Biaggi takes podium to secure 2nd in title chase


After an excellent pole position qualifying performance, which set a new circuit outright fastest lap, expectations were high for Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team) and the YZR-M1 at the final round of the MotoGP World Championship, held at Valencia, November 3. Dry and sunny conditions set the scene come race day, but the Italian was unable to continue his pace setting speed and opted to settle for a safe podium result. Biaggi’s third place was, however, easily enough to secure him second overall in the inaugural MotoGP championship itself, ahead of his main rival Tohru Ukawa (Honda), who finished fifth on the day.

A tough race for many competitors saw only 14 riders finish, and the war of attrition began with a start-line incident involving the stalled Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team) and Jose Luis Cardoso (Antena 3 Yamaha D’Antin). The incident failed to bring a temporary halt the race, with Checa walking away unhurt and Cardoso fortunate to escape with no serious injury, and an abdominal contusion.

The race itself was a contest between Brazilian Alex Barros and world champion Valentino Rossi, with the Honda duo playing out a close game for the second half of the race. A mistake under braking from Barros looked to have allowed Rossi past on the very last lap, but a brave pass into the very next corner allowed Barros to hold the advantage over the line. Behind third placed Biaggi, Daijiro Kato (Honda) took fourth.

Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team) and José Luis Cardoso’s (Antena 3 Yamaha d’Antin) race came to a very premature end when the Checa’s bike appeared to stall on the grid leaving Cardoso, who’d just selected second gear on his YZR500, with nowhere to go – the two colliding just after the start finish line. Despite the frequent fallers a further three Yamaha YZR-M1 riders scored top ten positions, with Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3) taking a lonely sixth place, while Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3) and Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha d’Antin) could not be separated by the stopwatch, posting identical race times. The advantage was adjudged to go to Jacque, with the former Yamaha 250cc World Champion taking ninth ahead of the recently injured Japanese.

Marlboro Yamaha Team
Max Biaggi 3rd:
“We couldn’t do the lap times today and I don’t know why, it was the same in warm-up. The other guys passed me and were immediately half a second faster than me, so there was nothing I could do. But I’m very happy to have consolidated second overall; that was my main goal here. Second best isn’t a phrase I like because we wanted to be the best, but second in this championship isn’t so bad. At the start of this season there was no way we could think of being runners-up, but the bike improved step by step and we won a couple of GPs, so I think this was a great result for me and Yamaha.”

Carlos Checa DNF: “I started as normal, but the revs dropped and I wasn’t expecting that. I went forward a few metres and just stopped. It’s a shame to finish the season this way, especially because I thought we had a good chance to do well here.”

YZR-M1 project leader Ichiro Yoda: “Max couldn’t quite make the front-running pace today, we didn’t seem to have the advantage we had yesterday. But he made sure of second overall, and that was his real aim today. Poor Carlos, it looked like the engine stalled but we’ve checked the data and haven’t found anything wrong or strange. We will make further checks tomorrow, but right now we’re just happy he is okay after the collision.

“Looking back over the whole season, I can say that I really appreciate the efforts of both riders, the team and all our engineers. The first few months were tough but we tried hard and got some results, so my thanks to everyone. We aim to continue improving in 2003 when we will go for the best!”

Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3
Shinya Nakano 6th:
“I made a good start but I couldn’t myself get up among the front runners and ended up behind Ukawa, who I could stay with but couldn’t make ground on. I think however that my lap times were consistent. Overall I’m happy with my result, though obviously I lack a little something to run with the best.”

Olivier Jacque 9th: “It wasn’t an easy race. I had to keep adjusting the clutch to be able to change down, and when you’re doing that it isn’t easy to concentrate on the race. At the end I was just happy to finish.”

Antena 3 Yamaha d’Antin
Norick Abe 10th:
“I had the injury from Australia and it was causing me some problems. I could not use my muscles to change direction or under braks. At the end I was in so much pain, especially with my shoulder. I think Jacques got off the corners better than I could and on the last straight he came past me on the inside, and got me on the line. Racing with Oliver kept my mind off the injury, a little.”

José Luis Cardoso DNF: “That was a very big accident but fortunately nothing is broken – although I have pain everywhere! I did not see Carlos until the last second. After the red light you try to find a clear place and you never think that there will be someone stopped in front of you. I could not do anything and it is a shame because I think I could have taken a top ten place here.”

Red Bull Yamaha WCM
John Hopkins 11th:
“My race went ok, I got a good start and was up there, but we had a bit of a problem with side-grip later on. From quarter of the way to about half way I just changed my riding style and starting parking it in the corners, picking it up and driving it out. I was having fun, as it’s my last time out on a 500, and I have to say I have been privileged to be around to ride one. It’s been really good working with everyone in the Red Bull Yamaha team and it was nice to end the season in the points.”

Garry McCoy DNF: “There was no choice but to go all out, the last race for a 500 two-stroke and I was on the front row on a track I really like. I was keen to get the holeshot and maybe try and hold the four-strokes up for a while and make a race of it. I’d watched the 125 and 250 starts and the red lights where being held longer than normal, and I figured I had counted the extra time OK, waited a bit longer but it was just a fraction early. It’s a bit disappointing but I had to take the risk, it’s all over for the 500s now, end of an era. When I rejoined the race I wasn’t really pushing hard, but we’d made some set-up changes for the bumps here and I was just on the brakes when I bounced off the track.”