RIO GRAND PRIX – 20/09/03 BRAZIL
For lead-up to race read from the bottom
Track temperature: 46 degrees
Ambient temperature: 32 degrees, dry and sunny
ROSSI WIN GIVES HONDA 15TH MANUFACTURES’ TITLE
Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda RC211V) swept all before him at one of his favourite racetracks and scored his sixth race win of the 2003 season. It was enough to ensure that Honda would become champion manufacturer for the 15th time, with four races still to go.
Rossi’s ability to lap Rio faster than his peers was perfectly demonstrated when he passed early race leader Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V) on lap nine. He broke the lap record on two consecutive laps, and left Rio with the new best of 1:50.453 to add to his winner’s trophy.
Once past Gibernau only a mistake looked like costing him the race and he won with room to spare in the final analysis, securing a straight six race wins at Rio, four in the premier class.
“That was a very, very good race,” said Rossi “In the past I have made good races here, especially in the big bikes – it’s fun for me and the track is medium fast with long corners, very good for my style. Our set-up was right and the suspension was particularly good. We have had troubles in this area in the past. Now we have a consistent team working in this area and it shows. Today the bike was perfect.”
A wonderful day for Honda put Gibernau second and five Hondas placed in the top five. Every single one of Honda’s seven entries in MotoGP took a points score of some kind.
Aside from Rossi’s excellence Makoto Tamada (Pramac Honda RC211V) was in position to be voted man of the meeting, taking his first MotoGP podium in his rookie season, after a ride through from seventh to third on his Bridgestone tyres.
The only possible cloud on Rossi’s scorching raceday horizon was the fact that Gibernau was a safe and confident second, making a perfect recovery from a final qualifying crash. Second in the championship, Gibernau lost only five points to Rossi overall.
The Spaniard was aware that things could have been a whole lot worse, after his bad luck in qualifying.
“I felt really bad this morning so thanks to the staff at the Clinica Mobile for helping me to race,” said Gibernau. “Valentino had a little more than us today so I rode my own race.”
Tamada, rode the race of his life into third, and set some of his fastest laps in the closing sector of the race.
“A great race,” said an understandably delighted Tamada. “I knew our potential so I just had to get up to the front to make the most of it. I delayed slowing sown for as long as possible and then worked really hard on the brakes. I put all my heart and all my determination into it. Thank you Bridgestone and thank you team!”
Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons Honda RC211V) had to settle for fourth place after experiencing some difficulties. Harried by Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) for a time, he pushed at just the right moment to protect his strong points score.
“I was a little slow today I just couldn’t accelerate and I had too much wheelspin,” said Biaggi. “I don’t understand but I think I have a problem with the engine management system.”
Loris Capirossi (Ducati) was overhauled by an ever-improving Nicky Hayden who took fifth place, for a fistful of Honda success on raceday.
“I guess I should be happier with fifth,” he stated. “I got an awesome start and I was right up there. The bike felt good but it was difficult to hold on when Valentino really pulled the field. I picked up a little vibration about five laps from the end and things didn’t feel right at all. I guess I’m a little disappointed with the result. I’ve had fifth before and I really didn’t think a podium today was unrealistic.”
Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons Honda RC2111V) was disappointed with his race at Rio, experiencing similar sensations to his team-mate Biaggi.
“We had a little bit less top speed and there was a lot of spinning from the rear from the start, which did not help,” said Ukawa. “I could only go at a certain speed but my laps were consistent. Towards the end, as other rider’s tyres started to spin, I could move forward to seventh as they dropped back. I tried my best, as always. I look forward to Motegi and my home race.”
Ryuichi Kiyonari (Team Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V) secured 15th place and one championship point, but it could have been more according to his own affirmation.
“It was a shame because I had a really bad start to the race,” explained Kiyonari. “I made a big mistake which made me lose a lot of time, but then really gave it everything I had and was able to get in the points.”
Rossi’s win, his third in succession, has put him 51 points ahead of Gibernau, with Biaggi third. The standings after Rio are, Rossi 262, Gibernau 211, Biaggi 174, Capirossi 123, Troy Bayliss (Ducati) 112.
Roberto Rolfo (Fortuna Honda RS250RW) rode with flair and commitment to score second place in crash-affected 250cc race which claimed 2002 Rio race winner Sebastian Porto (Telefonica Movistar Junior Team RS250RW).
Manuel Poggiali (Aprilia) and Toni Elias (Aprilia) overcame fast starters Rolfo and Porto, but on the final lap Elias fell while attempting an audacious overtake, while Rolfo was more successful with is brave and effective re-pass on Randy de Puniet (Aprilia).
Rolfo was happy with his race position, even if Poggiali extended his championship lead somewhat.
“I made a big fight for the race,” said Rolfo, who saw his doggedness rewarded. “I tried to stay with Poggiali but he was faster than me on the straights. I am happy with what we did all weekend because this is a difficult track for the bike and we kept our world championship hopes alive.”
Porto, on the second row after qualifying, had an outstanding start a slotted in behind Rolfo for the first lap, until both were swamped by fast Aprilias. Rolfo’s race was an inexplicably brief one, as he explained.
“The start was really good, we weren’t pushing it and I was quite calm,” said Rolfo. “The corner before I crashed I had a little bobble, but when I got in the corner the front just turned in and I couldn’t save it,” said the Argentine, the 2002 Rio race winner. “I’m very confused as to why and that’s about all I can say about it.”
Eric Bataille (Troll BQR Honda RS250RW) took tenth, his team mate Alex Debon 11th. Elit Grand Prix Honda RS250RW rider Jaroslav Hules took a point for 15th, after a difficult qualifying time. Christian Gemmel (Kiefer Castrol Honda RS250RW) scored 16th place.
Poggiali’s Rio prowess moved him further ahead in the championship, his points total now 190. Rolfo is his closest challenger with 168. De Puniet has 162 and Elias 151. Porto is eighth, on an unchanged 109.
Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Junior Team RS125R) may have started from pole but he was unable to capitalise in the early laps. Down in 12th after the first lap had been completed, he clawed his way back into contention, setting the fastest lap of the race the third time around.
Despite being close to the leaders throughout, Pedrosa ended his race narrowly off the podium with the win going to young Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo (Derbi), second to Casey Stoner (Aprilia) and third to Alex De Angelis (Aprilia).
“I am very disappointed with this fourth place,” said Pedrosa after his Rio race. “I had a bad start but the bike was running perfectly, I had a good feeling and the bike was running perfectly through the corners. Four laps from the end the bike started behaving really badly, like there was a problem with the fuel getting through to the engine. I couldn’t open the gas and the problem got gradually worse. I feel gutted because I know I could have won.”
Andrea Dovizioso (Team Scot Honda RS125R) was a race long member of the leading pack, and took sixth place overall.
“The chassis was not so good today, I was losing traction everywhere,” said Dovizioso. “I was on the limit, no way could I push harder than I did. Over the last few laps the feeling from the rear tyre was not good. If I tried to pass anybody I might have crashed.”
Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R) secured the last point on offer for 15th, the only other Honda finishers being Simone Corsi (Team Scot Honda RS125R) in 22nd and Michele Danese (Metasystem Racing), who was classified 27th.
“I was in trouble after only five laps, the rear began to slide and I had to be very careful,” said Luthi. “ At the left hand corner at the end of the straight I was losing a lot of time, I couldn’t open the throttle until the bike was almost upright.”
Masao Azuma (Ajo Motorsports Honda RS125R) retired on lap ten, while his team-mate Andrea Ballerini fell with five laps remaining.
“The throttle twist grip came loose during the race and caused me a lot of problems, eventually it came off and I had to stop,” said Azuma.
The World Championship points are still convincingly in Pedrosa’s favour, with the long-term leader on 188 and his nearest challenger being Perugini on 146. De Angelis is third in the points with 140 and Dovizioso fourth on 130.
HONDA TEAM QUOTES:
Valentino Rossi, Repsol Honda: 1st: “That was good today. A very, very good race. In the past I make good races here, especially with the big bikes; the 500 and the MotoGP. It is fun for me. The track is medium, fast with long corners. This track is very good for my style. We had a very good rhythm this weekend and we make a very good set up. The suspension was especially good as we have had troubles in the past but now we have a consistent team working on this area of the bike and it shows. Today the bike was perfect.”
Sete Gibernau, Telefonica MoviStar Honda, 2nd: “Taking into account that this weekend was not at all easy, I am very satisfied with the result. We had a few problems with the bike yesterday and I crashed when I was trying to set a fast lap, so I think second place is the most we could have hoped for. I would like to give a big thanks to the team and to Honda because we tried a few things with the settings this morning that helped us to go a bit faster. I would also like to thank Dr. Costa and his team for helping me recover physically, because I felt pretty bad last night. On this occasion I wasn’t able to fight with Valentino, but the important thing is we were very competitive once again and we have extended our advantage over Max in the championship.”
Makoto Tamada, Pramac Honda Team : 3rd:”A great race, I started off well and immediately tried to achieve a fast pace. I knew our potential and I just had to get up front to make the most of it. I delayed slowing down as long as possible and then worked really hard on the brakes. I put all my heart and all my determination into it. It’ s certainly true that in terms of quality and tyre performance we’re getting better and better, but we certainly mustn’t sit back. We’ve got to carry on like this. I feel highly motivated and happy. Thank you Bridgestone! Thank you team!”
Max Biaggi (4th): “I was a little slow today. I just couldn’t accelerate and I had too much wheel spin. I don’t understand but I think I had a problem with the engine management system.”
Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda Team: 5th: ” I guess I should be happier with fifth. I got an awesome start and was right up there. The bike felt good but it was difficult to hold on when Valentino really pulled the field. At about lap 10/11 I really picked it up again and got right up to the back of Max’s tyre. I picked up a little vibration about five laps from the end and things didn’t feel right at all. I guess I’m a little disappointed with the final result. I’ve had a fifth before and I really didn’t think a podium today was unrealistic.”
Tohru Ukawa (7th): “We had a little bit less top speed and there was a lot of spinning from the rear from the start, which did not help. I could only go at a certain speed but my laps were consistent. Towards the end, as other riders’ tyres started to slip, I could move forward to seventh as they dropped back. I tried my best, as always. I look forward to Motegi and my home race.”
Ryuichi Kiyonari, Telefonica MoviStar Honda, 15th: “It is a shame because I had a really bad start to the race. I made a big mistake which made me lose a lot of time, but then I gave everything I had and was able to get in the points”.
Fausto Gresini, Team Manager:
“It was never going to be an easy race today. I was a little worried about how Sete would be after his crash yesterday, but he was in great form and he had a good race. In the warm-up this morning the team made a few changes which have improved the performance of the bike. This second place strengthens our objective of taking second place in the championship although of course we will be working hard to win more races. I am also very happy with Kiyonari’s performance – he showed more confidence on the track and has cut back the gap to the guys in front of him. It is a shame he made a slight mistake at the start of the race, but passing people in MotoGP is not easy so he deserves my congratulations.”
