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Makoto Tamada defeats Valentino Rossi in Japan


By Dan Moakes
February 7 2005

Sete Gibernau (for Honda) needed to finish ahead of Valentino Rossi (for Yamaha) to keep within range of a first MotoGP title. But at the Grand Prix of Motegi, in Japan, the man on form was local rider Makoto Tamada, with the Camel Honda RC211V on Bridgestone tyres.

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Tamada qualified on pole position for the second outing in succession, but this time no other Honda rider made the front row of the grid. Fourth and fifth places went to Max Biaggi, on the other Camel machine; and Colin Edwards, in Telefónica colours. But the works Repsol Honda team were ninth and tenth, Nicky Hayden leading Alex Barros, and Gibernau was eight places behind team-mate Edwards in 13th, and with a lot to do. He was just ahead of HRC wildcard rider and former GP winner Tohru Ukawa.

Rossi was on the front rank for the tenth time in twelve attempts, but was separated from Tamada by the impressive John Hopkins, on the Bridgestone-shod Suzuki GSV-R. The 21-year-old’s team-mate, Kenny Roberts, was on row three, in position eight. For the fifth time this year, the second fastest Yamaha M1 was that of Tech 3 rider Marco Melandri, who was making his 100th Grand Prix start from P6. Carlos Checa and Norick Abe were on rows four and five respectively.

Loris Capirossi was best Ducati rider, in seventh, with the bikes of Troy Bayliss, Neil Hodgson and Rubén Xaus all on row six. The top Kawasaki rider was twelfth-placed Shin’ya Nakano, with Alex Hofmann (also Kawasaki), Jeremy McWilliams and Shane Byrne (both Aprilia) and Nobuatsu Aoki (Proton) all at the slowest end of the grid. In amongst them was former 250cc champion Olivier Jacque, having a wildcard ride with the Moriwaki-Honda MD211VF.

The start went well for the front row men, or it did initially. Rossi took the lead, from Hopkins and Tamada, but then chaos broke out at turn one. Capirossi shot up the inside going too fast for the corner, and went into Hopkins. The two bikes went down and across the track, causing a multiple accident in their wake. When the dust cleared, six riders and their machines were left in the gravel trap, and out of the race. Capirossi and Hopkins were joined in retirement by Biaggi, Roberts, Hayden and Edwards, as the race was not stopped. It was a particularly bad day for the American riders, all out in one go, and also the Suzuki team.

Of the riders to escape the incident, several benefited. Rossi and Tamada kept going at the front, and the Japanese rider quickly closed up the gap to the championship leader. Melandri was the only other top six qualifier still running, and so was third, but Nakano was up eight places to fourth, Abe was up ten to fifth, and Gibernau was up seven to sixth - which was a bonus to his title hopes. Rossi and Tamada soon stretched clear of Melandri, and then the Honda man went into the lead, passing on the inside at the right-hander following the long straight, towards the end of the lap.

The picture changed behind the leading pair when fifth man Abe had to pull into the pits and out of the race. Melandri was now followed by Nakano, Gibernau, Checa, Bayliss, Barros, Hodgson, Xaus and Hofmann. Ukawa was another early retirement. Rossi stayed close to leader Tamada, as did Nakano to Melandri. Further back, Bayliss and Barros were on the move - the Brazilian making up for being held up at the start. First Troy passed Checa, rumoured to be his Ducati replacement for 2005, and began to pull away. Then Alex closed in to the Spaniard, getting ahead at turn one.

As Tamada began to gradually pull away from Rossi, so the progress of Bayliss took him up to Gibernau, and he was soon through into fifth. Barros also joined the group, and put pressure on Sete, making his way ahead before long. Gibernau just didn’t have the pace of Bayliss and Barros, and they soon left him on his own as they sought to catch the men ahead. The group behind next man Checa now comprised Hodgson, Xaus, Hofmann and Jacque.

Tamada was going similarly well as he took the lead over Rossi to 2.4s, and just kept on extending it. By the finish it was approaching five seconds, and Valentino had to accept the points for second, with Makoto taking his second GP win and leaping up the points table. The race for third, eleven seconds down on Rossi, had been a close one, with Nakano putting pressure on Melandri. On the back straight, the Kawasaki rider had moved in front, only for Marco to brake late for the corner, and go back inside him. The same incident saw the Yamaha run wide, giving Shin’ya the chance to go through and get clear. It was an excellent result for both rider and bike.

Melandri was now fourth, but soon found himself challenged from behind. But this came from Barros, as Bayliss went out in the closing stages after a strong ride. With three to go, Alex got past Marco on the inside at a left-hander, and at the flag all the top riders were separated from one another. Gibernau finished a disappointing sixth, ahead of Checa, Hodgson, Xaus, Hofmann, Jacque, McWilliams, Byrne and Aoki.

It was a good day for the Japanese riders at home, with both Makoto Tamada - rumoured as a possible for Repsol Honda in 2005 - and Shin’ya Nakano on the podium, and second place did Valentino Rossi’s prospects no harm at all. Max Biaggi’s title chances were down to virtually nil, following two non finishes, whilst Sete Gibernau’s lacklustre result in Motegi left him a fairly steep hill to climb. The next race is a new one, with the first visit to Qatar.

Standings after twelve races: Rossi 229; Gibernau 190; Biaggi 158; Barros 115; Tamada 114; Edwards 111; Checa 102; Capirossi 84; Hayden 83; Melandri 75; Nakano 62; Abe 55.

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