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Dramatic Catalan GP is won by Rossi


By Dan Moakes
June 23 2004

With their man leading the World Championship, the MotoGP fans at Barcelona will have been confident of a home win in the Catalunya GP. For the third race in succession, Sete Gibernau lapped quickest in qualifying, taking his fifth career pole position with the Telefónica Honda RCV.

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The front of the grid was once again dominated by the best Honda and Yamaha pilots, with Valentino Rossi second (Gauloises Yamaha), ahead of Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda), Max Biaggi (Camel Honda), Marco Melandri (Fortuna Yamaha) and Alex Barros (also Repsol). The Hondas of Makoto Tamada (ninth) and Colin Edwards (eleventh) were in among a batch of other machines, led by Rubén Xaus’ seventh-placed d’Antín Ducati and the Suzuki of John Hopkins (eighth).

In between the works Ducatis of Troy Bayliss (tenth) and Loris Capirossi (fifteenth) came the two Kawasakis of Shin’ya Nakano and Alex Hofmann (thirteenth and fourteenth), and Carlos Checa’s twelfth-placed Yamaha M1. The Aprilia pair were due to race off row seven, but Jeremy McWilliams was a non-starter thanks to injured ribs. Wildcards Gregorio Lavilla (Suzuki) and Andrew Pitt (Moriwaki) were among the runners towards the rear of the field.

Rossi led the field at the start, from Gibernau, Biaggi, Tamada and Barros. Bayliss was next, followed by Xaus, Hopkins and Melandri, but the Spaniard was quickly up to sixth, with Melandri in tow. Capirossi had an off-track moment but resumed. As the first two began to start stretching away, so Sete went into attack mode at turn one. Barros was also looking to move forward as he harrassed Tamada.

When Rossi had a bit of a front lock up, running wide, it was enough for the rapid Gibernau to go through into the lead. The pursuing group resolved into a four man battle, with Barros and Melandri both passing Tamada, and the experienced Brazilian looking for a way by Biaggi. Xaus began to drop away, now followed by the advancing Checa, ahead of Bayliss, Kenny Roberts, Hopkins, Neil Hodgson and Edwards.

To the delight of the crowd, Gibernau began to move out of range of the main pack, but always with Rossi in tow. The gap behind Valentino soon went to 1.8s and then beyond 2.5s, but by now it was Melandri in third. Barros had looked a threat, passing inside Biaggi for a right-hander and chasing the first two, but then he managed to crash when the front of his Honda folded under him. A promising result for the works team went by the board, with Hayden still stuck in the midfield.

Melandri had followed Barros past Biaggi, beginning to move clear, and the Roman then came under attack from Bridgestone-shod team-mate Tamada. The Japanese rider’s fortunes seemed to ebb and flow, as he first dropped to 1.5s behind Max, then came back onto his tail as Melandri moved out into a clear third place. Early retirements came for Chris Burns, pulling the Harris WCM into the pits, and Kurtis Roberts, suffering clutch problems with the Proton KR5.

With Gibernau and Rossi now leading Melandri by 4.5s, a wide moment for Sete let Valentino through, but he recovered by slipstreaming the Yamaha man down the long main straight, passing on the inside at turn one. The Spaniard let his rival in again by out-braking himself and running deep with nine laps to go. Rossi’s Yamaha went into a few familiar slides, but he seemed in control as he put the lead up to 0.6s and the Honda started to look like it might struggle to keep the pace up.

However, Sete was not done, and the lead crept down to just 0.1s as he re-caught Valentino and pushed him yet again. With four laps remaining, Gibernau slipstreamed once more to lead at turn one. He was quicker in a straight line, but Rossi would close up to him through the corners. Although a fast moving Kenny Roberts began to track the two leaders, after rejoining from a lenghty tyre change, the former champion kept a respectful distance behind.

With two to go, Rossi braked late on the inside at the first corner, overtaking the crowd favourite once again. Gibernau kept up the pressure, but going onto the last lap Rossi had opened a small gap. Sete put everything into edging closer, but it wasn’t quite enough and so Rossi took his third win for Yamaha. Gibernau’s consistent record kept him ahead in the points, but with the margin now down to five.

Melandri was third home, for his first MotoGP podium, having moved a few seconds clear of the next man. But this was not Biaggi or Tamada. With Max looking in trouble, Makoto was unable to capitalise as he was forced into the pits with mechanical problems. Having come from outside the top ten, Checa had moved up nicely to run behind sixth man Xaus, going on to pass both Rubén and Max for a solitary fourth. Yamaha took three of the first four places - their best since Germany in 2001, when they had the first four home.

Edwards was another to make good progress, climbing to fifth by passing Hodgson, Hopkins, Roberts, Bayliss and Xaus, the last of whom finished sixth. Hayden’s race saw him move up to tenth, only to lose out to Nakano and then join the list of retirements, with another bike failure. Behind Shin’ya came the disappointing Biaggi, eighth, and then Norick Abe, Capirossi, Hofmann, Hodgson, Shane Byrne, Pitt and Nobuatsu Aoki. Bayliss crashed when seventh, while the Suzukis of Hopkins, Roberts and Lavilla had an up and down time, and all ended up outside the points.

In five events Valentino Rossi had matched Max Biaggi’s tally of three Yamaha wins from the whole of 2001, and he celebrated by dressing in a doctor’s white coat and checking his machine with a stethoscope! Sete Gibernau, with previous wins at Valência and Jeréz, failed to complete a Spanish triple, but still proved himself as Honda’s main man for 2004. Meanwhile, Max Biaggi’s worst result of the year left him trailing, and Alex Barros’ mistake dropped him into the chasing pack on a day when it seemed he might claw away from them. Melandri and Checa confirmed Yamaha’s revival.

Standings after five races: Gibernau 106; Rossi 101; Biaggi 80; Checa 49; Barros 48; Edwards 44; Melandri 38; Capirossi 34; Abe 28; Hayden 27; Bayliss and Xaus 23; Nakano 20.

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