Sunday, May 21, 2006
Five races into the season and we may already have seen the defining image of the year. It was a TV picture of Valentino Rossi slumped in the back seat of a photo shuttle minibus, head in hands. He hadn’t even taken his helmet off. Moments earlier his Yamaha had coasted to a halt with the race seemingly won. A 32-point deficit in the championship, which he was willing to make jokes about before Sunday, turned into a much more serious 43-points gap to Nicky Hayden at the top of the table.
After another fraught qualifying it all looked to be going right for the Doctor. He was brutal in the tight first chicane which, as usual saw a faller (de Puniet) and a couple of guys running off track to avoid the mayhem (Edwards and Gibernau). On lap three he went from fifth to third passing first Capirossi and then Melandri and Pedrosa in consecutive corners. Fast starting John Hopkins was dispatched two laps later as Rossi set the fastest lap of the race and when the American Suzuki man crashed it looked as if we were going to get what we wanted – a showdown between Rossi and the wonder kid Dani Pedrosa.
A few laps later it was obvious what was going on: Rossi was in control and was heading for his second win of the season.
In fact Pedrosa’s choice of a soft rear tire proved to be a mistake and he was falling back into the clutches of Melandri and Capirossi before Rossi stopped.
Melandri became the only man to win two races this year with Capirossi getting second on the last lap. Given he had told everyone he couldn’t possible win, it was a remarkable result. Loris didn’t believe the Bridgestones would be competitive and celebrated second place like he’d won. Team manager Livio Suppo told the Bridgestone men that a second place in the dry was worth much more to his riders’ confidence than a win in the wet. Given the next race is at Mugello, Ducati couldn’t be much happier.
Rossi got over his depression very quickly and told the press that he was really happy with the way the bike is handling for the first time this year.
It was the first mechanical failure he’s suffered since his 250 Aprilia’s chain jumped the sprockets on the last lap of the 1999 French GP at Paul Ricard.
The Doc’s luck has always been legendary but now he’s had two DNFs with mechanical woes in two races to add to the crash at Jerez after he was rammed by Elias. Can he really make up more than 40 points? The next few races will tell us: Mugello, Barcelona and Assen are Rossi territory.
If his luck really has run out we’ll know soon.