A gritty ride from Melandri with OJ finishing sixth


Despite the eventual result, which saw Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri finish the Australian Grand Prix with and an eighth place and a DNF (Did Not Finish), respectively, it was one of the most determined rides in one of the most hard fought races this season. Both Fortuna Yamaha Team riders attacked the opening stages of the 27-lap race with Melandri slipping into fourth by turn one, third by the end of the first lap, before clinching the lead on lap two.

Melandri held on to the lead until lap four, after some sensational passing moves, when Troy Bayliss (Ducati) made contact with the back of the factory YZR-M1, forcing the 2002 GP250 World Champion back to third. The Italian recovered to cross the line in second place the following lap and was set to chase down race leader Valentino Rossi (Honda) when he highsided his M1 exiting the penultimate turn. Melandri – who technically led the race at the beginning of that unlucky 13th lap, after Rossi received a 10 second penalty for passing under the yellow flag – limped away from the incident with a dislocated right shoulder and haematoma to his left heel.

With the top ten covered by less than two seconds during the first five laps it looked as though any one of the lead group could have taken the race win. After a difficult start Checa found himself at the rear of this pack before gradually working his way through to feature in the battle for the final podium place. It was a charge between Nicky Hayden (Honda), Sete Gibernau (Honda) and Tohru Ukawa (Honda). The trio eventually finished third, fourth and fifth respectively, after Checa ran off the circuit at MG corner and rejoined to finish eighth behind Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Team) and Shinya Nakano (d’Antin Yamaha Team).

Despite Rossi’s 10 second penalty the recently crowned 2003 MotoGP World Champion put in a dominating performance to cross the line 15.212 seconds ahead second placed Loris Capirossi (Ducati). The penalty saw Rossi take the win by and official 5.212 seconds.

Gauloises Yamaha Team
Olivier Jacque 6th:
“Given my grid position and how the warm-up went I’m pretty happy to finish sixth and best Yamaha. It is just a pity that I lost contact with the group ahead of me when the yellow flag came out. Having said that, even if I had been able to stay with them, I don’t think I could have done anything as I was absolutely on the limit. It was fun to battle with Shinya (Nakano) here, it reminded me of when we were in the 250 class in 2000 when I won the world championship.”

Alex Barros DNF: “I had just overtaken Nakano when I ran into a technical problem that forced me back into the pits. It’s a pity as the bike was performing well. I’d picked soft compound tyres that gave good grip and as I could see Olivier and Checa up ahead I thought I’d have a chance at catching them.”

D’Antin Yamaha Team
Shinya Nakano 7th:
“It was a great ride with OJ. It was like 2000 when we raced here. I tired to get my revenge over the line, but I missed a gear on the run to through the final turn and he slipped by and got me, again. Still it was a great race.”

Fortuna Yamaha Team
Carlos Checa 8th:
“I was able to follow the second group of riders for most of the race and tried to pass them but couldn’t. I kept analysing where would be the best place to pass, and trying to improve in the areas where I wasn’t as quick as them, especially exiting the corners. At one point I lost the front completely going uphill and slid all the way down downhill, finally releasing the brake and going onto the grass. It was hard to turn it around and even harder to get it back onto the track, but I managed to. To finish eighth was better than not finishing at all, and I felt my pace was quite good. I couldn’t catch the others but I had a good rhythm, and was relieved to finish and get some points in such difficult track conditions.”

Marco Melandri DNF: “I was so happy with that race until I fell. I’m just disappointed with the tyre choice we made, as I wanted to use a softer rear but it wasn’t possible. I didn’t start as well as I would have liked, but up until the first corner the other riders seemed slower than me and then braked earlier than me at the first corner. I guess they were more cautious because of the track conditions, and I managed to overtake a few very quickly.

“When Bayliss fell he touched me and I very nearly lost it, but I managed to recover. Once Valentino was in front it was impossible to catch him but I really enjoyed racing with Hayden, Capirossi and Gibernau. My bike felt a bit more nervous during the race than it has during qualifying here, and I kept losing grip in the long corners. Finally it resulted in a highside. I knew straight away that I had dislocated my shoulder, and when I arrived at the circuit clinic they pushed it back in. Anyway it was a fantastic chance to race up front, my best of the season.”