Originally published by Julian Ryder on Sunday, July 16, 2006
Valentino Rossi’s pessimism after yesterday’s qualifying didn’t last 24 hours.
After another minor—or maybe even major—race day miracle he admitted that he had indeed doubted his Yamaha M1 for the first time. It’s become normal to see him start from the fourth row of the grid so no-one was surprised to see Vale latch onto the leading group of Hondas and pull away from the rest. What was a group of six became a group of four a third of the way through the race-when Kenny Roberts crashed and took down Tamada. It happened at the fastest part of the course, at the bottom of the hill before the penultimate corner. On the brakes, Kenny thought he’d successfully passed the Japanese on the inside when he suddenly saw Nicky Hayden’s bike right where he wanted to be. He hung onto the brake a little longer than he wanted to avoid the Repsol bike, and the front tucked.
|Once again Rossi exhibited the sort of race craft and determination you see once in a lifetime. How good was he? His team mate was 29 seconds behind him in twelfth.|
That left Rossi to fight with both Repsol bikes and Marco Melandri. Hayden had led for the first ten laps only to be shuffled back to fourth in the course of one lap as Melandri took over. Two laps later Rossi went to the front and set the sort of pace that he had demonstrated all through free practice. His problem has always been using the qualifying tires, not going fast on race rubber. It looked as if we were going to get the first real Rossi-Pedrosa confrontation since Le Mans. Sure enough, Pedrosa closed but, unlike Melandri who next took up the challenge. He never made a pass stick. Pedrosa ended up fighting with his team mate Hayden and as they went down the hill after turn one, Dani tried to pass on the inside of an everlasting right-hander. Nicky didn’t let him and ended up with rubber marks from Dani’s front Michelin from ankle to armpit on his leathers. Nicky didn’t look happy with third but did say he’d enjoyed the race although he also observed that nobody gives you an inch out there. He didn’t say anything, but fighting off his team mate must have given him some satisfaction.
The frantic fighting and position swapping didn’t slow the leading four, they still beat last year’s race time and Pedrosa set a new lap record. Despite that they finished with 0.3 seconds covering them. Once again Rossi exhibited the sort of race craft and determination you see once in a lifetime. How good was he? His team mate was 29 seconds behind him in twelfth. For the first time this year the second Yamaha home was Carlos Checa on his Dunlop shod Tech 3 M1. He had a fabulous weekend: only thousandths behind Rossi in qualifying, second fastest overall in warm up and ninth in the race. How soon might we have a three-way tyre war?
And so to Laguna. Remember Rossi’s parting words at the rostrum press conference last year? “I have learned a lot from the Americans.”
That still sounds like a threat to me…