June 12, 2005 Two years ago the Yamaha M1 factory prototype racing machine was not considered competitive. It struggled throughout the Moto Grand Prix racing year, and in the hands of two of the finest professional motorcycle racers in the world, Spaniard Carlos Checa and Brazilian Alex Barros, it finished an entire season with just one third place as its sole podium from 32 starts. In 2004, Yamaha was fortunate to be able to obtain a rare and frightfully expensive Valentino Rossi throttle controller for one of its machines, making the machine far more competitive – from 16 starts in 2004, the Rossi-fitted machine won nine times and placed second twice. The three non-Rossi M1s continued their indifferent displays – Checa was joined by Marco Melandri and Norick Abe on the same M1 machinery and between the three of them, in 16 races, they notched up one second and two third places – three podiums from 48 starts.
There is no doubt that the M1 is coming forward in leaps and bounds. Fettled by Rossi’s chief engineer South Australian Jeremy Burgess, the bike has been the subject of almost continuous improvement. As this story is being written, Rossi, Burgess et al are all safely tucked in bed, getting a good night’s sleep when any other team might be celebrating today’s glorious Grand Prix win against Rossi’s former friend and now arch-enemy Sete Gibernau.
The team is preparing to fit new parts to the bike that won today so they can test tomorrow at the same circuit – despite winning five of the first six races of the season, (and a second place, to the aforementioned Barros riding a Honda), the continuous stream of new go-fast goodies emanating from Yamaha is increasing rather than decreasing.
Burgess and a goodly proportion of the race team came from Honda where they supported Rossi from the time he entered the premier class in 2000, through his world championships in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Burgess controlled the development of the bikes that also took Mick Doohan to five World Championships and Wayne Gardner to one – so there’s no doubt that the bike is infinitely better than it was, and every race gets closer to the calibre of the machines it is beating – the RC211Vs.
Yamaha’s opportunity to obtain Rossi came at the end of 2003 when in negotiations for the 2004 season, Honda made the mistake of suggesting that it would win the world title regardless of whether Rossi was in the saddle of the RC211V.
To Honda, it probably seemed logical – in the three years of MotoGP, Honda RC211V machines had won 45 of 48 races, and on those occasions when Rossi hadn’t won, he had been beaten by Barros, Ukawa, Biaggi or Gibernau on the same RC211V Honda. The three that got away were two wins to Biaggi on the M1 in the first year, and Loris capirossi's win on the Ducati.
What else could Rossi do? In terms of negotiating positions, Rossi had nowhere to go. From Honda’s point of view, in the 16-race series of 2003 that had just finished, it had won 15 of 16 races, filled the podium six times, and supplied two of the top three finishers in the other ten races. Mick Doohan won five titles in a row for Honda, and when he became injured and couldn't defend his title in 1999, Alex Criville won on another Honda.
Kenny Roberts' win on the Suzuki in 2000 should have been the warning Honda heeded.
The decision to play tough in the negotiations is one Honda will probably rue forever because if it hadn’t done so, Rossi would still be winning, and Honda would have maintained its dominance. If no-one can beat Rossi consistently on better machinery, they certainly wouldn't be doing it on lesser machinery.
The corollary is that Rossi decided to do what Giacomo Agostini never did and will hence, due to his subsequent actions, go down in history as the best motorcycle racer to have ever turned a throttle.
Agostini won 122 Grands Prix but most of them were on the omnipotent MV Agusta machinery that would have won with a lesser rider. Though he was the dominant motorcycle rider in the world for more than a decade, he has no defence to the claim that many of his victories were gimmes. Like Rossi, Agostini won in more than one class (68 MotoGP wins and 54 350cc wins) and on both two and four stroke machinery, and he also won in the 750 class and at circuits so dangerous that it took dozens of lives lost before the motorcycle world came to its senses.
Agostini's record could never be bested and yet, with his title win last year on a machine that has not been competitive in anyone else's hands for three years, he has staked an irrefutable claim for the title of the "best ever."
