Barros fifth after chaotic Africa’s MotoGP


The Africa’s MotoGP, held April 27 at the Phakisa Freeway, Welkom, proved to be an eventful and emotional 28 lap race after Sete Gibernau (Honda) claimed victory over Valentino Rossi (Honda) and Max Biaggi (Honda) in honour of his team-mate Daijiro Kato – who passed away Saturday, April 19, after crashing heavily during the Suzuka MotoGP. Gibernau was one of 17 riders to survive a four bike collision on the main straight only moments after the start, when Colin Edwards (Aprilia) clipped another rider before his machine continued on and collided with Jeremy McWilliams (Proton KR), who in turn forced Noriyuki Haga (Aprilia) off the tarmac.

Fortunately the full Yamaha contingent escaped the incident unscathed, leaving Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Norick Abe – filling in for the injured Marco Melandri – to make the most of the chaotic situation. The Japanese Yamaha Factory Test rider improved on his 18th place grid position to finish the opening lap fifth, behind Troy Bayliss (Ducati), Gibernau, Biaggi and Rossi. In an impressive display Abe continued to hold his ground on an unfamiliar machine until an electronic glitch robbed his M1 of power on the final lap – losing three places as a result to finish eighth.

After a cautious start, which saw him ninth on the first lap, Alex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team) made the most of a fifth place onslaught with eventual sixth place finisher Tohru Ukawa (Honda), Nicky Hayden (Honda), Abe and Carlos Checa (Fortuna Yamaha Team). Although Checa battled his way to seventh mid race he never really found the grip he needed to break through to the front of the pack and eventually finished the day ninth.

There was a further glitch in the weekend program, in addition to the start line crash, when the Suzuki of Kenny Roberts dropped a substantial amount of oil on the racing line through turns four, five, six and nine after the V-four four-stroke suffered a mechanical failure. Initially efforts were made in an attempt to stick to the scheduled start time, but the extent of the spill was too significant and a full restart was called – causing a 50 minute delay.

Gauloises Yamaha Team
Alex Barros 5th:
“With my knee and the oil on the track my start wasn’t great and it took a little while to settle down. Then once I found my rhythm I started to move through the field. After about 10 laps the exhaust started to burn my right foot and that combined with my injured leg made things a little tough. Still I’m reasonably happy with the result and I would like to thank my physiotherapist back in Brazil, Louis Rosan, Dr Costa, and of course my team for all their help. Now we have two weeks to prepare for Jerez. I’m hoping Yamaha can find us a little bit more power, and obviously I hope my leg will be a bit better. I don’t think we will be ready to fight for victory yet, but hopefully we will be up with the front runners.”

Olivier Jacque 10th: “Right at the start Edwards touched me but it wasn’t a big impact. Then after that, thanks to a very consistent bike and tyre package I was able to put in a reasonable performance – much better than my race at Suzuka. In the process I learnt a great deal about the bike – information that I am sure will be a great help when we get to Jerez.”

Fortuna Yamaha Team
Norick Abe 8th:
“Today I made a perfect start, already on the first lap I was in fifth position. After that my lap times were not too bad. I followed Ukawa and kept behind him as much as I could. I think if I had passed him I might have lost my pace but staying behind him kept me fast. Around the middle of the race I managed to pass him and I wanted to go faster but then Barros passed me. On the last lap I tried to overtake him but I went wide. In the last section something went wrong with the bike and Hayden and Ukawa passed me. So the end of the race was not so good. Throughout the weekend my team has worked so hard so I want to thank everybody.”

Carlos Checa 9th: “In the beginning I had no grip with the rear or stability. I couldn’t brake hard although towards the end of the race the balance changed a bit and I was able to keep the pace better. Sometimes when I was off the gas I lost the rear, which didn’t give me any confidence. At the end of the race I understood the bike a bit better and was able to go on the gas earlier. If I was able to stay in the ‘34s I would have been able to stay and fight for fifth position. Anyway, that’s another race for me to learn from – we’ll keep trying.”

d’Antin Yamaha Team
Shinya Nakano 11th:
“I think I made a mistake by releasing the clutch too quick. Somehow I managed to get the bike going on my own, but I was completely last into the first turn. I saw the crash in front of me and was lucky not to get involved in it. I passed a few riders, but to be honest it wasn’t so easy because this is a difficult track to pass on. I have been doing so well this weekend, and I was very confident that I could put in a good result, but it was not to be. Let’s hope things go better for us in Jerez.”