Roberto Rolfo, Fortuna Honda, 2nd: “I’m very happy, it was a long hard race lots of close fighting and I enjoyed racing the bike today.”
“I think this result is the fruit of the great job done by all the Fortuna Honda team this weekend. The one thing that did not go our way was losing contact with the riders ahead of me early in the race and I could not rescue the situation in the closing stages.”
“It was impossible to get to the front in the race. I concentrated my efforts on keeping control of Randy de Puniet because on some parts of the circuit he was a little faster than me. That’s why I waited until the last lap to overtake him and close all the gaps on the way to the finish.”
“The truth is that De Puniet made things very difficult for me, it was a small margin at the end but I could finish second and that’s a great result for the championship because there are still four races to go and the possibility to fight for the world title is still there.”
Sebastián Porto, Telefonica Movistar Jnr: Crashed : “It was a real shame because the weekend was going pretty well. I got a good start and was with the lead group – I was lapping quickly but didn’t push too hard because I knew the Aprilias would pass me in the straight anyway. I don’t know exactly what happened but the rear end came round and I crashed. It is a shame because I think I could have had a good race and I am sure I would have been in the fight for the podium. Now I will have to wait until next year to try and get a podium position for all the people who have come down from Argentina to support me”.
Daniel Pedrosa, Telefonica Movistar Jnr :4th : “I am very disappointed with this fourth position. I got a bad start but the bike was running perfectly, I felt comfortable and I had a good feeling through the corners. I came back to lead the race but I saw that I couldn’t escape so I decided to hold back and wait until the end to make my move. Four laps from the end the bike started to behave really strangely, as if the fuel wasn’t getting through properly on the exits from the corners. I couldn’t open the gas and the problem got gradually worse. I think one more lap and the engine would have completely shut down – it could be that a piston ring was faulty. I feel gutted because I know I could have won and, even though I have increased my points advantage, it would have been a major step towards the title.”.
Andrea Dovizioso, Scot Racing Honda, 6th: “The chassis was not so good today, I was loosing traction everywhere. I was on the limit, no way could I push harder than I did. Over the last few laps the feeling from the rear tyre was not good. If I tried to pass anybody I might have crashed.”
Thomas Luthi, Elit Honda, 15th: “I was in trouble after only five laps, the rear began to slide and I had to be very careful. At the left hand corner at the end of the straight I was losing a lot of time, I couldn’t open the throttle until the bike was almost upright.”
Simone Corsi, Scot Racing Honda, 22nd: “I’m not so happy with the race. I had the same trouble as in qualifying, the rear end sliding a lot, I couldn’t go harder than I did.”
Masao Azuma, Ajo Motorsports Honda, dnf: “The throttle twist grip came loose during the race and caused me a lot of problems, eventually it came off and I had to stop. That’s real pity because the engine was running really good today and I was up to 11th place.”
Race Classification MotoGP : (24 laps = 118.392 km)
Pos/Rider /Nat /Team /Motorcycle /Time/KM/H
1/Valentino ROSSI /ITA /Repsol Honda /HONDA/44’36.633/159.234
2/Sete GIBERNAU /SPA /Telefónica Movistar Honda /HONDA/44’39.742/159.049
3/Makoto TAMADA /JPN /Pramac Honda /HONDA/44’43.931/158.801
4/Max BIAGGI /ITA /Camel Pramac Pons /HONDA/44’45.868/158.686
5/Nicky HAYDEN /USA /Repsol Honda /HONDA/44’47.798/158.572
6/Loris CAPIROSSI /ITA /Ducati Marlboro Team /DUCATI/44’51.459/158.356
7/Tohru UKAWA /JPN /Camel Pramac Pons /HONDA/44’53.994/158.207
8/Shinya NAKANO /JPN /d’Antín Yamaha Team /YAMAHA/44’57.872/157.980
9/Carlos CHECA /SPA /Fortuna Yamaha Team /YAMAHA/44’58.155/157.963
10/Troy BAYLISS /AUS /Ducati Marlboro Team /DUCATI/44’59.604/157.879
11/Marco MELANDRI /ITA /Fortuna Yamaha Team /YAMAHA/45’09.543/157.300
12/Alex BARROS /BRA /Gauloises Yamaha Team /YAMAHA/45’16.769/156.881
13/Colin EDWARDS /USA /Alice Aprilia Racing /APRILIA/45’30.732/156.079
14/Noriyuki HAGA /JPN /Alice Aprilia Racing /APRILIA/45’33.867/155.900
15/Ryuichi KIYONARI /JPN /Telefonica Movistar Honda /HONDA/45’34.311/155.875
Fastest Lap: Valentino ROSSI 1’50.453 160.781 Km/h Lap 10
World Championship Positions:
1 ROSSI 262, 2 GIBERNAU 211, 3 BIAGGI 174, 4 CAPIROSSI 123, 5 BAYLISS 112,
6 UKAWA 94, 7 CHECA 93, 8 HAYDEN 85, 9 BARROS 80, 10 NAKANO 77, 11 TAMADA 69,
12 JACQUE 58, 13 EDWARDS 51, 14 HAGA 36, 15 MELANDRI 29.
Race Classification 250cc: (22 laps = 108.526 km)
Pos/Rider /Nat /Team /Motorcycle /Time/KM/H
1/Manuel POGGIALI /RSM /MS Aprilia Team /APRILIA/42’09.055/154.482
2/Roberto ROLFO /ITA /Fortuna Honda /HONDA/42’21.956/153.698
3/Randy De Punet /FRA /Safilo Oxydo-LCR /APRILIA/42’22.020/153.694
4/Sylvain GUINTOLI /FRA /Campetella Racing /APRILIA/42’34.372/152.950
5/Naoki MATSUDO /JPN /Yamaha Kurz /YAMAHA/42’56.523/151.635
6/Hector FAUBEL /SPA /Aspar Junior Team /APRILIA/43’04.749/151.153
7/Joan OLIVE /SPA /Aspar Junior Team /APRILIA/43’07.319/151.003
8/Anthony WEST /AUS /Team Zoppini Abruzzo /APRILIA/43’07.394/150.998
9/Chaz DAVIES /GBR /Aprilia Germany /APRILIA/43’09.248/150.890
10/Eric BATAILLE /FRA /Troll Honda BQR /HONDA/43’11.661/150.750
11/Alex DEBON /SPA /Troll Honda BQR /HONDA/43’12.555/150.698
12/Erwan NIGON /FRA /Equipe de France – Scrab GP /APRILIA/43’18.959/150.326
13/Johan STIGEFELT /SWE /Team Zoppini Abruzzo /APRILIA/43’23.254/150.078
14/Dirk HEIDORF /GER /Aprilia Germany /APRILIA/43’23.425/150.069
15/Jaroslav HULES /CZE /Elit Grand Prix /HONDA/43’25.968/149.922
Fastest Lap: Manuel POGGIALI 1’54.215 155.485 Km/h Lap 7
World Championship Positions:
1 POGGIALI 190, 2 ROLFO 168, 3 DE PUNIET 162, 4 ELIAS 151, 5 NIETO 143,
6 WEST 118, 7 BATTAINI 117, 8 PORTO 109, 9 GUINTOLI 88, 10 MATSUDO 86,
11 DEBON 57, 12 OLIVE 36, 13 FAUBEL 34, 14 NIGON 21, 15 BATAILLE 21.
Race Classification 125cc (21 laps = 103.593 km)
Pos/Rider /Nat /Team /Motorcycle /Time/KM/H
1/Jorge LORENZO /SPA /Caja Madrid Derbi Racing /DERBI/41’51.624/148.483
2/Casey STONER /AUS /Safilo Oxydo-LCR /APRILIA/41’51.856/148.469
3/Alex De ANGELIS /RSM /Globet.com Racing /APRILIA/41’51.996/148.461
4/Daniel PEDROSA /SPA /Telefonica Movistar jnr Team /HONDA/41’52.213/148.448
5/Pablo NIETO /SPA /Master-MXOnda-Aspar Team /APRILIA/41’52.395/148.437
6/Andrea DOVIZIOSO /ITA /Team Scot /HONDA/41’52.523/148.430
7/Stefano PERUGINI /ITA /Abruzzo Racing Team /APRILIA/41’52.864/148.410
8/Gabor TALMACSI /HUN /Exalt Cycle Red Devil /APRILIA/41’55.459/148.257
9/Hector BARBERA /SPA /Master-MXOnda-Aspar Team /APRILIA/41’55.741/148.240
10/Steve JENKNER /GER /Exalt Cycle Red Devil /APRILIA/42’06.892/147.586
11/Marco SIMONCELLI /ITA /Matteoni Racing /APRILIA/42’10.711/147.363
12/Gino BORSOI /ITA /Globet.com Racing /APRILIA/42’11.069/147.342
13/Arnaud VINCENT /FRA /Sterilgarda Racing /APRILIA/42’11.208/147.334
14/Mirko GIANSANTI /ITA /Matteoni Racing /APRILIA/42’11.297/147.329
15/Thomas LUTHI /SWI /Elit Grand Prix /HONDA/42’12.090/147.283
Fastest Lap : Daniel PEDROSA 1’58.121 150.344 Km/h Lap 3
World Championship Positions:
1 PEDROSA 188, 2 PERUGINI 146, 3 DE ANGELIS 140, 4 DOVIZIOSO 130, 5 NIETO 124,
6 CECCHINELLO 105, 7 BARBERA 105, 8 JENKNER 104, 9 STONER 80, 10 UI 71,
11 GIANSANTI 68, 12 KALLIO 59, 13 TALMACSI 55, 14 LORENZO 50, 15 LUTHI 49
BIAGGI GOES FOURTH IN BRAZIL
Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons) scored fourth place in the Rio Grand Prix after spending much of the race in a podium place. His team-mate Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons) was seventh, securing valuable championship points.
Hot conditions and track temperatures in the high forties celcius determined several outcomes in the 24-lap event, with Valentino Rossi overcoming the fast early charge to the front by first Loris Capirossi (Ducati) and then Sete Gibernau (Honda). In close proximity to the leading battle for the first third of the race Biaggi fought hard to remain in third place but had to give best to Makoto Tamada (Honda).
Ukawa, who went down as far as ninth in the first half of the race moved forward in the last third of the race and he worked his way up to seventh place in determined fashion.
The surprise of the race was the pace of Makoto Tamada (Honda) who passed many illustrious MotoGP names to work his way to third from a start of seventh.
With two laps to go Rossi was in an unassailable lead of four seconds, Gibernau a safe second and Tamada sure of his eventual third. Biaggi, who had been under pressure from Nicky Hayden (Honda), rode with vigour and intelligence on the last lap to make sure of fourth place.