And Yamaha has inherited Rossi and will reap the rewards, the sales, the Valentino Replicas and the rub-off that Rossi's remarkable riding and public communication talents will add. There has never been a motorcycle racer or an automobile racer and perhaps even a sportsperson with the same flair for endearing public hi-jinx. Go on, send us an email if you can think of one that's even close. There's an image at the bottom of this page showing Valentino at the Yamaha factory with a few hundred adoring fellow Yamaha employees last November when he went for the Championship celebrations - take a close look at it - money cannot buy moments like that. Yamaha is winning a lot more than just races by signing Rossi.
And so we come to the present day, with the 2005 championship season six races old and Valentino leading with five wins and a second from six starts. To fully comprehend how much difference Rossi makes to the M1’s competitiveness, let’s consider the others to be riding an M1 at this point in time. Between them, in six races, Colin Edwards, Ruben Xaus, Tony Elias and his stand-in due to injury David Checa, have one third place, one sixth, one seventh, one eighth, three ninths, and three tenth places – the same pedestrian results obtained by everyone else who has ridden an M1 apart from Max Biaggi back in 2001 when MotoGP was new to everyone and Biaggi was hot. Unless Colin Edwards can do better than his two second places of last season when he was riding a Honda, it would be very hard to argue that the Yamaha is yet as good as the Honda.
Rossi’s win today was extraordinary, and will have largely healed the rift he had with the Spanish public in the opening race of the season at Jerez when he knocked local hero Gibernau off the track at the last corner and claimed the win.
That was the first time Rossi had been booed when he took the winner’s champagne in any of his 68 GP wins. Today there were a few who remembered the events of April 10, and the crowd applauded warmly and wholeheartedly because anyone who had been watching closely knew that they’d seen something very special – the stuff of legend.
Rossi had fought through from a bad start in the first lap to catch the hard charging Gibernau – the pair slowly despatched early leader Melandri and surprise contender Nicki Hayden and settled down for the prize-fight everyone had hoped for – the rematch on Gibernau’s home soil with most of the 105,698 spectators offering kinetic assistance.
From the time that Gibernau took the lead on the sixth lap, he appeared ready to break from Rossi. He set the fastest lap of the race on the fourth lap (1.43.570), again on the seventh lap (1.43.423) and again on the eighth lap (1.43.253) but he couldn’t break Rossi, who somehow nursed the gap back to manageable around mid-race and from that point onwards, each time it grew beyond half a second, he would eek out an extra tenth here and there and the gap was wrestled back down again, so that with three laps to go, Rossi had drawn to Gibernau’s rear wheel and the stage was set.
What followed was one of the most remarkable laps in memory. On tyres that were 22 blisteringly fast laps old, attempting to transmit 250 horsepower in the midst of a 32 degree Spanish afternoon, Rossi dived past Gibernau and somehow managed to will the bike upright again at each corner after diving in faster and harder than anyone had done all day – even when their tyres were new and sticky. He stopped the clocks at 1.43.195 on that lap and extended is lead on every lap to the finish.
Rossi’s third last lap was the crux of the weekend. Up until that point, as he had done so many times before, Gibernau had done everything right. He had been fastest qualifier and had controlled the race until Rossi simply took it away from him. Gibernau is a gifted rider on a faster machine but sadly, he might need to wait until Valentino decides to do something other than motorcycle racing before he’ll get his title. Everyone watching the race suddenly knew that too.
Just as he had done with Max Biaggi (Honda) at Mugello last weekend and Gibernau himself two weeks previously at Le Mans, Rossi timed his victory charge to perfection, carving almost 1.5 seconds off Gibernau’s 2004 circuit record, opening a decisive advantage over the final two laps, and snuffing out Gibernau’s best effort yet again.
Whilst Marco Melandri (Honda) won a dramatic battle to the line for the final podium finish ahead of Alex Barros (Honda) and Nicky Hayden (Honda). Rossi’s Gauloises Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards could only manage seventh place behind Biaggi.
