Melandri’s masterful Motegi comeback


After a very strong qualifying performance during the opening two days of the Pacific Grand Prix, race day eventually brought mixed results for the Fortuna Yamaha Team. The highlight saw Marco Melandri ride a very determined 24-lap race to finish a respectable fifth place on the YZR-M1. It was a result that came after a first turn crash – involving Troy Bayliss (Ducati) and John Hopkins (Suzuki) – which forced the 21-year-old MotoGP rookie off the racing line, relegated him back to 19th on the opening lap. The news, however, was not so positive for Fortuna Yamaha Team-mate Carlos Checa, who was unable to avoid the incident and was hit from behind, forcing the Spaniard off the track and out of the Pacific Grand Prix.

Despite the setback Melandri collected his composure and, by lap two, he set the fastest lap of the race. He then proceeded to produce a string of competitive times up until the chequered flag, in an effort to make up for lost time. By lap four he were 11th and by lap 13 the 2002 GP250 World Champion slipped into sixth. Melandri, as was the rest of the MotoGP field, was promoted one place with the disqualification of Makoto Tamada (Honda). The local hero crossed the line third only to be disqualified after the race – a result of a final lap incident involving Sete Gibernau that relegated the Spaniard back from third to fifth.

Melandri was closely followed by Alex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team), who eventually finished the race sixth after a very difficult start to the Motegi round, while Shinya Nakano (d’Antin Yamaha Team) claimed a disappointing ninth in front of his home crowd.

At the head of the pack Max Biaggi (Honda) claimed a comfortable race win after Valentino Rossi (Honda) took an off-road excursion through the first turn gravel trap. The defending MotoGP World Champion escaped intact, but had lost eight places on his arch rival. Over the remaining laps Rossi then proceeded to reclaim lost ground, but had to eventually settle for second place. The podium was completed by MotoGP rookie Nicky Hayden (Honda).

Fortuna Yamaha Team
Marco Melandri 5th:
“I started quite well today but was forced wide. I saw Carlos come wide as well. It felt like he touched me, I lost the rear and almost crashed, then ran into the gravel. It took a lot of time to get back onto the track, and when I did it took three or four corners to clean the tyres. I was really far behind the others but soon after I was back on the pace. I saw Valentino pass me later in the race and that helped me to catch Capirossi and Barros. I’m only disappointed because it took me a long time to catch them. Overall I’m quite pleased with the result considering what happened.”

Carlos Checa DNF: “I had a good start and was behind Valentino. Then I got hit from behind at the first turn, along with Bayliss. I think by Hopkins. I don’t really understand what happened but I’m so fed up after the hard work we’ve put in all weekend. There’s not a lot more I can say.”

Gauloises Yamaha Team
Alex Barros 6th:
“Although I am disappointed not to finish as the ‘First Yamaha’, given how the weekend started, the result isn’t too bad. Our main problem during the race was tyre endurance. Up until around the tenth lap the tyre wasn’t too bad, but after that they went off very quickly. I think that now we need to concentrate on setting the bike up to help them last longer. The other positive aspect of today was that my shoulder didn’t give me too many problems, which given the layout of the circuit and the fact that this is the first time I have raced without having an injection, is very encouraging.”

Olivier Jacque 13th: “I can’t say that I’m happy with my result. I am however pleased that I managed to put in regular lap times that weren’t that far off my team-mate’s. I really gave it everything I had, but unfortunately in doing so became so tense on the bike that I started to get ‘pins and needles’ in my hands. Because of that I missed a braking point towards the end of the race and went off into the gravel. In the process I lost some places, but managed to get quickly back on to the tarmac, pick up my previous pace almost immediately and retake a couple of riders.”

D’Antin Yamaha Team
Shinya Nakano 9th:
“I saw someone shoot into the first turn much faster than anyone else, so I took it easy because I knew there would be a mess in that turn soon after. I managed to avoid most of it, but I lost a lot of ground on the lead group. Once I was clear I focused on trying to make up some time, but my bike set-up under brakes wasn’t good enough to allow me to do much better than a lonely tenth place today. Now we go to Malaysia, a track I like, so I hope the result is better there.”