Hayden placed fifth on his first visit to Brazil, with Capirossi paying the price for his early pace and dropping to sixth. Ukawa took seventh place and made some championship ground on ninth place rider Carlos Checa (Yamaha). Shinya Nakano was the best Yamaha rider on site, eighth overall.
Colin Edwards took his Aprilia to 13th place. Jeremy McWilliams was just one place out of the points in 16th on his Proton KR V5. Garry McCoy retired his Kawasaki making Andrew Pitt best Kawasaki pilot in 18th, one place behind the lone Suzuki of Kenny Roberts. John Hopkins was injured in qualifying and could not race his V4 Suzuki. The WCM team had only one finisher, David de Gea in 19th and last place.
In the overall championship standings, Rossi extended his lead and now sits on 262 points, Gibernau is second with 211 points and Biaggi is a clear third on 174 points. Ukawa sits sixth overall with 94 points, one ahead of Checa.
1. Valentino Rossi (Honda) 44m 36.433s
2. Sete Gibernau (Honda) 44m 39.742s
3. Makoto Tamada (Honda) 44m 43.931s
4. Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons) 44m 45.868s
5. Nicky Hayden (Honda) 44m 47.798s
6. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) 44m 51.459s
7. Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons) 44m 53.994s
8. Shinya Nakano (Yamaha) 44m 57.872s
9. Carlos Checa (Yamaha) 44m 58.155s
10. Troy Bayliss (Ducati) 44m 59.604s
World Championship standings after 12 of 16 rounds:
1. Valentino Rossi (Honda) 262 points
2. Sete Gibernau (Honda) 211 points
3. Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons) 174 points
4. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) 123 points
5. Troy Bayliss (Ducati) 112 points
6. Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons) 94 points
7. Carlos Checa (Yamaha) 93 points
8. Nicky Hayden (Honda) 85 points
9. Alex Barros (Yamaha) 80 points
10. Shinya Nakano (Yamaha) 77 points
Max Biaggi (4th): “I was a little slow today. I just couldn’t accelerate and I had too much wheel spin. I don’t understand but I think I had a problem with the engine management system.”
Tohru Ukawa (7th): “We had a little bit less top speed and there was a lot of spinning from the rear from the start, which did not help. I could only go at a certain speed but my laps were consistent. Towards the end, as other riders’ tyres started to slip, I could move forward to seventh as they dropped back. I tried my best, as always. I look forward to Motegi and my home race.”
DUCATI MARLBORO MEN SIXTH AND TENTH IN TOUGH RIO GP
“We expected better than that,” said Ducati Marlboro Team technical director Corrado Cecchinelli. “The only people who beat us here were Honda, except this time there were too many of them in front of us! Now we need to sit down and have a chat with our riders to see what happened. This is our first time here, but I don’t want to make excuses, maybe we made the wrong tyre choice. We should learn a lot from today, and anyway, what I really want to do is congratulate Troy and Kim on the birth of their third child.”
“We had some minor worries with the engine-braking system in warm-up, the bike was a little difficult to control into the turns, and we couldn’t resolve the problem for the race,” explained Capirossi. “We had changed the engine yesterday, but that was just a normal maintenance procedure. Anyway this is a learning year for us, and when you have problems like this, for sure you learn for the future.”
BAYLISS TAKES TENTH, WHILE WIFE KIM DELIVERS THIRD BABY
Ducati Marlboro Team rider Troy Bayliss rode to a dogged tenth-place finish, unaware that wife Kim had given birth to their third child in Monaco earlier in the day. The Aussie, who had high expectations for today’s race after qualifying just a fraction of a second off the front row, rode as hard as ever but slipped to tenth at the flag.
“I tried ringing Kim this morning to see how she was going but couldn’t get through, I guess she must’ve already been in hospital!” said Bayliss, delighted with the birth but less happy with his worst finish in a while. “The bike wasn’t as great as it usually is. We made a few tiny changes after morning warm-up and maybe we made it a little worse. I rode it 100 per cent, then 110 per cent, but I never went any faster; you live and learn. I couldn’t believe it when I spoke to Kim after the race, it’s great news, at least something good happened today!”
Kim Bayliss gave birth in Monaco at 2am this morning. Baby Oliver is the couple’s third child after Mitchell (7) and Abbey (5).
ROBERTS 17TH ON SOLE SUZUKI IN RIO
Jacarepagua, Brazil – Saturday, September 19, 2003:
Team Suzuki rider Kenny Roberts Jr. finished 17th in today’s Rio GP, his hopes of claiming World Championship points for a top 15 finish thwarted in a hot sunny race that saw almost all the starters make it to the finish.
Team-mate John Hopkins did not ride after suffering painful injuries including a badly sprained left thumb in a heavy crash in yesterday’s final qualifying session.
Roberts had qualified 19th, started from the fifth row of the grid, and finished the first lap in 20th position, in a race run in blazing sunshine at the 4.933km circuit outside Rio de Janeiro.
The 2000 World Champion lapped consistently, picking up a couple of places but unable to make a real impression. The factory and race team are still struggling to unleash the obvious potential of the Suzuki GSV-R GP racer, and Roberts’s best hope of points was to be sure of a finish at a bumpy and slippery circuit where this is not always easy to achieve.
The race was won by defending champion Valentino Rossi, who added to his significant championship points lead with a third successive victory.
The next round is the Pacific GP at Motegi in Japan, in two weeks time – the first of three successive flyaway races that take the GP racers on to Malaysia and Australia before the season finale in Spain.
KENNY ROBERTS – 17th position: I’m pretty disappointed not to get into the points, but we knew we needed some help to do that. Once again almost everybody seemed to finish the race, so it’s pretty difficult for us to make up the places. I had to push pretty hard just to do 1:53 laps, with the risk of falling down pretty high. We’re obviously struggling at the moment.
GARRY TAYLOR – Team Manager Kenny really says it all. Everyone is working really hard to make our situation better, but in the end, with all the good intentions in the world, it’s only points that count.
RIO HEAT WAVE HITS FUCHS KAWASAKI TEAM
After a promising two days of Garry McCoy’s competitive qualifying efforts there was little reward for the Fuchs Kawasaki Team in the blast furnace heat of today’s Rio Grand Prix.
A sweat soaked Andrew Pitt was the sole finisher for the team, with the Australian bringing his Ninja ZX-RR home in 18th place after a brave battle against fading front end grip over the second half of the race.
Fellow Australian Garry McCoy was bitterly disappointed when a holed radiator and overheating engine prevented him from capitalising on his brilliant qualifying effort. McCoy had started 13th, the best qualifying effort by a Kawasaki rider this season.
After being baulked and losing two places on the opening lap McCoy settled in 15th before the oppressive heat began to take the edge off rear tyre grip and then gave his motor no chance of survival when debris thrown up by another rider punched a hole in the radiator, forcing McCoy to retire after just 14 laps.
In his first race at the fast and bumpy Rio circuit, MotoGP rookie Pitt battled bravely in the heavy traffic of the opening laps from his sixth row starting position. However, Pitt choose a slightly softer front tyre compound than McCoy and the tropical temperatures forced him to fight reduced front end grip levels throughout the second half of the race. Pitt was exhausted after manhandling his ZX-RR to the finish of the 24 lap race.
Andrew Pitt 18th
“After about six laps the front end grip started to go away and from mid-race I just couldn’t push any harder; over the final laps i was holding the bike up with my knee in every corner and sliding the front more than the rear. Otherwise the bike felt good and the rear grip stayed consistent. It was a hard and hot weekend for my first race in Rio and I’ve learnt a lot for next time. Now it’s time to cool down.”
Garry McCoy – DNF
“Just after halfway I started hearing noises and what smelt like oil burning and the motor felt like it was losing power, but I didn’t know until after the race that the radiator had been holed; it felt like the motor might lock-up. In any case the hot weather gave my rear tyres a hard time which is what we expected after qualifying. It’s disappointing after seeing the ZX-RR being more competitive in qualifying here. I lost a couple places at Turn Three after the start when I had to lift to avoid hitting Barros.”
Harald Eckl – Team Manager
“Something punched a hole in the radiator of Garry’s bike and I’m sorry for him because he likes this track and we saw in the cooler conditions on Thursday how competitive he was on the ZX-RR, which showed some potential at this circuit. Andrew did a solid job in his first race here, but it seems we may have selected a too soft front tyre for his bike.”
HOPKINS BATTERED IN HEAVY CRASH
Jacarepagua, Brazil – Friday, September 19, 2003:
Team Suzuki rider John Hopkins was lucky to walk away from a heavy crash in today’s final qualifying session for tomorrow’s Rio GP. But while the Anglo-American racer escaped without broken bones, he suffered a number of painful injuries, and is a doubtful starter for the race.
Hopkins had already qualified 18th on the time he set in yesterday’s first session, and was working on trying to improve overall race prospects when he fell after completing only seven laps.
The accident happened on the last corner of the 4.933km Nelson Piquet circuit outside Rio. The Suzuki GSV-R snapped sideways mid-corner, and Hopkins hung on for a wild rodeo ride until he was thrown off on the corner exit. The bike followed him as he tumbled.
Hopkins was carried away, but climbed off the stretcher as it reached the trackside barrier, to cross the track back to the pits over an advertising hoarding that doubles as a circuit-workers’ footbridge. His injuries were investigated immediately at the medical centre, and though no fractures were found, he was by now in considerable pain, with injuries to both legs and his right foot, his lumbar region, and with his left thumb badly sprained.
Team-mate Kenny Roberts Jr. qualified one place lower, in 19th, after slashing more than seven tenths of a second off his best lap time of yesterday, after a day of major experiments with different chassis and suspension settings. He will start the race, at the track where he tied up the 2000 500cc World Championship for Suzuki, from the fifth row of the grid.
Today’s practice took place in warm and sunny conditions, the threat of more rain dissipating overnight.
JOHN HOPKINS – 18th position, 1:51.802: The only rear tyre we’d been able to run is a real soft compound that I estimate would probably only last a quarter of race distance. We’ve been having big problems with the tyre going off, and we’ve been trying hard all weekend to get the bike set right so it can use a harder tyre, which I was using on that lap. It was sliding everywhere, and spinning up. Then on the last turn it stepped out real early and caught me way off guard. It pitched me up and started bucking me, flipping between my legs – I had a footpeg stab me in one leg, and then another on the other shin, and then when it threw me off my thumb seemed to get jammed and bent right back. I’m in a lot of pain right now, and with the situation we’re in, in no position to fight for a championship, I’ll see how I feel in the morning, but I might sit this race out, and wait for some improvement.
