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Czech Mate!

Czech MotoGP Brno, 18-20TH August 2006

Words by Dick Henneman, pictures from Dorna

After a four week "rest" following the race at Laguna Seca, the MotoGP circus arrived in the Czech Republic with Alex Hoffman standing-in for Sete Gibernau who was still recovering from that horrific accident at the Catalan GP in June. A second operation on the damaged collarbone earlier in the week means that he won't be back on the Ducati Desmosedici until the Malaysian GP on September 10th at the earliest. Hoffman's place in the Pramac D'Antin team was once again filled by Ivan Silva.

Now about this time last year, just about everyone was saying that the MotoGP Championship was near enough all over bar the shouting. With Valentino Rossi only needing a third place - not even a win - to sew up the title, things were getting just a little predictable and some were saying that they'd already engraved Rossi's name on the championship trophy.

What a difference a year makes!

After an appalling start to the season, three DNFs, tyre and technical problems, and even a crash - yes Rossi crashed! - Valentino arrived in the Czech Republic languishing down in 4th place in the 2006 championship and 51 points behind the leader Nicky Hayden with six races to go. Although he had four wins to Hayden's two, the American has been a more consistent points-scorer this year, and as we all know points win (championship) prizes. Only a committed Rossi fan would put money on him lifting an eighth straight championship title and Yamaha their third at this point in the season, and the sensible money must be on Hayden and Honda.

Or should it?

Free practice got underway on Friday morning under sunny skies with a dry but cool track, and it certainly looked that Hayden was the safer bet. In the first session Nicky topped the timesheets with a 1'59.387, but Rossi was only 0.049 secs behind and looking threatening. The remaining top 10 was made up of Melandri, Roberts, Pedrosa, Stoner, Nakano, Elias, Edwards and Capirossi. Chris Vermuelen, who put the Suzuki on pole at Laguna Seca and led the earlier part of the race before falling back with fuel vaporisation problems, languished down in sixteenth place. He had to switch to his spare bike early on in the session after running a kerb just a little bit too hard, cracking the front wheel rim and puncturing the tyre.

By the time the second practice session started, the track temperature had risen some 9°C and the early times were slower than in the first session. Casey Stoner ran into problems almost immediately and pulled off the track after just five minutes with a seriously dead engine in his Honda, and had to switch to his spare bike for the rest of the session. Roberts was an early leader on the timesheets, but was quickly deposed by Rossi who was then moved down to second by Nakano on the Kawasaki. But with just under half the session gone, the current world champion delivered a killer punch and put in a lap that was a full 1.25 seconds faster than anyone else! His time of 1'57.871 wasn't bettered before the chequered flag came out, but in the dying seconds de Puniet got within 0.157 seconds of the Italian, closely followed by Capirossi. Nicky Hayden finished the session down in eleventh, some 1.6 seconds off the pace after the team made a number of set-up changes to the bike which appeared to have sent them in the wrong direction. Stoner never got to grips with his spare bike and finished down in twelfth, whilst Vermeulen, also on his spare bike, was still stuck in sixteenth, 3.5 seconds slower than Valentino and obviously struggling. But then it transpired that Rossi and de Puniet had fitted qualifiers to get their times, although Yamaha said that they did this to check that they had got rid of the chatter problems that had plagued them previously. Ducati, just to make sure that everyone knew how competitive they were, insisted that Capirossi was on race rubber throughout the session. It looked like qualifying was going to be interesting!

The last free practice on Saturday saw Capirossi topping the timesheets just ahead of Melandri and Rossi, with Hayden down in sixth, and the weather staying dry and sunny despite the deteriorating weather warnings from the meteorological pundits.

