Great day for Gauloises Yamaha Team's home GP
RaceAlex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team) produced a result that proved the 32-year-old is well on the road to recovery after his aggressive, yet calculated, ride during the French MotoGP, held May 25. The Brazilian took control of both legs of the Le Mans Grand Prix, which became a two-part race after rain forced a restart, to eventually finish the fourth round on the podium.
After attacking the opening lap of the first race, Barros took control of what was initially a 28-lap main event and remained in a position of authority until Valentino Rossi (Honda) slipped by on lap six, with Tohru Ukawa (Honda) and Max Biaggi (Honda) hot on their heels. Then on lap 16, down came the rain and out came the red flag. With the introduction of the new race restart rules, which only takes into consideration the rider position on the track at the time of the red flag and not the time advantage, Barros restarted an unpredictable 13-lap wet race alongside Rossi, with both riders on full-wets. Again Barros took control of the race and led Rossi and a web-footed Sete Gibernau (Honda) - the trio building a 10 second lead over their nearest rivals in only three laps. Finally, with five laps remaining, the Gauloises Yamaha Team rider succumbed to the pressure of Rossi and eventual race winner Giburnau to finish third.
Meanwhile hometown hero Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Team) made up for his poor qualifying performance to finish fourth. What made the feat even more astounding was that the Frenchman started the second leg from pit lane, along with Biaggi and Ukawa, after opting to change from an intermediate rear tyre to full wets. By lap one he'd already moved through the 22-bike field to eighth position, fifth on lap five and fourth on lap six.
The Fortuna Yamaha Team looked set for a strong result after MotoGP rookie Marco Melandri qualified on the front row, with team-mate Carlos Checa in a solid sixth. Melandri, in only his second race this season, produced a solid start to be well in the top five at the end of the opening lap. The 20-year-old Italian then showed form that belied his limited four-stroke experience to be as high as third - behind race leader Barros and Rossi. By lap six, however, rear traction concerns saw the 2002 GP250 World Champion slip back through to eighth before the race was red flagged. Marco restarted the unpredictable wet race with full-wet front and an intermediate rear - the combination proved incorrect for the slowly drying track conditions and he ended the French Grand Prix in 15th.
For his team-mate Carlos Checa it was another disappointing weekend when the Spaniard highsided his YZR-M1 exiting the first hairpin on lap two. In an attempt to save himself from the fall Checa was flung over the 'bars and his left hand caught under the bike - resulting in a badly grazed thumb.
Gauloises Yamaha Team
Alex Barros 3rd: "I'm really happy to finally be back on the podium after my accident in Suzuka. I'm also delighted to have been able to take the lead at the start of both races. I think that we chose too soft a tyre for the first dry race, as after eight laps I couldn't maintain the rhythm. In the wet race I also didn't have the same level of grip as Sete (Gibernau) or Valentino (Rossi) and at the end had to watch them both from a distance. Now we have a couple of very important races coming up. We have tested at both Mugello and Barcelona and posted good lap times there, so hopefully I'll be able to continue fighting for podium places."
Olivier Jacque 4th: "What an incredible race! On the sighting lap before the start of the second heat I immediately realised that the mixed tyres I'd opted for weren't the right choice and so decided to come back into the pits and change. It was a decision that paid off, as in spite of having to start from the box, I was soon overtaking other riders. In the end I achieved my best result since moving up to MotoGP and given my team and myself a much needed boost. Hopefully this will be the start of a series of successes."
Fortuna Yamaha Team
Marco Melandri 15th: "At the beginning of the first half of the race I had a good feeling with the bike but later I started to have some problems with the rear. I felt a little bit nervous because the bike felt a bit strange.
"In the second half of the race the track was quite wet and we used an intermediate rear, which was maybe a bit of a gamble. The front straight was dry but other parts of the track were quite wet. I felt fine physically overall but my fingers got a bit tired from using the front brake. I'm quite pleased with the way the weekend turned out but would have liked to have done better today. That's the gamble you have to make with tyres in wet races. I'm looking forward to Mugello as it's my home Grand Prix and I want to do well in front of my fans there."
Carlos Checa DNF: "I lost the rear and just couldn't keep control of the bike. I'm really not sure if I touched a wet patch or not, but I got on the gas and then I lost control. Gibernau had just passed me and I was next to Biaggi, we were in a very close group and on the exit of the corner I kept the inside line and at that moment the bike just stood up and threw me off. I had followed that same line on the previous lap so I don't know why it happened. It's one of those falls where it's impossible to say why.
"I went to the Clinica Mobile because my hand was under the bike when I slid off and I have grazed my thumb quite badly. They have cleaned it up and covered it - apparently it will take a few days to heal properly."
Yamaha Factory Testing Team
Norick Abe 11th: "After a good first race to make a wrong tyre choice for the second part was very disappointing. There was nothing I could do other than ride within the limits of the tyres I'd chosen. I hope for better luck next time."
D'Antin Yamaha Team
Shinya Nakano 14th: "I want to forget this race. I didn't feel comfortable the whole weekend, and the rain was what sparked it all off. But at least I finished, which is important. I'm now thinking of Mugello; we've been testing there recently and I hope to make up for this poor result."