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rossi on a roll. . .

British MotoGP, 2nd July 2006, donington park
Words by Simon Bradley

Donington may as well be owned by this man. Certainly he's won here more often than anyone else is ever likely to...The MotoGP circus has rolled in to Donington in one form or another seven times before this. And only one person has ever won here - Valentino Rossi. Last year we saw The Doctor defying the laws of physics to take an astonishing win in appalling weather conditions on his way to tying up yet another world title. This year the circuit facilities have improved, some bumps have been ironed out and the Great British Summer put on the best it could muster. Blue skies, soaring temperatures and some real excitement too.

Donington is technically a difficult circuit to get right. It's a mix of very fast and very slow that demands a compromise setup on the bike and that makes complications of its own before anything else. Some sections, like the Craner Curves, require an enormous amount of bottle as the track drops away down the hill and sweeps left and right. It's one of those places where you could almost always go faster than you do, but paradoxically also one of those places where almost everybody has fallen off at some point. I've never finished a race there...

Practice and qualifying were interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, young Dani Pedrosa demolished all the records around and simply stood head and shoulders above everyone else in the paddock. A neat trick for such a diminutive figure. And second, both Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi struggled throughout for setup. Indeed, with Pedrosa on pole and nearly half a second faster than his nearest rival, neither of the other two even made it into the top ten. Chris Vermeulen carried on his string of excellent qualifying performances, putting the Suzuki on the front row ahead of Marco Melandri. Melandri's performance was little short of astonishing considering the Honda rider is carrying a dislocated shoulder and other vestigial injuries from that huge Catalunya crash a few weeks ago. John Hopkins also had a good time, putting the second Suzuki at the front of the second row, with Loris Capirossi - another of the walking wounded - in a very respectable fifth ahead of Randy de Puniet on the first Kawasaki. Row Dani Pedrosa went half a second faster than anyone else. Ever. And he's  never been here on a  MotoGP bike before...three saw Shinya Nakano heading up Casey Stoner and Kenny Roberts Jnr with Colin Edwards closing out the top ten ahead of Hayden and Rossi.

Now an British event wouldn't be right without the weather getting in the way, and so it proved today. Because it dawned grey and wet. Very wet, in fact. This made things a little complicated because very few people had any wet data for the circuit. And because although no-one really thought it was going to be a wet race, they needed to be prepared. But of course what that also meant is that nobody got any dry warmup laps in, so nobody had a chance to test any new settings they may be trying. Anyway, shortly after warmup it stopped raining and the sun came out again. So that was alright then.

And on to the race. Lights out and it was Marco Melandri who got the holeshot from Pedrosa with Hopkins taking over the mantle from Chris Vermeulen in third. Vermeulen himself dropped to fourth but the real winner at the end of the first lap was Kenny Roberts Jnr, up three places and looking like a man to watch. At the front, Melandri kept up a dazzling pace but was unable to drop the others off. Indeed, it looked increasingly as though he was holding Pedrosa up as the young Spaniard tried everything in the book to get past. But Melandri is a very hard man to overtake - he is exceptionally strong under braking - and eventually it was Pedrosa who cracked, running wide at the Melbourne Hairpin on the fifth lap and doing well to catch the looming highside but dropping back behind Hopkins. It took the Spaniard another two hard laps to pass the Suzuki before he was able to close in on Melandri. This time, though, he made no mistake slicing through on lap eleven and immediately pulling out a lead over the following pack. One he continued to extend in an extremely elegant display of high speed motorcycling.

There are nowhere near enough sponsor decals on this bike. With the way it's going I'd say that will change soon enough...While Melandri, Hopkins and Pedrosa were duking it out, Kenny Roberts Jnr was, to use an old cliche, positively scything through the field, despatching Stoner and Vermeulen in short order and passing Hopper for a podium place on lap nine. Impressive stuff indeed for a team running the Honda engine for the first time this year and so having to develop a whole new chassis on the fly. Vermeulen and Hopkins both started to encounter tyre trouble and dropped off the pace a little, though every race the Suzuki becomes a more complete package and looks more likely to be able to run the distance. Indeed, Vermeulen was still riding at a good race pace when an over-ambitious overtake by Colin Edwards at the Melbourne Hairpin (again) saw a coming together that left the Australian with a bent handlebar and no choice but to pit for running repairs. Though he rejoined and again ran at a good pace, there was no chance for him to do anything more than gather race data - a valuable exercise not one which scores points. Talking of Colin Edwards, he and Nicky Hayden picked up where they left off at Assen, slugging it out for almost the entire race distance and eventually getting themselves into sixth and seventh respectively. John Hopkins lost out to the American pair, finishing eighth while Loris Capirossi faded into ninth, remaining ahead of Carlos Checa.

But what of Valentino Rossi? Well after four laps he was still running tenth and we started to wonder if he was going to do anything special or not. Like we should have doubted him. The move, when it came, was slow by his standards - one place a lap for four laps then an interminable wait before passing John Hopkins and catching up, slowly but surely, with the group ahead. There, Stoner and Roberts were battling with Melandri for second place and, it must be said, slowing each other down. Because although it took a few laps, eventually Rossi hooked onto the back of the train and started to increase the pressure. A mistake from Melandri at Mcleans, where the Italian This man has a dislocated shoulder and heavy bruising. And he rode flat out for thirty laps...Honda rider essentially fell off his bike as he clipped the inside kerb and only caught it by a miracle, saw Rossi dive through and grab second though Stoner fought back and retook the spot before the ned of the lap. A lap later and Rossi was back off the podium, having been spectacularly outbraked by Melandri at the Foggy Esses, but a few laps later and the battle was down to the two Italians as Roberts and Stoner dropped off. And battle it was, with the two injured rivals pushing incredibly hard and regularly swapping places. Melandri was better on the brakes but Rossi had a huge advantage through the fast first part of the circuit. it was always going to come down to the wire and it certainly did, with Melandri passing Rossi again on the brakes at Foggy Esses on the final lap but then running in too deep at the Melbourne Hairpin while trying to defend his line and allowing Rossi to squeeze through on the inside. The champion was able to keep the tighter line through Goddards and pipped Melandri to the flag by just over a tenth of a second. Stoner and Roberts were next across the line, followed by a huge gap back to Edwards.

Up at the very front, though, Dani Pedrosa rode an impeccable race. Apart from that one mistake - which nearly took him off - early on, the young Spaniard was inch perfect all weekend. He crossed the line just four seconds ahead of Rossi, having virtually dropped to walking pace for the last lap or so as he had built such a huge cushion. At one point Pedrosa was over eight seconds clear. But although it was an emphatic victory, there is no doubt that the real winner today was Valentino Rossi and the entire MotoGP season. Hayden's poor performance has closed the gap a the top again, and Rossi's superhuman effort has similarly made things more exciting in the championship. We've got a two week break now before going to Germany's Sachsenring. Everyone should be reasonably fit again so let's look for more fireworks...


The fastest ever man at Donington but still the crowd cried out for Rossi...Results

1 D Pedrosa, Honda
2 V Rossi, Yamaha
3 M Melandri, Honda
4 C Stoner, Honda
5 K Roberts Jnr, KR211V
6 C Edwards, Yamaha
7 N Hayden, Honda
8 J Hopkins, Suzuki
9 L Capirossi, Ducati
10 C Checa, Yamaha

Championship Standing after 9 rounds

153 N Hayden
127 D Pedrosa
118 V Rossi
114 M Melandri
107 L Capirossi
91 C Stoner
73 C Edwards
66 K Roberts Jnr
59 M Tamada
58 J Hopkins



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