When qualifying finally got going, all the usual suspects bar Rossi were immediately on the pace, with an aggressive Capirossi setting an early marker followed by Hayden, Nakano, Hopkins and Melandri, and with Kenny Roberts Jr making a strong showing. In fact he soon displaced Loris off the top spot, and was then similarly dispatched into second by Nicky Hayden. While all this was going on, the Yamahas of Rossi and Edwards were well off the pace in double figure placings and only just ahead of James Ellison on the Tech 3 Yamaha who'd upped his pace by half-a-second from yesterday's practice times. At the halfway point it was Capirossi back at the top, followed by Hayden, a hard charging Nakano on the Kawasaki and an equally impressive Kenny Roberts, while the Yamahas of Edwards and Rossi had climbed up to fifth and eighth positions respectively. Hayden briefly led the times again, before Hopkins showed what the Suzuki could do with a 1'57.000. Things were hotting up now, so much so that both the Camel Yamahas were out of the top ten once again; and then Capirossi came out his garage and immediately re-claimed the lead, leaving nobody in any doubt that he was now fully recovered from the Catalan crash, and there was nothing amiss with the Ducati/Bridgestone combination.

Final Qualifying

Pos

Rider

1
Valentino Rossi
2
Loris Capirossi
3
Kenny Roberts Jr
4
Nicky Hayden
5
Shinya Nakano
6
Toni Elias
7
John Hopkins
8
Colin Edwards
9
Dani Pedrosa
10
Randy de Puniet
11
Marco Melandri
12
Casey Stoner
13
Chris Vermeulen
14
Alex Hoffman
15
Makoto Tamada
16
James Ellison
17
Carlos Checa
18
Jose Luis Cardoso
19
Ivan Silva
 
With around five minutes left to run, Rossi finally got himself a respectable time and popped himself into third place behind Capirossi and Hayden, pushing Kenny Roberts down to fourth in the process. But you couldn't help feeling that there was more to come. In fact there was much more, and for the final minutes of qualifying the top ten places were changing almost second by second. And then just before the chequered flag fell, Rossi started a lap that was to give him pole from Capirossi by a clear quarter of a second. Kenny Roberts Jr finished a creditable third to close off the front row of the grid, pushing Hayden down to a second row start that he'd share with Nakano and a late-charging Toni Elias.
   
Sunday morning dawned bright and clear for the 84,000 spectators that packed the circuit, and it looked as though the rain was going to be kept at bay, although the temperatures were slightly lower than the two previous days. Pre-race warm-up threw nothing unexpected into the equation, although Pedrosa showed that his ninth place in qualifying might not truly reflect his race pace and Melandri could also be a force to be reckoned with.
 

When the red lights went out, it was Capirossi who got the drop on everybody. He was first into the first corner followed by Hayden and Rossi, and at the end of the first lap he'd pulled out a lead of just under a second on Rossi, who'd managed to get back quickly past Hayden.

And that was it as far as the 25 points for the win was concerned. Capirosssi just went off on his own personal mission, increasing his lead over the pursuing pack every lap, until by lap seventeen the gap was out to over seven seconds. Loris backed off on the last couple of laps, finishing 4.9 seconds clear of his pursuers and having enough time for a long look over his shoulder on the final corner - just to make sure that no one had crept up on him. Because behind him the duelling for the remaining points was massive.

At the start of lap two Stoner had clawed his way up to fourth place, closely followed by Dani Pedrosa, both of whom had got ahead of Roberts, with Edwards, Nakano, Melandri and Hopkins making up the remaining top ten. Pedrosa was on a charge, crawling all over the back wheel of Stoner and looking to relieve him of fourth place as quickly as possible. Meanwhile Edwards had slipped under Roberts, demoting him yet another place down the order. On the next lap Pedrosa finally got past Stoner and was quickly followed by Edwards, while Melandri was making up places to eighth and on the back of Roberts after a poor opening lap. In fact Melandri and Roberts were passing and re-passing each other so often it was difficult to keep up with who was leading who.

By lap four Pedrosa was all over his team mate Nicky Hayden like a rash, taking some of the pressure off Rossi, who up until then had been getting a lot of attention from the Repsol Honda of the Kentucky Kid. At the front Capirossi's lead over Rossi was now 2.5 seconds, whilst further back Melandri was harassing Casey Stoner for sixth place, before finally getting past on lap six. On the next lap Dani Pedrosa finally made a pass on his team mate that stuck going into turn one, and then was immediately up onto the rear wheel of Rossi's Yamaha. Were we about to see the long-awaited battle between the seven-times world champion and the young pretender? Well, yes we were, but we had to wait another twelve laps. Meanwhile Melandri had got past Hayden, who appeared to be waning, and Stoner had grabbed a place back from Colin Edwards who shortly afterwards was passed by Kenny Roberts Jr. on a second charge.