KENNY ROBERTS – 19th position, 1:51.839: This morning we did a gigantic circle with bike settings and approaches to the machine for this circuit. We tried three major setting differences during the morning session, and kind of came back to a more normal setting. At this place, we’re just really struggling. You’re deep on the brakes, and when you lean it over, if the back wheel’s not in line you can’t finish the corner off properly, and we’re really struggling in that area. We’re going to try and do our best, and hope the other guys race each other too hard, make some mistakes, and help us out a little bit.
GARRY TAYLOR – Team Manager: John was trying very hard, and when you need to go for every possible bit of speed, occasionally this sort of stuff is going to happen. John is really tough, but right now I’d be very surprised to see him race tomorrow. One thing that needs looking into is there was no way for him to get back. He had to walk over the Cinzano footbridge, which is really just scaffolding with a couple of ladders each end. I’ve never seen a rider do that before – and you could see the pain come in when he was halfway over the bridge. Dr Costa and Dean Millerlooked into his injuries immediately at the medical centre, with special concern over a big impact in the area of his left scaphoid (wrist bone), and his right foot. X-ray’s show that no bones were broken. Kenny kept on pushing, and made a good improvement in his time. He has a good chance of making the points tomorrow.
FRIDAY OFFICIAL QUALIFYING TIMES RIO, BRAZIL
1. Valentino Rossi (Honda) 1’49.038,
2. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) + 0.302,
3. Sete Gibernau (Honda) + 0.770,
4. Max Biaggi (Honda) + 0.838,
5. Troy Bayliss (Ducati) + 1.004,
6. Shinya Nakano (Yamaha) + 1.133,
7. Nicky Hayden (Honda) + 1.641,
8. Tohru Ukawa (Honda) + 1.646,
9. Makato Tamada (Honda) + 1.737,
10. Carlos Checa (Yamaha) + 1.818,
18. John Hopkins (Suzuki Grand Prix Team) + 2.764,
19. Kenny Roberts (Suzuki Grand Prix Team) + 2.801,
Final Qualifying 19 September
Track temperature: 35 degrees
Ambient temperature: 28 degrees, dry and sunny
ROSSI ON POLE AFTER RECORD BREAKING SESSION
Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda RC211V) had to ride to the full extent of his powers to take pole position at the 4.933km Nelson Piquet circuit in Rio, pushing the qualifying record to a new best of 1:49.038 in the process. In what turned out to be a three-way duel for supremacy between Rossi, Loris Capirossi (Ducati) and Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V) the action was all packed into the final ten minutes, with the relatively warm track temperatures also playing their part in proceedings.
Theoretically, the warmer track on day two, after a grey and cool opening session on Thursday, should have offered greater scope for improvement in lap times but the opposite appeared to be true at the bumpy Brazilian circuit. It thus took some time for the riders to find their optimum set-ups, and they had to devote a lot of time and effort in finding good race set-ups. Once they had finally fitted qualifying tyres, it was a different story.
Loris Capirossi had propelled himself to a clear lead on the times sheets in the final few minutes, outpacing Gibernau with a last throw of the dice but Rossi was waiting in the wings, riding aggressively to secure the pole position by a margin of 0.302 seconds.
Despite a last attempt by provisional pole position man Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons RC211V) to reinstate himself at the top of the timesheets his last lap was an imperfect one, and he had to settle for a front row start in fourth.
On the second row Troy Bayliss (Ducati) leads off top Yamaha rider thus far Shinya Nakano. Nicky Hayden ran out seventh, with Tohru Ukawa eighth, the last man on the second row.
The real test for the race will be tyre selection, as the track has already presented problems in this area, proving to be very hard to read as the weather changes.
All being well, Rossi is the best-placed rider pre-race and is in a good position to go about adding to his already impressive Rio race record.
“To make the pole position is always good,” said Rossi. “Today we tried hard because yesterday we didn’t have enough time to test the qualifying tyre. Today the plan was to try two but we were only able to use one because we worked a lot on race set-up for tomorrow. 1:49.0! I rode very well and the qualification tyre was very good.”
Sete Gibernau fell at the very end of the practice session, and this affected his post-qualifying mood somewhat. His all important front row start will nevertheless come into play for him when the race gets underway.
“Today we have done a good job once more with the set-up of the bike but we still have a few things to sort out,” said Gibernau. “I have found a really good rhythm in the corners but I am losing too much time in the straights. I am doing all I can to make it up but I need some help from Honda. Luckily I wasn’t hurt in my crash and I hope to solve our problems in the warm-up.”
For Biaggi, the second day was a disappointment compared to the first but he nonetheless starts from the front row, in fourth.
“I tried very hard to improve on my lap time from yesterday but it was not possible,” said Biaggi. “We did not have the improvement in set-up that would have made us take the next step, but I tried to be consistent. I went very hard on my last lap to try and go faster than yesterday. I may have made a couple of small mistakes on that lap but it was not going to be fast enough to take pole.”
The continual improvement in Hayden’s best lap time was put down to his ability to improve his own performance and his final sixth place qualifying spot was also the result of following his team leader Rossi in the latter stages of the final one hour session.
“That session had a little bit of drama in it for me but I’m pretty pleased with the result,” said Hayden. “I had a little problem early on and had to park it out on the circuit. I had to run back to the pit, have a drink of water and get back out again. At the end of the session I came in got a new tyre and went out behind Valentino and ended up doing my best time.”
Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons RC211V) was pleased to have improved his time from Thursday, but disappointed that it make little difference to his overall qualification, as other riders also went faster. “We managed to improve our times from yesterday but not enough,” said Ukawa in pitlane. “In this morning’s session we were not so bad but when I tried to go faster in the hotter afternoon session the rear would start to spin. The hotter track was probably part of the cause. We must try something in warm-up tomorrow and it will be very difficult to choose a race tyre. That’s the same for everybody.”
Makoto Tamada (Pramac Honda RC211V) went ninth on his first visit to the tricky and bumpy Rio circuit, his commitment evident to all, including the timekeepers. He too was affected by the peculiar track conditions.
“Today we tried a few things and more than anything we adapted the bike to the track conditions,” said the Bridgestone race tester. “I think we have the choice of tyre for the race pretty much worked out, but I must say I am sorry to be starting out ninth; I would have preferred to have been on the front.”
Rookie MotoGP rider Ryuichi Kiyonari (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V) can feel a sense of satisfaction after his final qualifying ride, securing 15th spot out of 24 on his first visit to Rio. “I am very happy to have improved my time by 2.4 seconds,” beamed Kiyonari. “I think this is my best qualifying performance and I am feeling very good about tomorrow’s race.”
The final 250ccc qualifying session saw most but not all of the top riders improving their lap times from the cool first day. Tony Elias (Aprilia) was the quickest rider, from Manuel Poggiali (Aprilia). The intense competition in the 250cc class was such that Roberto Rolfo (Fortuna Honda RS250RW) was third, after having to use his time from Friday as his best of the weekend, making small errors in final qualifying.
He was unperturbed by this turn of events and looks forward to another close 250 race.
“We did really good work yesterday but I made a mistake on the last lap so I think I can go faster than this,” said Rolfo. “The track changed today but we have good settings for the race.”
Sebastian Porto (Telefonica Movistar Junior Team RS250RW) went sixth after something of a confusing day at the track he won his first 250ccc Grand Prix at last year. Porto also thinks he is in good shape for a strong raceday performance, but there will be one particular area of concern for all the riders on display.
“Here it is very important to have a good engine and it’s not so bad,” said a satisfied Porto. “The bike works well, the chassis particularly. The big question is the tyre. I was very surprised that it was hotter today, but there is less grip.”
An outstanding final qualifying lap from Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Junior Team RS125R) held off the consistent threat of Alex De Angelis (Aprilia) to give the young Spaniard a start from pole position in the 125 class. The clear championship leader is in the perfect position as he attempts to take his fifth win of the season.
A good day of qualifying for another Honda rider delivered Andrea Dovizioso (Scot Racing Honda RS125R) to third place on the grid, with Gabor Talmacsi (Aprilia) in fourth spot. The second row of qualifying featured the Derbi of Jorge Lorenzo at its head, with Stefano Perugini (Aprilia), Hector Barbera (Aprilia) and Steve Jenkner (Aprilia) following on.
Young Swiss Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix team) secured 12th place for the third row start, while 2002 Rio race winner Masao Azuma (Ajo Motorsports RS125R Honda) ended two days of qualifying 17th overall.
Pedrosa is ready for the fight, even if he feels there is still room for improvement.
“I’m still having a little problem with the bike set-up on the bumps,” said Pedrosa, “but them everybody is. I was ninth until that last lap so I’m glad I could get a slipstream and then head up a big group of riders across the line.”
Dovizioso was happy with second place but hopes to find the right conditions on raceday. “I am almost OK for the race bit we have to check the life of the tyre,” he stated. “Twenty-one laps is a long way here. The engine is overheating a little bit but otherwise everything is OK.”
Luthi was another with tyres to consider for raceday. “I’m happy with a third row start after the troubles of yesterday. I tried the soft tyre today but it only lasted 15 minutes.”
HONDA TEAM QUOTES:
Valentino Rossi, Repsol Honda team, 1st: “That was very good and I’m very happy. To make the pole position is always good. Today we tried hard because yesterday we didn’t have enough time to try the qualification tyre. Today the plan was to try two but we were only able to use one because we work very much for tomorrow. We need the warm up tomorrow to understand what we need to modify with the settings before deciding on the rear tyre. Anyway; 49.0! I ride very well and the qualification tyre was very good.”
Sete Gibernau, Telefonica MoviStar Honda, 3rd: “Today we have again done a good job with the set-up of the bike, but we still have a few things to sort out. I have found a really good rhythm in the corners but I am losing too much time on the straights. I am doing all I can to make up the difference but I need some help from Honda. It is a shame because in the crucial part of the session when I was going for a good time I crashed. Luckily I wasn’t hurt and I hope to solve our problems in the warm-up. Tomorrow I will start from the front row and hopefully I can be back in the battle for the win.”
Max Biaggi , Camel Pramac Pons: 4th: “I tried very hard to improve on my lap time from yesterday but it was not possible. We did not have the improvement in set-up that would have made us take the next step, but I tried to be consistent. I went very hard on my last lap to try and go faster than yesterday. I might have made a couple of small mistakes on that lap but it was not going to be fast enough to take pole.”
Nicky Hayden , Repsol Honda Team: 7th: “That session had a little bit of drama in it for me but I’m pretty please with the overall result. I had a little problem early on and had to park the bike out on the circuit. I ran back to the pit and gotta’ drink of water and time to cool off of a minute. My other bike wasn’t set-up so different and went pretty quick straight away. At the end of the session I came in, got a new tyre and went out behind Valentino and ended up doin’ my best time. Gotta’ thank Valentino and my whole team. They worked real hard. Still need to work on a few areas but I’m happy I’ve picked up a bit of speed from yesterday.”
