati ITA 23 11 Troy Bayliss Honda AUS 21 12 Jurgen vd Goorbergh Honda NED 18 13 Carlos Checa Ducati ESP 17 14 Ruben Xaus Yamaha ESP 16 15 Toni Elias Yamaha ESP 15
Manufacturers standings MotoGP
1 Yamaha 95, 2 Honda 81, 3 Kawasaki 47, 4 Ducati 30, 5 Suzuki 18, 6 Blata WCM 4, 7 Moriwaki 1