Edwards remains sixth in the MotoGP World Championship, which is now led by Rossi with an advantage of 58 points over Melandri.
The next round of the MotoGP World Championship will be the Dutch TT from Assen Holland on Saturday 25th June.
Gran Premio Gauloises de Catalunya Race Classification: 1. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 43’16.487: 2. Sete Gibernau (Honda) +1.094: 3. Marco Melandri (Honda) +7.810: 4. Alex Barros (Honda) +8.204: 5. Nicky Hayden (Honda) +8.273: 6. Max Biaggi (Honda) +12.051: 7. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) +18.762: 8. Troy Bayliss (Honda) +42.631: 9. Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki) 46.638: 10: Ruben Xaus (Yamaha) +46.692
World Championship Classification: 1. Rossi 145: 2. Melandri 87: 3. Biaggi 77: 4. Gibernau 73: 5. Barros 65: 6. Edwards 57: 7. Hayden 47: 8. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) 43
Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team): “The first lap was a hard fight with a lot of riders coming crazy, everybody wanted to be at the front and it was so much fun. Gibernau set a fast pace and I tried 100% to follow him. I had some problems on the right side of the tyre early in the race but Sete started to slide too. At the end it was difficult but the bike was so good into the corners and great fun to ride. To do the fastest lap three laps from the end at a track like this is amazing - my last lap was around two seconds faster than the last lap last year and it shows the fantastic job Michelin have done with tyre endurance. I was a little worried before this weekend about the reaction from the crowd but I was so happy with the reception I got. It shows that motorcycle fans are the best kind and especially here in Spain, where it is always a pleasure to ride. The advantage in the championship is allowing the team to work in a relaxed way and we are having a lot of fun, which is an extra motivation in itself.”
Davide Brivio, Gauloises Yamaha Team Director: “The whole race was run at a full second inside lap record pace, which is incredible. It shows the great job done by our engineers and the wonderful partnership we have with Michelin. I am so pleased to hear Valentino say he is enjoying riding the bike – that is a great compliment to everybody in the team. It is a pity Colin could not confirm his excellent progress in the race but we know he is on the right tracks and I’m looking forward to seeing him at Assen, a circuit he likes and knows well.” Sete Gibernau, Movistar Honda: 2nd: “The team have done a great job and I had a good feeling with the bike today. I set a good pace over the opening laps which gave me a couple of tenths advantage and allowed me to lead for the majority of the race. At eight laps to go the left side was sliding too much and I wasn’t able to maintain my pace. I’m disappointed for the fans, who have given me great support all weekend, but I’m sure they enjoyed the excitement in the race and a great show all round.”
Marco Melandri, Movistar Honda, third: “It was a tough but incredible race for me. I got a good start and tried to stay with the lead riders over the opening laps. I had a good pace and even managed to lead for a few laps but I ran wide when Nicky Hayden passed me and Barros also came through to send me back to fifth place. The fight with Barros and Nicky for third meant that I lost contact with the front two and I was never able to make the ground up. Even so, I am really happy with third place. I won a personal battle today – my race pace was much better compared to Mugello and the podium confirms that we are getting constantly better. I want to say a special thanks to the whole team, to Fausto and to Michelin, that has helped me a lot in the right tyre choice.”
Alex Barros , Camel Honda, fourth: “I’m quite happy because it was a while since I had a race like this. I enjoyed myself and even thought I would have obviously preferred to have got on the podium, I think I had a nice battle with Marco and Nicky. I got away well and had a good first lap, tagging along with the front group straight away. Towards the sixth lap though, I began to have a problem when braking. I just couldn’t brake properly and went too deep on a couple of occasions. So I had to work with the problem, without losing ground. Towards the end I overtook Nicky and then waited until the last lap to try and pass Marco too. I wanted to get him at turn six, but I was too far back, I then tried it a turn nine and didn’t manage it. It’s a shame, but in the end it was a good race and now we can look forward to the next one at Assen, a track which I really love.”
Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda Team, 5th: "The whole race was a bit of a dog fight really. We were really going at it. I got a good start and made a few overtakes stick in the opening laps. I got up to third and wasn’t that far behind the leaders when I made my fastest lap of the race trying to close the gap. Then Melandri came past with a big move that cost me time. I got back to third and just tried to get a steady rythmn and pull away. The last few laps were amazing – we were all just back and forth - we were just duking it out. I so wanted that podium but it just wasn’t to be. It’s fruntrating to have such a good overall weekend and go away with a fifth. On the positive side the bike went well, the Michelins hung on well and my boys did a great job.”
Max Biaggi, Repsol Honda Team, sixth: “It went bad. We rode a different bike from the one we used at Mugello, with a set-up meant to improve braking. In those sections the feeling was good but it really worsened handling and cornering, with consequent problems for the tires’ life. I could never take part in the game and it makes me very sad. I look to the next Assen Grand Prix knowing that it’s not going to be easy, but we must push harder.”
Colin Edwards (Gauloises Yamaha Team) 7th: “We made a mistake by testing the race tyre yesterday morning when the temperatures were much cooler than they were this afternoon. We thought we were being sly by choosing a tyre only one other rider had but it didn’t work out. I had no rear grip at full lean in the second half of the race, so I had to stand the bike up through the corners and ran wide all the time. It’s a shame because we had a great front tyre but I couldn’t push it. Not the best finish but we’ve learnt a lot of things that we will now take to Assen.”
Troy Bayliss, Camel Honda, 8th: “Qualifying didn’t go as planned yesterday, but in the free practices I was quick, so I knew that in the race today I could go fast. I had a start though which will rank alongside the worst in my whole career. Incredible, I couldn’t believe it, I was something like seventeenth or eighteenth at the end of the first lap. I got my head down though and began to fight back, riding consistently at a good pace. We’re improving, but now we need to make another step forward and I’m hoping we can do it when testing here tomorrow.”
Shinya Nakano, Kawasaki, Ninth: "I enjoyed the race, even though I would have preferred to hold off Bayliss at the end, but it was just not possible. Over the final ten laps it was very difficult for me to control the sliding of the rear tyre. But I was the first Bridgestone rider to finish, which showed that compared to other Bridgestone teams our set-up for the race was the best it had been all weekend. My start was fast and I pushed very hard in the opening laps and was able pass some riders, but then I had a lonely race just trying to score top ten points."
Harald Eckl, Kawasaki Team Manager: "This was a tough race for Kawasaki given the track and tyre conditions today. But Shinya saved some important points with another determined ride. Shinya's strong start and opening laps showed positive potential for the Ninja ZX-RR. It was not easy for Alex whose rear tyre was a softer compound compared to the tyre that Shinya used. The endurance was not quite what we expected, so he had no other choice but to make a pit stop for a fresh tyre."
Ruben Xaus (Fortuna Yamaha Team) 10th: “I’m really happy with today’s result because I scored some good points and I’m showing consistency. It’s also good for the team, because the start of the season was more difficult than we initially expected it would be, so this is great for motivation for them and for me. I believe that now we are starting to understand each other – the bike and I – and I’m looking forward to the next race, especially as I quite like Assen. I want to say thank you to Yamaha, Fortuna and the team for all the support, and I hope I can now continue to produce top ten performances.”
Carlos Checa, Ducati Marlboro Team, 11th: “There was no possibility to race like we did at Mugello. We had a problem with the rear tyre life here, and the performance was nothing special. I made a mistake during the race as well, when in front of Bayliss and Xaus. The handlebars had been shaking from side to side as I went down the straight and when I hit the brakes I think my pads had been pushed back. I had to make a couple of grabs on the lever, and that made me lock up the front when it gripped again. I got past the riders again but by that time my tyre performance was down, so for the last seven laps I decided just to ride to hold my position and finish the race. This was not the race for us, but considering everything, I am reasonably satisfied.”