Tohru Ukawa, Camel Pramac Pons 8th: “We managed to improve our times from yesterday but not enough. In this morning’s session we were not so bad but when I tried to go faster in the hotter afternoon session the rear would start to spin. The hotter track was probably part of the cause. We must try something in warm-up tomorrow and it will be very difficult to choose
a race tyre. That’s the same for everybody.”
Makoto Tamada, Pramac Honda Team: 9th: “Today too we tried out a few things and, more than anything, we adapted the bike to changes in weather conditions. The difference in terms of grip was much more obvious during the free practice this morning, but this afternoon, partly thanks to all the changes we made, things were working out much better. I think I’ve got the choice of tyres for the race pretty well sorted out, but I must say I’m sorry to be starting out ninth: I’d have preferred to be on second row for I certainly could have got there. What matters now is that I need to put up a good pace and maintain a constant rhythm in the race like I did today. It could well make the difference.”
Ryuichi Kiyonari, Telefonica MoviStar Honda, 15th: “I am very happy to have improved my time by 2.4 seconds. I think this is my best qualifying performance and I am feeling really good about tomorrow’s race.”
Fausto Gresini, Team Manager:
“We have worked well once again and Sete has maintained a good rhythm. It is just a shame that at the end, when he put his second qualifying tyre on and was lapping behind Capirossi, he crashed and wasn’t able to complete the job. Luckily Sete is feeling fine and tomorrow as always the team will do everything to help solve his problems. Kiyonari was splendid. He has shown real character on the track and got the most out of his qualifying tyre. I am sure he can have a nice race tomorrow.”
Roberto Rolfo, Fortuna Honda, 3rd: “The work we have done here has been in a good direction and I think the set up of my Fortuna Honda allows me to be optimistic about my possibilities in the race. Because, in general, both the chassis and the engine look to be competitive on this track.”
“There is only one part of the circuit where I have to improve, my trajectory is a little slow there, but I think this will not be a problem in the race. I am on the front row of the grid and if I’m with the leading group I will await my chance to attack my rivals.”
“Elias looks very strong, and has a good rhythm. If he gets a good start and pushes hard from the beginning it’s going to be hard for us to follow him. If that is the case then I think there will be a group behind him and I’m sure I will be with that group, as that’s how qualifying ended. ”
Sebastian Porto, Telefonica MoviStar Honda Jnr Team: 6th:: “I am happy with how today’s session has gone. I was able to lower my times from yesterday and I think we have a good rhythm. At the end of the session the track temperature cooled a little and maybe the tyre we put on was a little hard, because I think I could have gone a couple of thousandths quicker and made the front row. Anyway, the most important thing is that the bike is quite well set-up for the race tomorrow, which looks like being very close. I will try and start well and get a good result for the people who have come down from Argentina to see me”.
Daniel Pedrosa, Telefonica MoviStar Honda Jnr Team, 1st: “It is my first pole since Assen, which is obviously satisfying, but the most important day of the weekend is tomorrow. We cannot relax at all because I had to risk a lot on the last lap to set that time and improve on ninth place. The bike is still not at 100 per cent and the heat today gave us some problems with rear end grip. We have tried lots of different settings and we will make a final decision tomorrow depending on the weather. The times are very close and it is difficult to predict how the race will go because with the slipstreams here it will be tough to escape.”
Andrea Dovizioso, Scot Racing Honda, 3rd: “I’m almost OK for the race but we have to check tyre life in the warm up, 21-laps is a long way. The engine is running a little hot today so I hope the temperature is not so high tomorrow. Everything else is good.”
Thomas Luthi, Elit Honda, 12th: “I’m happy with my time, and starting from the third row. After the problems we had yesterday with bad slides we have improved. The bike is running well, the engine is good. The problem will be with tyre wear. We ran the softer compound today but it was good for only 15-minutes so we have to use a harder compound for the race. But I know I will need to make a good start to get with the leading group.”
Masao Azuma, Ajo Motorsports Honda, 17th: “I am much faster today, 1.3s over yesterday. Happy with the time and progress we have made here but not happy with 17th on the grid. The engine is good, and the suspension. We just have a small problem with the engine. If we find a solution overnight I will have a good race tomorrow.”
Simone Corse, Scot Racing Honda, 19th: “I had a big crash this morning which held me back for a while. I was having a lot of rear wheel slides but one time the back end slid away from me really quickly and I was off. We changed a few things for qualifying this afternoon and the bike is better but I still have a small problem with the rear tyre sliding. The engine is good and if we can reduce the rear end slides I’ll be happy.”
CAMEL CLUES – RIO GRAND PRIX, 20/09/03 BRAZIL
SUZUKA OUT IN 2004
The Suzuka circuit in Japan will not stage the opening round of next year’s World Championship. Following a series of accidents at the Japanese Grand Prix this year, the circuit has agreed to a long-term programme of safety improvements. However, they will not be completed in time for the race which was scheduled to open the 2004 Championship on April 6.
The MotoGP Championship will know be reduced to 16 rounds with the race at Motegi on September 19 being re-named the Japanese Grand Prix. The Championship will start with the Africas Grand Prix in Welkom on April 18.
Suzuka are confident all the work will be completed by 2005 and the Japanese Grand Prix will return.
ROSSI’S FUTURE – VERY SOON
With Ducati and Yamaha eagerly awaiting developments, Honda are poised to announce a new signed two-year contract with Valentino Rossi.
Long negotiations took place between Honda and the World Champion’s advisors after his victory in Estoril, Portugal. There are a couple of points still to be agreed but all the major problems have been sorted.
A new contract is being drawn-up in Japan which will then be sent to Rossi’s advisers, hopefully for signature. Honda would love to announce the signing at their home circuit at Motegi in Japan in two weeks time. Then the rest of the paddock can get on with planning next season.
RIO – FATHER AND SON REUNION
The Autodromo Nelson Piquet circuit in Rio has often staged races that have decided the outcome of the World Championship. Three of those races have given a World title to the son of a Grand Prix winner and in one case a World Champion.
Valentino Rossi clinched both the 250cc World title with victory in 1999 and the MotoGP title last year with a win in the rain. His father Graziano won three 250cc Grands Prix but never a World title.
Kenny Roberts junior went one better. He won the 500cc Championship for Suzuki three years ago in Rio. His father Kenny Senior, won three World 500cc titles and 22 500cc Grands Prix.
Three other father and sons have won Grands Prix. Nello and Alberto Pagani, Les and Stuart Graham and two weeks ago in Portugal, Pablo Nieto at last joined his father, the legendary Angel Nieto as a Grand Prix winner. He has quite a lot of catching up to do. His father winning 13 World titles and 90 Grands Prix.
EVIDENCE BY CAMERA
When two Eurosport journalists where driving from the airport in Rio they were involved in a minor road accident. A local gentleman crashed into the back of their hire car but was none too keen to give any details of his insurance. They found the ideal solution by taking a picture of his car’s number plate, the scene of the accident and the man himself. He was not impressed and drove off. However, the incriminating pictures were duly deposited with the local police and hire car company.
Max Biaggi, Tohru Ukawa and Camel Pramac Pons Team Principal Sito Pons enjoyed some typical Brazilian hospitality in Rio on Tuesday before the Grand Prix. They entertained 35 local journalists at a typical Churrascaria Steak House. Tohru enjoyed the meat but also found some sushi to make him feel at home.
CHECA AND BARROS MILESTONES
Former Honda Pons stars Alex Barros and Carlos Checa were due to reach significant milestones in their Grand Prix careers in Rio. Barros who won five races for the team was set to compete in his 190th Grand Prix which is a record for the 500cc/MotoGP class. Checa, who made his 500cc debut with the Pons team replacing the injured Alberto Puig at the 1995 British Grand Prix, was set to make his 120th Grand Prix appearance.
CRASH FREE ZONE
It was a record breaking day on Thursday in Rio for all the right reasons. Just two riders crashed throughout the six 125cc, 250cc and MotoGP practice and qualifying sessions. Italian veteran Lucio Cecchinello crashed without injury in the 125cc morning practice session while Tohru Ukawa fell from the Camel Pramac Pons machine in the first MotoGP qualifying session in the afternoon. He was unhurt. It was back to normal service on Friday with 17 crashes including Ukawa’s team-mate Max Biaggi.
DUCATI MARLBORO MEN ON ROWS ONE & TWO AT RIO
“I’m very happy,” said Capirossi after achieving his tenth front-row start of 2003. “We are always up front now, regardless of the racetrack, and that shows how great the bike is. We are able to find a good set-up whatever the style of track, which is a great help to me. We worked some more on settings today and did a race simulation to help us choose our race tyres, but the changing weather conditions make tyre choice difficult – it was cold yesterday, hot today and we still don’t know what to expect for tomorrow. My target is simple – to run with the leaders, then see what we’ve got left at the end of the race.”
RIO ROOKIE BAYLISS’ BEST GRID SLOT SINCE JEREZ
“We made really good improvements every session, which is nice,” said the understandably delighted former World Superbike Champion. “And after this afternoon I’ve got some fairly high expectations for the race; hopefully I’ll get a good start and be able to run up front. I’m still not sure which bike I’m going to race (Bayliss has one bike fitted with the latest, large-diameter Ohlins fork, the other with the Ohlins fork he’s used since the start of the season), because there’s a few other differences to them, like suspension links. We’ll try a few more things in warm-up, then decide.”
FINAL QUALIFYING (19/09/03) – RIO GRAND PRIX, 20/09/03 BRAZIL
BIAGGI STARTS RIO RACE FROM FRONT ROW
Camel Pramac Pons rider Max Biaggi was unable to improve on his provisional pole time at the bumpy high-speed Nelson Piquet circuit, finishing official qualifying in fourth place overall. His first day pace was nonetheless good enough for a front row start, while his team-mate Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Honda) went eight fastest, improving on his first day time in the process. Biaggi had suffered a front-end crash in the unofficial morning practice period, but suffered no injury.
Pole was fought out by new qualifying record holder Valentino Rossi (Honda), second placed Loris Capirossi (Ducati) and Sete Gibernau, the latter falling at high speed at the end of the session, without injury.
The 28°C air temperatures made for 35°C track temperatures – a contrast to the cooler beginning of qualifying on Thursday. The higher track and ambient temperatures in the final timed session meant that many riders had to spend much of the last hour dialing in race setting before attempting to improve their qualifying times, making the last ten minutes a fraught and sometimes dramatic spell.
Troy Bayliss (Ducati) almost ran off the track in his successful attempt to improve his overnight grid position, ending up in fifth place, one ahead of the fastest Yamaha rider on display, Japanese rider Shinya Nakano. American rookie Nicky Hayden just edged Ukawa out of seventh place, by a margin of only 0.005 seconds.
Makoto Tamada (Honda) and Carlos Checa (Yamaha) rounded out the top ten, with the top Kawasaki rider Garry McCoy ending his day 13th. Local Hero Alex Barros (Yamaha) could only turn in the 11th fastest time.
