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Well who'd have guessed it?

Spanish MotoGP, 26th March 2006, Jerez
Words by Simon Bradley

Photographs as credited- click to enlarge

There are four bikes in this shot. Maybe five. Close racing...Last year, you may remember, Jerez saw the beginning of the end of Sete Gibernau as a force to be reckoned with in MotoGP as his last corner clash with Valentino Rossi saw the local hero beached in the gravel while Rossi monowheeled to victory. Well, lots has changed since last year, not least the fact that the fast but fragile Spaniard is now Ducati mounted and on great form while Rossi's Yamaha seems to be plagued with problems.

Free practice saw Rossi trailing right until the end, when he blitzed everyone in what was surely seen as a sign of things to come. But it wasn't. The Doctor, fighting against chatter problems, had an uncharacteristically bad day, falling on oil before qualifying a lowly ninth, just a couple of hundredths of a second ahead of similarly afflicted team-mate Colin Edwards. While at the other end of the spectrum a rejuvenated Gibernau tussled with team-mate Capirossi, losing out on pole by two tenths. The front row was finished off, in a surprise twist, by Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano who had a fabulous qualifying. Nicky Hayden, now a grizzled veteran of the Repsol Honda team, was pushed hard by his new, young and frighteningly talented team mate Dani Pedrosa but held fourth place on the grid with Pedrosa in fifth and another relatively new face, Toni Elias, sixth. Row three was headed by Marco Melandri, in front of yet another newcomer, Randy de Puniet on the second Kawasaki, next to Rossi. Rizla Suzuki, with their new bike and their new rider in the shape of Chris Vermeulen, took eleventh on the grid with John Hopkins twelfth.

Hopkins leads Ellison leads Vermeulen leads Elias. But not for long...Warmup was more of the same, with Gibernau the fastest man on the track though Rossi was up to sixth with Hopkins in fourth and Pedrosa second. Yes, it looked as though things were going to get interesting.

Rossi isn't a man to hang around when it comes to getting off the line in a hurry, and this was no exception. He made a storming start, gaining maybe four or five places before the first corner. And that's where it all went wrong, as Toni Elias, who had also got a great start, found himself with nowhere to go other than into Rossi, skittling the champion into the gravel and out of contention. The first corner melee really messed a lot of people up, as Edwards found himself on the grass as well as at the back of the field, and the pack got unusually strung out at the very beginning. Up at the front, had he known about it, Gibernau would surely have been enjoying at least a wry smile as he followed Melandri his team-mate Capirossi round the circuit in third. But the Spaniard's voodoo curse struck again as, just a lap later, the big Ducati spluttered to a halt with an electrical problem. So that left Capirossi to extend a commanding lead over the guy most regarded as Rossi's real rival last year - Melandri - ahead of Hayden, Casey Stoner and Shinya Nakano. A few laps down and Melandri yielded, first to Hayden and then to Pedrosa who had been gaining a place each lap and who then proceeded to put ludicrous amounts of pressure on his team mate Hayden before slipping under him and clearing off to chase Capirossi. Melandri continued to drop back, being passed by Elias but holding off Casey Stoner in the run to the line. Pedrosa, possibly the only man on the grid who New boy shows that he might just have what it takes. And smaller than Capirossi, made his light weight and intimate circuit knowledge count as he reeled in the Ducati lap after lap, closing to within a hundredth of a second but never quite being able to make a pass stick. The last few laps, as it was clear that he wasn't going to get past and stay on, saw the young Spaniard make an extremely mature decision and back off a bit, finally crossing the line four seconds behind Capirossi but still five seconds ahead of Hayden. The American in turn was just a quarter of a second ahead of Elias while a huge nine second gap passed before Melandri crossed the line in fifth place. New boy Casey Stoner just got the better of Nakano for sixth while Kenny Roberts Jnr must have been highly chuffed to best his erstwhile team-mate John Hopkins on the brand new KR211. Makoto Tamada rounded out the top ten. Colin Edwards climbed back up to eleventh with Chris Vermeulen riding to a very respectable twelfth in his first GP.

Valentino Rossi managed to restart, and with no right footpeg or rear brake lever and bent handlebars still managed to pass a few people to finish fourteenth and gain two points - perhaps critical later in the season. As far as his incident goes, the champion was surprisingly relaxed about it, saying "I saw Toni come up the inside and he hit me. This is racing and these things happen. I have known Toni for many years and he is a good rider. He apologised to me after the race and I told him not to worry - only to remember to brake next time and if he can't stop to hit someone else!"

However the season develops, it's going to be interesting. Pedrosa is the first person since Biaggi way back when to finish on the podium in his debut race, and when he wins (as he surely will this season) he'll be the youngest ever MotoGP winner.

The next round is in Qatar on 8th April. Not a place of good memories for quite a few riders. So it should be good...

John Hokins rings the Suzuki's neck ahead of Elias, Checa and RobertsResults

1 L Capirossi, Ducati
2 D Pedrosa, Honda
3 N Hayden, Honda
4 T Elias, Honda
5 M Melandri, Honda
6 C Stoner, Honda
7 S Nakano, Kawasaki
8 K Roberts Jnr, Roberts
9 J Hopkins, Suzuki
10 M Tamada, Honda

Championship Standing after 1 round

25 L Capirossi
20 D Pedrosa
16 N Hayden
13 T Elias
11 M Melandri
10 C Stoner
9 S Nakano
8 K Roberts Jnr
7 J Hopkins
6 M Tamada


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