Rossi storms to a sweeping victory in Sepang


Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi took his YZR-M1 to a new all-time qualifying best of 2’01.833 this afternoon to secure pole position for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix. His team-mate Carlos Checa (2’02.602) will make a third row start after finishing with the ninth-best time, 0.769 seconds from the pole time. Rossi will share the front row with Alex Barros (Honda, 2’02.228) and Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki, 2’02.278).

Rossi slipped straight into second place on the first lap behind Alex Barros (Honda), with Checa fourth. Rossi and Barros switched places several times until Rossi made his final pass stick on lap four. Honda rider and eventual second place finisher Max Biaggi was close behind, and his personal best laps meant he could not be easily shaken off by the leading pair.

Rossi managed to maintain and extend his advantage, lapping inside the 2’03s, eventually finishing the race 3.6 seconds ahead of Biaggi. Meanwhile Checa was fighting his own battle, sandwiched between Sete Gibernau (Honda) and Loris Capirossi (Ducati), until the latter finally broke past Checa on lap 15. Honda’s Makoto Tamada swept past Checa shortly afterwards, and then past Gibernau on lap 16, aiding Rossi’s championship aspirations and leaving Gibernau seventh in the race. Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki) also passed the slowing Checa, the Spaniard finishing an eventual ninth.

Fortuna Gauloises Tech3 riders Norick Abe and Marco Melandri encountered different problems here in the Malaysian heat. Marco failed to finish after crashing and Norick toughed it out to come home 12th after a technical problem occurred mid-race.

Norick made a super-fast start from the sixth row of the grid after struggling during qualifying and was running as high as 11th on the opening lap. But by lap ten he couldn’t put the considerable power of his YZR-M1 down properly after the drive chain began jumping the rear sprocket. As usual he raced as hard as ever to the finish despite this trouble.

Marco’s run of rotten luck continues. A mechanical problem prevented him from starting the sighting lap. Regulations therefore dictated that had to start from the back of the grid. This he did with typical gusto and the Italian ace was up to 12th before he crashed at the final turn on lap nine.

Rossi now leads the championship by 30 points with just two rounds left to run, and a maximum 50 points available for any single rider. He sits on a total of 254 points, ahead of Gibernau’s 224, with Gibernau his only title contender.

Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha) first
“That was a brilliant race. It was very important for me to make a good result here, especially after Qatar. We were very motivated, not only me but also all the mechanics, because what happened in Qatar was bad for us. We made two good tests in the winter at Sepang and we have done a lot of kilometres. We have improved the bike at this track, and I like the place a lot.

“Today the bike worked very well, even if the race was difficult. I made a good start, but Barros made a better one. I followed him and tried to attack. I thought it was possible to go faster than the 2’03s or 2’04s but today we had seven or eight degrees more temperature than yesterday, and that made it very tough for the riders and the tyres. After Barros, Biaggi arrived, and we had a very good rhythm for all the 21 laps. With 30 points it is a good advantage but we need to keep concentration at 100% because the championship lead was 39 points before Qatar, then much less after it. The battle is only over when it’s over, and it’s certainly not over yet!”

Carlos Checa (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha) ninth
“I had a lot of chatter from the rear and I lost some places. In some areas it was not so bad but with the chatter and the spinning rear I was not able to get the drive on Sete and the rest, and pass them on the brakes. Even after three or four laps it was happening. It was quite frustrating because I had riders in front that I knew I could lap, and I could not pass them.”

Davide Brivio, Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha team director
“After a bad weekend last weekend we are back to a good advantage of 30 points. The strongest point for us is that despite what happened last weekend nobody from the team or from Yamaha started to panic. Having said that, we knew it was important to win and regain the points gap. This was the way to put Qatar behind us, so we have forgotten everything that happened last Saturday. Valentino had a great reaction to what happened at the last race. Carlos made a strong start and had a good fighting race, staying in the top group for a long time. He was in the thick of the competition and I hope in the next two races we can achieve the results that Carlos deserves.”

Jeremy Burgess, Valentino Rossi’s crew chief
“The tyre Valentino used may have been softer than some of the ones the other riders used but for us it was the same one we tried in warm-up and yesterday. The team has now gone back to the lead in the Teams’ Championship. It’s good to go to Australia with a nice lead but a week is a long time in motorcycle racing, as it is in politics. It’s been a hard season and many mistakes have been made by the top three riders.”

Norick Abe (Fortuna Gauloises Tech3) 12th
“Today I made a great start after having trouble in qualifying. We changed a lot for the race and I felt really confident on the bike. I passed two or three riders at the start and for about ten laps I was going well. Then the chain started jumping the rear sprocket at certain corners and after that I couldn’t get on the gas properly.”

Marco Melandri (Fortuna Gauloises Tech3) DNF
No comment.

Hervé Poncharal, Fortuna Gauloises Tech3 team director
“It was a very disappointing day for Marco. A technical problem before the sighting lap meant he had to start from pitlane, which meant a start from the back of the grid for the race. Until he crashed he was riding a really good race. He’d caught Edwards and was doing some good laps until he crashed at the final turn – altogether a difficult weekend. Norick got some points, had a great start and made the finish in tricky conditions. At the end of today for Yamaha it’s great to see Valentino win and build his advantage over Sete.”