Nobuatsu Aoki secured 17th place on his V5 Proton KR, and John Hopkins crashed out spectacularly trying to break into the top four rows on the grid. He finished 18th, while the top WCM machine was David de Gea’s in 23rd place. The second Proton of Jeremy McWilliams suffered a serious oil leak but the British rider pulled off the track before the track became badly affected.
1. Valentino Rossi (Honda) 1m 49.038s
2. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) 1m 49.340s
3. Sete Gibernau (Honda) 1m 49.808s
4. Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons) 1m 49.876s
5. Troy Bayliss (Ducati) 1m 50.042s
6. Shinya Nakano (Yamaha) 1m 50.171s
7. Nicky Hayden (Honda) 1m 50.679s
8. Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons) 1m 50.684s
9. Makoto Tamada (Honda) 1m 50.775s
10. Carlos Checa (Yamaha) 1m 50.856s
Max Biaggi (4th): “I tried very hard to improve on my lap time from yesterday but it was not possible. We did not have the improvement in set-up that would have made us take the next step, but I tried to be consistent. I went very hard on my last lap to try and go faster than yesterday. I might have made a couple of small mistakes on that lap but it was not going to be fast enough to take pole.”
Tohru Ukawa (8th): “We managed to improve our times from yesterday but not enough. In this morning’s session we were not so bad but when I tried to go faster in the hotter afternoon session the rear would start to spin. The hotter track was probably part of the cause. We must try something in warm-up tomorrow and it will be very difficult to choose a race tyre. That’s the same for everybody.”
McCOY RECORDS SEASON BEST QUALIFYING FOR FUCHS KAWASAKI TEAM
Garry McCoy achieved the best qualifying result this season for the Fuchs Kawasaki Racing Team, blasting his Ninja ZX-RR to 11th place on the provisional grid during this afternoon’s opening qualifying session for Saturday’s Rio Grand Prix.
Riding with poise and determination over the notorious bumps of the Nelson Piquet Circuit McCoy impressively out-paced a squadron of factory rivals and missed a top ten place by the narrowest of margins.
With eleven minutes remaining in the session McCoy had jumped to eighth position with a time of 1m 51.65s and even though he later improved to 1m 51.39s he was bumped to 11th place in the final seconds.
McCoy’s performance on the Ninja ZX-RR, on the bike’s debut at the Nelson Piquet Circuit, provided a big confidence boost to the Fuchs Kawasaki Racing Team after the disappointment of last week’s Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril.
Having finished third on the podium in this race in 2000 McCoy knew what to expect from this demanding track. Not so team-mate Andrew Pitt, who rode for the first time at Rio today and not surprisingly is still learning the track and searching for a comfortable set-up.
With a late burst Pitt sliced almost a second from his previous best in the session to qualify 19th on the provisional grid. MotoGP rookie Pitt learnt a lot today and is confident that the improvements will continue with more laps of the circuit.
Today opened with rain showers and remained cloudy and overcast for qualifying and there is a further threat of rain tomorrow, an outcome that could mean today’s qualifying times will count for grid positions for Saturday’s 24 lap race.
Garry McCoy 11th – 1:51.395
“Right now I hope it rains all day tomorrow, so I can start from the third row of the grid for the first time this season. Actually that session was nothing special from my side as a rider, I put in the same amount of effort as I always do but I guess I know what to expect at this track having been on the podium here; it’s bumpy as always. I’ve spent lot of time running different ride heights and trying race tyres and then late in the session the bike and Dunlop qualifying tyre hooked up nicely although I had a couple slides. Exactly why the ZX-RR is closer to the front that it’s been all season I don’t exactly know, but let’s hope it stays this way.”
Andrew Pitt 19th – 1:52.857s
“This is one of the bumpiest tracks I’ve ridden on and getting the set-up right to control the bike and keep it stable is my main problem. Having said that I like the layout; it is fast and flowing with a nice long back straight. I’m looking for a compromise that will give me more control over the bumps and allow me to get on the throttle earlier on corner exits; the front end wants to wheelie and its taking too long to open the gas out of the turns.”
Harald Eckl – Team Manager
“I’m very happy for Garry, this is an excellent result and even though it’s only the first day it gives us some confidence for the rest of the weekend. For sure this circuit suits our bike much better than the last race at Estoril; at the moment we know the weak point of our chassis is slow corners, so Estoril was a real challenge, but here at Rio the high speed corners and long straight, which shows our motor is competitive, is a much better opportunity for the ZX-RR.”
DUCATI MARLBORO TEAM IMMEDIATELY ON THE PACE AT RIO
Ducati Marlboro Team rider Loris Capirossi was in the thick of the battle for provisional pole position at Jacarepagua this afternoon, even though this is the Italian factory team’s first visit to the high-speed circuit outside Rio de Janeiro. The Italian ended the day second quickest, just 0.336 seconds off provisional pole position. Team-mate Troy Bayliss had never ridden the track before this morning but was a promising ninth fastest this afternoon, 1.378 seconds off pole.
“This track isn’t so complicated,” explained Ducati Marlboro Team technical director Corrado Cecchinelli. “The only thing we’ve really got to work on is grip, because the surface is pretty slippery. We started today with the set-up we ran at Estoril, with different gearbox ratios, and we were pretty close from the start. Once we had made some changes Loris was able to run up front, while Troy just needs another day to keep learning the track, so we hope for good weather tomorrow.”
CAPIROSSI SECOND BY A FRACTION OF A SECOND
Loris Capirossi was in the hunt for provisional pole position throughout today’s first qualifier. Three minutes from the end of the session the Ducati Marlboro Team went fastest, but was then demoted to second in the final minute. However, Capirossi and his crew learned plenty from their first day together at this bumpy, slippery circuit and are confident of upping their pace tomorrow.
“I’m really happy because we improved the settings from this morning,” said the Italian, currently fourth in the World Championship. “We worked mainly on suspension and gearbox set-up and we were able to run a good pace. This is only our first day here with the Desmosedici, but things are going well and they can be better tomorrow because we’ve already found the right direction in which to work. This afternoon’s session helped us to understand what kind of pace we’ll be able to run here, because we are always working towards the race.”
RIO NEWCOMER BAYLISS 0.014 SECONDS OFF ROW TWO
Ducati Marlboro Team rider Troy Bayliss quickly got to grips with the Jacarepagua circuit, ending the day ninth fastest, just one hundredth of a second off the provisional second row. Australian Bayliss has his two Desmosedicis equipped with different Ohlins forks here – one bike uses the latest, larger diameter Ohlins, the other is fitted with the forks that he’s used for much of the season.
“It’s not a bad track,” said the hard-riding MotoGP rookie. “It’s easy enough to learn but like most places it’s getting the last little bit out of it which isn’t so easy. The only thing that most people are complaining about is that there isn’t much grip, so we’re working on the settings to improve feel from the rear, and we’ve a few ideas about what to do for tomorrow. I’ve liked the new forks since I tested them at Mugello last week. Why? Because they give me a better lap time! They just seem more stable under braking. I’ve been using the new forks most of today but I may give the old forks a bit of a try tomorrow just to see how they go.”
1ST QUALIFYING (18/09/03) – RIO GRAND PRIX, 20/09/03 BRAZIL
BIAGGI TAKES PROVISIONAL POLE AT RIO
A new qualifying record lap of 1m49.876s for Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons) gave him a provisional pole position after the first day of action at the challenging Rio circuit. A crash for his team-mate Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons RC211V) put him down to eighth overall. But with Ukawa second fastest before he fell, both riders proved to be on the pace on only the first day.
Biaggi´s best lap came with only minutes left, not long enough for his main rivals Loris Capirossi (Ducati), Sete Gibernau (Honda) and Valentino Rossi (Honda) to make another true attempt on pole.
After setting his fastest lap of the session on his 12th lap Ukawa lost grip from the front end at the apex of one of Rio´s many right hand corners. Uninjured in his fall, his machine was too badly damaged to ride back and Ukawa had to complete his first hour of timed qualifying on his less favoured second machine.
A fight for the overnight pole position led to a series of riders heading the time sheets, at least temporarily. With Biaggi having set the fastest lap overall with 11 minutes left Capirossi and Gibernau both went faster, until Biaggi sealed his 0.336 advantage over Capirossi, becoming the only rider in the 1m49s bracket.
The changeable weather at Rio was settled enough for the entire session to be conducted in the dry, but the possibility of rain on day two lent an air of urgency to the early proceedings.
Shinya Nakano scored fifth place with his best lap on his Yamaha, and a late charge from local rider Alex Barros (Yamaha) delivered him to sixth place.
Makoto Tamada belied his rookie status once more to set seventh best time, one place ahead of Ukawa, the last rider on the provisional second row.
Garry McCoy rode his Kawasaki to 11th place, while the top Suzuki proved to belong to John Hopkins, in 13th. Noriyuki Haga (Aprilia) was best Aprilia rider in 14th. Jeremy McWilliams, the swiftest of the Proton KR riders, 18th on a four-stroke V5. The WCM team saw David de Gea finish his first day in Rio in 21st place from 24 entrants.
1. Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons) 1m 49.876s
2. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) 1m 50.212s
3. Sete Gibernau (Honda) 1m 50.234s
4. Valentino Rossi (Honda) 1m 50.322s
5. Shinya Nakano (Yamaha) 1m 50.844s
6. Alex Barros (Yamaha) 1m 50.876s
7. Makoto Tamada (Honda) 1m 50.957s
8. Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons) 1m 51.240s
9. Troy Bayliss (Ducati) 1m 51.254s
10. Olivier Jacque (Yamaha) 1m 51.385s
Max Biaggi (1st): “That last lap was almost perfect. I had spent most of my time working out good race settings and tyres for the race itself. I felt very confident that I had a good set-up to go for one more try to set the fastest lap at the end. Tomorrow we will concentrate on the chassis set-up once again but today will maybe be important because the weather could change.”
Tohru Ukawa (8th): “In the early part of the session everything was going well and I could set good lap times. Then I fell – I think maybe I was pushing just a little too hard. I had to use my second machine from then on and I did not have such a good feeling with that. So we had not so bad a lap time but for sure if tomorrow is dry I can go faster. But my target is Saturday and the race itself.”
HONDAS EXPECTED TO FLY DOWN IN RIO
The Nelson Piquet circuit on the fringes of the bustling conurbation of Rio de Janeiro hosts the first and only South American based MotoGP race of the intense 2003 season on Saturday 20 September, with all three of the top Honda RC211V riders in the series having tasted victory at least once so far.
The top three championship positions at this important juncture of the season are filled by the V5-powered triumvirate of 2002 World Champion Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda RC211V), Sete Gibernau (Telefonica MoviStar Honda RC211V) and Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons RC211V). Rossi sits on 237, Gibernau on 191 and Biaggi on 161.