Livio Suppo, Ducati MotoGP Project Manager: “We have been struggling a lot with rear grip. Together with the Bridgestone technicians we made a tyre choice for safety sake, with a hard compound rear. When we made the change this morning we knew it would be less competitive, but much safer. We have to work together with Bridgestone and we knew that this was a partnership we would have to grow. We know that they are working hard and we have to accept that there will be difficult days, but of course it’s hard after race like at Mugello. The difference in the surface from Mugello decided everything. When we took the decision to change our tyre supplier it was not an easy choice but we knew it was a choice with a lot of potential, and we still believe it.”
Loris Capirossi, Ducati Marlboro Team, 12th: “It was a tough weekend. We worked a lot and made quite a few changes in set-up. Yesterday afternoon we were OK. This morning I went out with the rear tyre we chose yesterday, and we were OK again. After warm-up I was advised to use a much harder compound rear. This was almost an obligatory choice, but after a few laps I had very little grip from the rear. It was as if it was raining. But anyway, it was important to finish the race. Now we can put this race into the past and we can focus on Assen.”
David Checa (Fortuna Yamaha Team) 13th: “I couldn’t have asked for more, especially when you consider that I only had one day on the bike at this track. I scored in the points and for that I would like to say than you to the team for giving me this opportunity.”
Kenny Roberts Jr, Suzuki MotoGP, 15th: “There’s not a lot to say really. We are struggling in every facet of the bike and tyres at the moment. Suzuki and Bridgestone are trying real hard and of course myself and John are probably trying too hard sometimes, which is difficult to see when we can’t show our true colours. The only way we’re going to get better is to try as hard as we can. Suzuki want to make it better and so do Bridgestone and we’re here if they want to do it – that’s all I can say at the moment.”
Team SUZUKI MotoGP Manager Paul Denning: “Kenny showed real determination to carry on and finish the race even though he had absolutely no tyre left in the latter stages. He again scored a point in a difficult situation when it could have been easier – and probably safer – for him to pull in. John has had a difficult weekend. He was in the top-ten throughout all the practice sessions and went well in qualifying. He started the race well but had to pit and change the tyre, and then suffered another DNF. We can take some solace from the fact that his chance of a high finish had gone, so if there is such a thing as an acceptable failure this would be it. We will now move on to the next round at Assen and look to get both Kenny and John challenging higher up the field. If the Bridgestone tyres work well at a track which should suit the nimble GSV-R chassis we certainly have a better chance”
Stuart Shenton, Suzuki Chief Technician for John Hopkins (DNF), Stuart Shenton: “Words cannot express how upset we are after today’s race. We thought we had made a good tyre choice but we ran into trouble and John had to come in and change the rear. We had another problem after that but it was irrelevant at that stage.”
Alex Hofmann, Kawasaki, Seventeenth: "My luck has gone missing for the past two months, after such a good start to the season at Jerez. After the warm-up this morning everything looked positive, but the tyre performance was not the same as in practice and after 12 laps I had to make a pit stop because of tyre induced vibration at the rear of the bike. Straight after the pit stop for five laps I was able to run at the same pace as Edwards and Biaggi, I just needed to be able to do that for the whole race."
Makoto Tamada, Konica Minolta Honda: dnf - crash: “What happened? I wasn’t pushing my bike so much. I could remain with the fastest riders easily without pushing my bike to the limit. I was serene and charged up at right level to remain there; my goal was to conquer the podium. Yes, because everything, the bike, the tyres, and the set up of the bike found in these days of work was more than satisfying. But something went wrong; I was doing a simple turn just behind Barros when suddenly I found my self on the ground with the bike beside me. My sensation is that the front tire lost adherence and made me slip, but before making a final evaluation of what happened we have to analyze the images showed on television and check the telemetry. I am very sorry for my Team; I thought the time to give them back what they have done for me in this beginning of the season was arrived.”