Lap twelve, and at the front Capirossi continued to extend his lead to 5.7 seconds over Rossi and the attendant Dani Pedrosa, whilst 3 seconds further back Melandri, Hayden and Stoner were having another ding-dong battle ahead of Roberts, Edwards, Nakano and Hopkins. Two laps later and it was Hayden leading Stoner and Melandri ahead of the rest of the chasing pack led by a closing Kenny Roberts in seventh place. At the start of lap 15 Stoner eased past Nicky Hayden going into turn one, and by the end of the lap Melandri had passed him as well, whilst Pedrosa was looking more and more as though he was about to take second place off Valentino Rossi.

On lap 17 Pedrosa finally struck, but Rossi was having none of it and Dani was forced to lift the bike up as he tried to go under the Yamaha which stuck religiously to the racing line. Was that close or what? Pedrosa quickly regrouped and a couple of corners later he slid the Repsol Honda effortlessly under Rossi's Yamaha to take second place. But if you'd thought that was the battle over, you'd be seriously mistaken. Valentino came straight back at the rookie and passed him around the outside going into the next corner, only to have Pedrosa re-take the place on the final corner of the lap. They crossed the start/finish line going into lap eighteen almost as one, but Rossi was just that little bit later on the brakes, piling into turn one and taking back second place yet again. By turn two Pedrosa was back alongside Rossi, giving him the inside line and second position again for turn three. Was Rossi going to let him go? - no chance! Out of turn four and the Yamaha really got the power down allowing Rossi to pull alongside Pedrosa and then outbrake him into the next turn. And that was it as far as the battle for second went. Whether Rossi decided that enough was enough from the young upstart and turned the wick up just a little bit more, or whether Pedrosa simply ran out of steam we'll never know, but Valentino slowly and gradually pulled out a gap on the Repsol Honda that finally put second place out of Dani Pedrosa's reach. But the race wasn't over yet.

In the following pack Roberts had moved up to fourth ahead of Melandri and Stoner, with Hayden down to seventh place and being harried by Shinya Nakano. But it would be anyone's guess over which of them was going to cross the line first. As the last lap got under way Stoner moved back ahead of Melandri and then Nakano demoted Nicky Hayden down to eighth place going into turn one. Hayden fought back immediately to re-take the place and then Melandri took fifth place back again off Casey Stoner. But there was still more to come. While the TV cameras were watching Loris Capirossi take what appeared to be an effortless victory, ahead of Rossi and a fading Pedrosa, Hopkins on the Suzuki had made a late, late charge that had carried him past both Nakano and Hayden into seventh place. And as they all came around the final corner for the last time, Hayden got the Honda out of shape allowing the Kawasaki of Nakano to drive past him for the line and getting himself demoted to ninth place in the process. Not a good day at the office for the Kentucky Kid.

 
But a very good day for someone who five races ago was a hospital case.
 
Although Loris' win is unlikely to give him a major crack at the championship title, it took away the possibility of maximum points for those chasing Hayden for the 2006 title. But then again, most of the circuits remaining in this year's calendar are known to favour the Ducati/Bridgestone combination, so maybe Capirossi's outside chance may not be so "outside" after all. Anyone fancy putting a bet on the "Big Red One"?
 
See you next at Sepang on September 10th. Don't miss it.
DH
 
Race Result
   
1
Loris Capirossi
2
Valentino Rossi
3
Dani Pedrosa
4
Kenny Roberts Jr
5
Marco Melandri
6
Casey Stoner
7
John Hopkins
8
Shinya Nakano
9
Nicky Hayden
10
Colin Edwards
   
Championship Points after 11 rounds
   
 201
Nicky Hayden
176
Dani Pedrosa
163
Valentino Rossi
161
Marco Melandri
151
Loris Capirossi
101
Casey Stoner
92
Kenny Roberts Jr
90
Colin Edwards
83
John Hopkins
75
Shinya Nakano
 

 

 

 




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