Such has been the consistency and speed of these men and their Honda machines that the next nearest challenge is 48 points behind Biaggi’s total and comes from MotoGP returnees Ducati, in the shape of Loris Capirossi (Ducati). MotoGP rookie Troy Bayliss (Ducati) is a further seven points adrift.
The second season of four-stroke MotoGP regulations has been a real battle for wins from day one, with Gibernau four times puncturing the frequently indestructible force field surrounding multiple world champion Rossi. More recently Rossi has found new focus and powers of race long concentration allowing him to secure the last two race wins, for a season total of five.
Rossi in full flow is an awesome sight to behold, and his personal record of five Rio wins, spread through all solo classes, is a telling statistic for his rivals to consider at this juncture. Rossi’s form is back to its exquisite best, having won the most recent Brno and Estoril MotoGP events, taking him to a career total of 55 in all classes.
“I am very happy after the last two GPs with good results,” said the 2001 and 2002 World Champion. “We worked very hard on the bike with the team and after the summer break we came back and concentrated at 100%. I think earlier in the season maybe we lost a little bit of our concentration. We made a few mistakes but now we are coming good for the important part of the season. We have had good success in Rio and I have many good memories of this track in the past. We hope to make more of the same results that will be good for the championship.”
The man who matched Rossi blow for blow for much of the season, Sete Gibernau, is optimistic about his upcoming Rio performance but recognises that the nature of the 4.933 km circuit can catch out the unwary, even on day one.
“Of course I’m very enthusiastic going into the Rio race,” said the rejuvenated Spaniard. “The race is important and I’m willing to fight for the win on Saturday. The track is not one of my favourites but I don’t dislike racing there. The big factors at Rio are the weather – sometimes it rains – and the tyres. Tyre choice is crucial at Rio and you have to get the set up right as soon as possible so you know your tyre choice is the right one.”
For Max Biaggi, his most recent experiences of the RC211V have imbued him with enthusiasm for the fight in South America.
“I had a good result in Estoril and I hope the next race will be even better,” said Biaggi, the Donington race winner. “I pretty much like the layout of the circuit but not the tarmac. Normally the grip is not good and it’s quite bumpy. You need a very good set up there. Anyway there are a couple of things that make me positive about Rio: the first one is that the RC211V is a naturally very, very well balanced machine, the second is that we made a step forward with the set up in Estoril. Hopefully we’ll improve even more from there.”
For Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons RC211V) his 2003 season has featured a mixed bag of results, and he sits seventh after 11 rounds.
“We had a good race at Estoril and I feel a lot happier now – after a few poor results earlier on,” said the 30-year-old Japanese. “The team worked very hard at the Brno test and at Estoril and we found solutions to some problems. Now I hope we can keep carry on the same way for the rest of the season.”
Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) has enjoyed his rookie MotoGP season so far but more importantly has been a thorn in the side of many more experienced competitors on several occasions.
“I’ve been feeling better and better on the bike recently and am really looking for some good finishes from the last few races,” said Hayden, who has another reason to be at his best at Rio. “I was pretty disappointed with the result in Portugal where I had come into the weekend with some high expectations from the previous two races. It only really started to come good at the end of the race and it’s too late then! I’ll be looking to get on pace quick in Rio and I definitely want to move up the riders table before the end of the season.” Hayden currently lies ninth on overall classification.
Makoto Tamada (Pramac Honda RC211V) is playing the role of Bridgestone tyre development rider and full-on racer for his team, and Rio offers yet another challenge to his talents.
“We had a better day in Estoril, I’m happy with the race overall,” said three time SBK race winner, currently in 12th place. “We are closer to our rivals and I hope we carry on improving when we get to Rio. It will be my first race at the track.”
Another MotoGP rookie Ryuichi Kiyonari (Telefonica MoviStar Honda RC211V) faces a stiff test of his abilities at Rio, and hopes he will be able to put in new personal bests once more.
In the 250cc Championship Roberto Rolfo (Fortuna Honda RS250RW) sits third overall, part of a five-man group covered by only 22 points. World Championship leader Manuel Poggiali is at the head of a whole gaggle of Aprilia riders in contention with Rolfo.
Having scored a win on the undulating twists of Sachsenring he rates the very different Rio as a tough trial for both man and machine this weekend.
“Rio is a track I don’t really like very much,” confessed Rolfo. “In the past the bikes I have raced there suffered on the two long straights. The biggest problem at Rio is set up to run the long corners on the track. Maybe the Honda I have now will be better suited to the circuit than what I raced before.”
One man who looks forward to Rio, for more than just professional reasons, is Argentinean rider Sebastian Porto (Telefonica MoviStar Junior Team RS250RW). Based in Europe for almost all the year, Porto moves closer to home when the circus heads for Rio.
“I travelled home to Argentina after Estoril, celebrating my 25th birthday with my friends,” said Porto, who will start his 120th GP this weekend. “Sure Rio is a special place for me I won the race last year. Rio is the closest race to my home so a lot of Argentine fans come to the race. We make progress with the bike each race so I hope we have improved again since Estoril. I’m looking forward to the race.”
Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica MoviStar Junior Team RS125R) was blessed with some good fortune at Estoril in the previous 125cc championship round, his two main rivals clashing and Pedrosa taking the opportunity to move 38 points clear of his nearest rival Stefano Perugini (Aprilia).
Pedrosa now finds himself in an unexpectedly clear leading position, and may have to modify his normal approach of going for the win at all costs this weekend.
“Rio is one of those places where we might get rain, I hope not this year,” said Pedrosa. “It rained last year and I was doing OK in third place until my boot slipped off the footrest and touched the rear brake and I crashed. The way things worked out at Estoril was good for me but if it rains at Rio I will not take any risks. I just hope it stays dry.”
Masao Azuma (Ajo Motorsports Honda RS125R) was a convincing winner of the Rio race in 2002, and is understandably looking forward to similar riding conditions to last year.
“Last year Rio was a fantastic race for me, I have good memories of Rio,” said Azuma. “When the surface is clean it has good grip, also in the wet. If I could choose between wet and dry right now I would prefer the wet with the set up we have for the rain.”
Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R) has some experience of the Rio circuit.
“I raced at the track in Rio last year, it’s not so bad,” understated the young Swiss. “Like all tracks in the championship its OK for me. I like the atmosphere in Brazil, it’s a nice country and I enjoyed racing there.”
The Rio race takes place on Saturday 20 September, not the more usual Sunday of most other MotoGP weekends. This means that official qualifying also starts one day earlier than normal, on Thursday 18th.
SUZUKI JOINS THE ROAD-RACE TO RIO
Team Suzuki Press Office Monday 15th September 2003.
First of the flyaways, the Rio GP on Saturday, September 20, is an event with its own unique agenda. Run on Saturday to accommodate Sunday’s football fever, amid imposing scenery and round a fast, bumpy and challenging circuit, Rio’s race often finds other surprises to spice up the MotoGP experience.
Last year, it was rain – giving Kenny Roberts the chance to fight for victory, and claim the new GSV-R Suzuki’s second rostrum finish in its first season. The 2000 World Champion’s riding skill and the machine’s stable performance brought out the best in each.
This year, the challenge for the Suzuki riders is very different. The second-generation 990cc GSV-R is a completely redesigned machine, incorporating cutting edge technology and electronics. It is a machine of clear competitive potential, but the search for the right combination of settings and software to realise that potential has still not born full fruit.
Development has been step by step, and the Rio GP is another step on that journey. It gives the engineers another chance to refine the complex systems, towards a more effective third generation GSV-R for 2004. It also gives the riders a chance to prove the progress so far, by adding to the machine’s tally of world championship points.
“This has been a difficult season so far for the team, but everyone has continued to give 100 percent,” said team manager Garry Taylor.
“The riders have sustained their focus, contributing to steady progress with the machine while getting the best possible results. The dedication of the team as always has been amazing. And we have the full backing and support of the factory, to resolve our problems and get back to the winner’s circle,” he added.
The Rio GP is the 12th of 16 rounds of the second MotoGP World Championship, approaching the end of an exciting season, with the big 990cc four-strokes taking a significant step forward in lap times and in close, competitive racing.
There is a weekend off after the sole South American round, then the gruelling round-the-world trio – Japan, Malaysia and Australia – before the season closes at Valencia on November 2.
KENNY ROBERTS – DOWN SOUTH OF THE BORDER
Every weekend, I look forward to seeing what developments we have for the bike, and we work towards getting the best out of it for the race. We’re also analysing and looking for ways of taking the next step forward. Realistically, the best I can aim for is to be in the points.
It was a pretty crazy race last year. It was real wet and slippery, and I crashed – but still finished in the points. This is my first year there on the four-stroke: the track has a good layout, but the bumps and the surface can be critical. We need to get the bike so it’s balanced and predictable. I’ll be ready to give 100 percent, like usual.
ABOUT THIS RACE
The first GP in Brazil took place in 1987, at the inland circuit of Goiania. The race stayed there for two more years, then began a troubled search for a new home. After several false starts and cancellations, and a single round at the F1 circuit of Interlagos at Sao Paulo, the event moved to the rebuilt Nelson Piquet circuit outside Rio in 1995. The next year saw the name change to the Rio GP for 1996 and 1997. Another late cancellation in 1998 continued the oft-interrupted history of Brazilian GP racing, but it rejoined the calendar in 1999 to resume business as usual. This year’s race is the only one apart from the Dutch TT to be held on a Saturday – a concession to crowds who put football ahead of motorcycle racing.
ABOUT THIS CIRCUIT
The Rio circuit was an early example of a modern trend – circuits incorporating NASCAR-style banked oval tracks, with the three-mile road-racing circuit sharing part of the tarmac. Bumps and surface-changes at these junctions further complicate an already bumpy surface, of a track much more technically challenging than the simple layout suggests. Apart from a spectacular location on reclaimed marshland, among towering granite peaks, the Nelson Piquet’s plus point is its scale. With huge grandstands adding to atmosphere, looping corners are wide and fast. Like other seldom-used tracks, the surface is hard to read. Grip varies according to temperature, and though the racing line improves with use during practice and qualifying days, the track remains very slippery off line. Accurate riding is important, and overtaking difficult.
Nelson Piquet Circuit – Jacarepagua
Circuit Length: 3.065 miles / 4.933 km.
