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MotoGPSouth AfricaApril 18, 2004
MotoGP World Championship Grand Prix Round 1
South African Grand Prix, Welkom, South Africa

Rossi Wins But Honda Finishes With Four Riders in Top Five

The win belonged to Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) but masterly Max Biaggi (Camel Honda RC211V) proved today in front of a record 45,000 Phakisa Freeway crowd that he is the man most likely to rein in the reigning World Champion with a stirring second place. Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V) was a distant third after being right in contention in the early stages of the race.

As a fierce African sun beat down, the new three-abreast grid lined up for this curtain-raising race and scorched into turn one as the red lights went out. Rossi got the holeshot with Max and Sete, Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) and Colin Edwards (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V) pressing him hard.

The pace soon hotted up to the extent that only three riders could stay with it: Rossi, Max and Sete. As early as lap four the threesome fought it out with Max taking the lead at the end of the back straight before Rossi snatched it back on the same lap. Max went in front again two laps later and held the lead again before Rossi wrested it back one lap later.

But the early battle for supremacy soon settled down and Rossi and Max maintained a pace that Sete couldn’t stay with. By mid-distance of this 28-lap contest Gibernau was a second adrift of the leaders and he fell further back to finish seven seconds down at the end.

Now it was a straight fight between two intense rivals. Rossi seemed content to make the running while Max was rarely less than two feet behind him as Rossi fought to break clear of his rival. On lap 23 Max made another move down the back straight and he then lead three laps in a row before Rossi made a block pass on Max at the penultimate tight right turn.

Max was pushed wide and fought to get back on level terms with just two laps to go. Try as the Roman might, and Max set a new lap record on his final lap of the 4.242km track of 1m 33.208s, he couldn’t catch Rossi and finished just over two tenths of a second behind as they crossed the line.

“I’m happy it was such a great race,” said Max. “We kept up an unbelievable pace and had a lot of fun. I didn’t even feel tired at the end and I feel I could have run another 28 laps. The team did a fantastic job setting up the new chassis in just four hours of qualifying and this race was a great way to honor Antonio.” (Antonio Cobas, who died last week, was Camel Honda’s Technical Director)

Sete Gibernau said, “All during qualifying I was trying to improve my rhythm working on the settings of the new chassis, but we couldn’t quite get there before the race. And we ran out of time to try anything else in the morning warm-up. But I’m aiming to be fighting for the podium at every race and I have to be happy enough with this result on a weekend that wasn’t perfect.”

Alex Barros (Repsol Honda RC211V) fought hard to finish fourth after languishing in ninth on lap one. “If you qualify eighth on the third row of the grid, it’s hard work. This track is difficult to overtake on and there’s not a lot of grip off the racing line. We had a small chatter problem today which wasn’t there before, but overall today’s not such a bad result for a first race with a new team.”

Nicky Hayden’s fifth place was not what the American challenger wanted but he remained upbeat. “I knew this race was going to be difficult. I got an OK start but it was really painful watching the guys up front disappear. The team has done a great job over the weekend, it just wasn’t an easy weekend. Let’s get on with the next race now.”

Colin Edwards was hampered by chatter problems and finished seventh. “I had problems on the first lap. They were there a little bit on Friday and Saturday, but today it was just impossible to race for 28 laps. I can’t say it was a specific problem, but we’ll check the data and see what’s going on.

Makoto Tamada (Camel Honda RC211V) riding on Bridgestone tyres finished eighth. “All weekend we’ve been making changes, but the tyres were good all race and I didn’t manage to get as much overtaking as I wanted because of a bad start. But this was more good experience for me and the team.”

Rossi leads the World Championship standings by five points from Max Biaggi as MotoGP heads to Jerez in Spain for the opening European Grand Prix of what promises to be a hard-fought title race.
The 250 race was a nail-biter with frantic action all the way down the field. The eventual winner was Danny Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Junior Team RS250RW) who fought a hard duel with Randy de Puniet (Aprilia) all race. De Puniet finished second and Sebastian Porto (Aprilia) third.

The 125 contest provided a thrilling season opener in the smallest class for the Welkom crowd when Andrea Dovizioso (Team Scot Honda RS125R) played a perfect waiting game to rob Roberto Locatelli (Aprilia) of a win he looked likely to keep having led for most of the race. Locatelli was second and Casey Stoner (KTM) third.

MotoGP World Championship Grand Prix Round 1
South African Grand Prix, Welkom, South Africa

1 Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha)
2 Max Biaggi (Camel Honda)
3 Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda Mot)
4 Alex BARROS (Repsol Honda Team)
5 Nicky HAYDEN (Repsol Honda Team)
6 Loris CAPIROSSI (Ducati Marlboro Team)
7 Colin EDWARDS (Telefonica Movistar Honda Mot)
8 Makoto TAMADA (Camel Honda)
9 Norick ABE (Fortuna Gauloises Tech 3)
10 Carlos Checa (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha)
11 Marco MELANDRI (Fortuna Gauloises Tech 3)
12 Shinya NAKANO (Kawasaki Racing Team)
13 John HOPKINS (Team Suzuki MotoGP)
14 Troy BAYLISS (Ducati Marlboro Team)
15 Shane BYRNE (MS Aprilia Racing)
1 Daniel PEDROSA (Telefonica Movistar Honda 250)
2 Randy DE PUNIET (Safilo Carrera - LCR )
3 Sebastian PORTO (Repsol - Aspar Team 250cc )
4 Manuel POGGIALI (MS ApriliaTeam)
5 Alex DE ANGELIS (Aprilia Racing)
6 Alex DEBON (Wurth Honda BQR)
7 Fonsi NIETO (Repsol - Aspar Team 250cc )
8 Toni ELIAS (Fortuna Honda)
9 Roberto ROLFO (Fortuna Honda)
10 Franco BATTAINI (Campetella Racing)
11 Hiroshi AOYAMA (Telefonica Movistar Honda 250)
1 Andrea DOVIZIOSO (Kopron Team Scot)
2 Roberto LOCATELLI (Safilo Carrera - LCR )
3 Casey STONER (Red Bull KTM)
4 Pablo NIETO (Master - Repsol Team 125cc )
5 Mike DI MEGLIO ( Racing)
6 Gino BORSOI ( Racing)
7 Mirko GIANSANTI (Matteoni Racing)
8 Steve JENKNER(Rauch Bravo)
9 Alvaro BAUTISTA (Seedorf Racing)
10 Hector BARBERA (Seedorf Racing)
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