Lap Record: 1:51.928 -98.588 mph / 158.662 km/h. T Okada (Honda), 1997
2002 Race Winner: V Rossi (Honda)
2002 Race Average: 49:09.516 – 89.789 mph / 144.502 km/h
2002 Fastest Race Lap: 1:59.827, C Checa, Yamaha
2002 Pole Position: M Biaggi (Yamaha) 1:50.568
2002 Kenny Roberts: Third, qualified 16th (Telefónica MoviStar Suzuki)
2002 Sete Gibernau: Eighth, qualified 18th (Telefónica MoviStar Suzuki)
2002 John Hopkins: 14th, qualified 14th (Red Bull Yamaha 500)
RIO RACE NEXT STOP FOR FUCHS KAWASAKI TEAM
Four races in five weeks, that’s the demanding MotoGP schedule that faces Fuchs Kawasaki riders Andrew Pitt and Garry McCoy as they prepare for this week’s South American adventure at the Rio Grand Prix.
The Rio race is round 12 of the MotoGP World Championship and traditionally takes place on Saturday rather than the more usual Sunday. It is the first of a series of multi-continent flyaway events that will take the Kawasaki squad through Brazil, Japan, Malaysia and Australia.
It’s a long, tough trip with GP teams and riders working out of packing crates and away from their traditional European bases. However there is a silver lining for Pitt and McCoy.
The reward for the Australian pair is that the final flyaway race, before a return to Europe for the season grand finale, is their home Grand Prix at Phillip Island on October 19th, where they will have the once-a-year opportunity of racing before family, friends and home fans.
McCoy and Pitt will face vastly different challenges at Rio as they try to reverse the disappointment of the recent Portuguese GP. As with the at Estoril, the Kawasaki team goes to Rio for the first time with no data or base settings to work from in this first development year of the 990cc ZX-RR MotoGP machine.
MotoGP rookie Pitt has another new track and culture to learn as he prepares for his Brazilian debut. However Pitt, who won the Supersport World Championship with Kawasaki in 2001, has proved to be a fast learner in his first season aboard the prototype Ninja ZX-RR.
Meanwhile, McCoy is a Rio regular and is familiar with the unpredictable conditions, both weather and track, that can be part of the racing equation in Brazil. While dismayed to be a non-finisher at the recent Portuguese race, the resilient McCoy is hoping the wider and faster Nelson Piquet Circuit will provide the opportunity to maximise the performance of the ZX-RR.
The Rio circuit has a couple of unusual features apart from its bumpy and abrasive surface. The road course is combined with an Indy car oval track and there are two cross-over points for the car circuit. Then there are the two parallel straights, the shorter of which contains the start-finish line and pit garages while the super-fast 1,000 metre main straight rockets its way past a huge grandstand that provides a panoramic view of the whole complex.
“Every time I go back to Rio the track seems like its torn up more than the last time; maybe we get spoilt in Europe with mostly smooth tracks, but it can be pretty wild over the bumps, a little like a motocross track. I know the track as a rider, but the tough part is that unlike most of the other factory teams Kawasaki is going there for the first time without data from previous races. There are some changes of direction that might be hard on us, but also there are some faster corners and a long straight and Kawasaki have been tweaking our motors recently so that should help. It can be either hot or raining and tyre wise Dunlop have made some positive progress for both conditions, but if I had to pick right now I guess a wet race might be a little better for the ZX-RR at this stage.”
“I’ll be in Rio a few days early to try and shake off the jet lag and have a look around and get the feel of the place, as I’ve never been there before, either as a racer or a tourist. I’ll probably try and get on a scooter and do some laps and work out which way the corners go. First practice on Friday morning will be a learning session for me as I know the track will look a lot different at 300km/h on the ZX-RR. But I’m looking forward to the challenge; I learn tracks pretty quick and hopefully we can find a race set-up that gives us a chance of moving forward, running at the back is no fun
The Autodromo Nelson Piquet is situated at Jacarepagua 20kms from the centre of Rio de Janeiro and has staged a Grand Prix motorcycle race for the last eight years, apart from 1998. In 1995 the circuit hosted the Brazilian Grand Prix but since then the event has been titled the Rio Grand Prix.
The track was built in 1975 on reclaimed swamp land and has recently been named after Brazilian Formula One World Champion Nelson Piquet. The track staged its first Formula One Grand Prix in 1978 and then hosted the race between 1981-89.
In 1995 the track was slightly shortened to 4.933kms and resurfaced. A new pit lane complex and media centre were constructed resulting in the Brazilian Motorcycle Grand Prix coming to the circuit after a disastrous one off race at Interlagos three years earlier.
In 1996 an Indy style oval, incorporating the main straight of the road circuit, was built and rounds of the CART Championship have been staged at the 3.00km oval.
World Champion Valentino Rossi has brought Honda victory at the circuit for the last three years. The humid and sometimes wet weather can cause problems for the teams. Although the track is very flat the surface is bumpy.
The Camel Pramac Pons duo of Max Biaggi and Tohru Ukawa have never won at the circuit but Biaggi in particular has come close on a number of occasions. The Italian has finished second three times, once in MotoGP, once in 500cc and once in 250cc. He started last year´s MotoGP race from pole and eventually finished second. Ukawa has finished second twice,
both in the 250cc class.
TRACK FACTS – RIO GRAND PRIX – 20/09/03 BRAZIL
Pole position: Left
Right corners: Four
Left corners: Eight
Longest straight: 1.000m
Tadayuki Okada (Honda) 1m51.928s – 158.662 km/h (1997)
Pole setting lap 2002:
Max Biaggi (Yamaha) 1m50.568s – 160.614 km/h
Race Winner 2002:
Valentino Rossi (Honda) 49m09.516s -144.502 km/h
Max Biaggi 2002: Second
Tohru Ukawa 2002: Did not finish
COBAS INSIGHT – Antonio Cobas, the Technical Director of Camel Pramac Pon
Finding the correct suspension set-up for the bike is our main problem in Rio. It´s a fast track with wide open corners, apart from the 180 degree turn onto the longest straight which runs parallel to the start and finish straight. However, despite facing these fast turns which would suit hard rear suspension settings we then have to compensate for the bumps and track imperfections which would make it impossible for the rider to hang onto the machine with those settings.
Also the track is often dirty with some covering of mud and sand which produces very little grip. Logically the track layout indicates to hard settings but the other factors such as bumps and the surface mean we have to work with the riders to find a compromise.
With so much dust and dirt on the track, the engine can also suffer. Small stones and sand have been known to enter via the air intake and get lodged in the combustion chamber which obviously causes considerable damage to the engine. Many teams fit a denser air filter in the air intake of the engine to prevent any impurities causing damage to the piston and valves.
Working with the riders to get the correct suspension setting and keeping anything from entering the engine is the key to success in Rio. It´s always a challenging weekend and the start of four flyaway races.
Three years ago Alex Barros was second on one of our machines and Max has been on pole twice and Tohru once. Get those suspension setting correct over the bumps and we could be going one better in the race on Saturday.
RULE OF THE THUMB
It was a simple thumb on the stop watch button that decided the outcome of close finishing races when Grand Prix racing started back in 1949 at the TT races in the Isle of Man. Today the thumb has been made redundant and modern technology can decide what the eye or the stop watch cannot, the winner of some of the closest finishes in the history of the sport.
Who knows if modern technology would have changed the result of some of those races from previous eras, but for certain that technology has been needed to decide the winners in some classic battles over the last few years.
This season has been exceptional for those close finishes. Two encounters this year moved into the top ten finishes of all time. The fantastic battle at Brno last month, when Valentino Rossi beat Sete Gibernau to the chequered flag in the Czech Republic Grand Prix by just 0.042 of one second was the seventh closest finish of all time. Three weeks earlier Gibernau had reversed the position when he won the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring by the margin of just 0.06 seconds. That was the tenth closest finish in the 54-year history of Grand Prix racing.
Camel Pramac Pons star Max Biaggi has been involved in some tight decisions in his 19-year career at the top. Two years ago, the four times World 250cc Champion was involved in one of the truly great 500cc battles of all time. It was the day that his great rival Valentino Rossi clinched his first 500cc world title at Phillip Island in Australia but Biaggi aided by the Honda Pons duo of Loris Capirossi and Alex Barros and Tohru Ukawa, Biaggi´s team-mate this season, pushed him to very limit around the magnificent 4.448km Philip Island circuit. At the finish of 27 truly amazing laps, Rossi beat Biaggi by just 0.013 seconds, the first four riders Rossi, Biaggi, Capirossi and Barros were separated by just 0.714 seconds while 2.8 seconds covered the top nine riders.
It´s rather fitting that in the year that he lost his battle with cancer, that Barry Sheene has become the star of that top ten. Not only has he been involved in the closest finish of all time but also makes three appearances in that top ten.
The last British 500cc World Champion typically won his very first 500cc Grand Prix in the closest ever finish recorded in the 500cc/MotoGP class. It was in the Dutch TT at Assen in 1975 that Sheene beat 15 times World Champion Giacomo Agostini over the line, although the record books could not separate them on time. Today, they probably would have been separated but 29 years ago that thumb on the stop watch button was not quick enough to ascertain the gap. It was left to the eyes, the oldest form of deciding races, to award Sheene victory.
Sheene´s other appearances in the top ten came when he was beaten to the line by his great rival Kenny Roberts in the 1979 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. They were separated by just 0.03 seconds. It was the first Motorcycle Grand Prix ever to be televised live in Great Britain. The race, the finish and the antics of the two riders as they fought it out, did much to increase the popularity of the sport and Sheene in particular.
His third top ten appearance came at the little known Karlskoga circuit in Sweden. The 3.157km track staged just two 500cc Grands Prix in 1978/79 and Sheene won them both. In 1978 he beat Dutchman Wil Hartog by just 0.05 seconds which was the eighth closest finish of all time.
The legendary Mick Doohan makes two top ten appearances but to his disgust both are when he lost races. The Australian five times World 500cc Champion was beaten by his Honda team-mate Alex Criville at Brno in 1996 by 0.002 seconds. It was a commentators nightmare as Criville stalked Doohan throughout the 22 lap race before pulling alongside him on the line. It was only modern technology that picked the winner.
The ninth closest finish also involved Doohan but once again he was ruled second. It was in Barcelona, in the middle of his marvellous 1992 run of results that made him look a certain World Champion until the infamous crash at Assen in Holland, not only cost him his first world title but almost his career. He was beaten in the race by 0.057 seconds by American Yamaha rider Wayne Rainey, who went on to clinch his third world title in the last round that year at Kyalami in South Africa.
Rainey was involved in another top ten finish when he was beaten by fellow American Kevin Schwantz in a fabulous German Grand Prix race in Hockenheim in 1991 at the ultra-fast Hockenheim circuit.
Two more American World Champions completed the top ten sharing fifth place with Roberts and Sheene. Freddie Spencer, the only rider to win 250cc and 500cc Championships in the same season, beat four times World Champion Eddie Lawson at the frighteningly fast Salzburgring in Austria by just 0.03 seconds.
The day of the thumb and the stop watch may be over but those close finishes just keep on coming. Who knows we may be looking at more top ten nominees in the final five races of the year, starting in Rio on Saturday.