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Rookies rule the roost!

Turkish MotoGP, 30th April 2006, istanbul
Words by Simon Bradley

Photographs as credited- click to enlarge

Chris Vermeulen making hay while the sun don't shine. They do it differently in Australia, it seems...Forgive the somewhat sensational headline but it goes along with a frankly sensational meeting as the young Turks showed the old timers a thing or two about racing.

The new, purpose built circuit just outside Istanbul hosted it's inaugural GP just last October. Nobody has any real tyre data yet, and this was compounded by what's best described as unpredictable weather. It's a fabulous track, though, and always offers great racing. Friday practice was consistent, showing if nothing else that Yamaha have made some progress with getting Rossi and Edwards competitive again. Honda were certainly smiling, though, as young guns Pedrosa and Stoner duked it out with Elias and Hayden for honours, the only cloud for them being the occasional appearance of Gibernau and Capirossi at the top of the leaderboard.

Then it rained and everything changed. Saturday practice showed that power is nothing, as they say, without control. And as practice turned into qualifying it seemed apparent that one man had more control than everyone else. Step forward MotoGP rookie Chris Vermeulen, who put the fine handling but down on power Suzuki into a clear, unequivocal pole position ahead of Nicky Hayden, Sete Gibernau and Loris Capirossi with his team-mate John Hopkins in fifth. Interestingly, four out of the five front runners were on Bridgestone tyres. Randy de Puniet qualified an excellent sixth ahead of fellow rookie Casey Stoner with Shinya Nakano eighth, Colin Edwards ninth and Kenny Roberts Jan rounding out the top ten. Valentino Rossi languished back in eleventh, the setup problems which plagued him here last year clearly not yet exorcised.

Overnight the weather changed again and warmup times suggested that the young Australian pole-sitter would get chewed up and spat out before the first lap was out. Which proves that warmup times mean nothing at all in the real world.

Turn one and that blue Suzuki is still at the front. Because as the lights changed and the field streamed off toward turn one it was the Suzuki of Chris Vermeulen that led from Gibernau, with John Hopkins holding a watching brief on the second Suzuki in third place. OK, so by the end of the second lap Gibernau had blasted past into the lead, but one thing we could see for sure is that Paul Denning and the Rizla Suzuki team have delved into their box of tricks and found a whole heap more speed, because on the straights the Ducati simply wasn't clearing off and leaving Hopkins and Vermeulen for dead. In fact, though Vermeulen dropped back a bit, Hopkins kept a pretty relentless pressure up for the first third of the race before his tyres appeared to go off and he faded. Gibernau failed to make the break, with first Hopkins and then Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa dogging him before he too suffered premature tyre wear and dropped off the pace. So all the really quick Bridgestone qualifiers seemed to have the same problem as their tyres let them down approaching mid distance. But my word they were good until that point.

Hold on. Yes, you did read it right. Dani Pedrosa came from nowhere - thirteenth at the end of the first lap - to challenging for the lead by midway through. When Gibernau's challenge faded, in fact, the youngsters really came out to play with Stoner and Pedrosa leading the grizzled 24 year old veteran Nicky Hayden a merry dance. And who else came to play? 23 year old Marco Melandri, who got his first taste of the top podium here last year, sliced through from the back of the field to join the scrap and indeed take the lead at mid distance.

The Doctor may not be back at the top of the field just yet, but it would be a brave punter indeed who would bet against him, even now...So it turned into a four way fight between four Hondas from three teams. And for a very long time it looked as though young Casey Stoner, in his third ever MotoGP, was going to take the victory. It was always going to be close as the four front runners seemed to be trading paint on a few occasions, but it was a masterclass in tight, controlled aggression and was fabulous to watch. Then pitching in to the first corner on the final lap, Dani Pedrosa overcooked it, lost the front and slid down and out of contention. Nicky Hayden lost a bit of momentum avoiding him and that allowed Stoner and Melandri to just tease out a bit of a gap. With just two corners to go, Melandri stuffed the Fortuna Honda down the inside of Stoner's LCR machine and managed to maintain the advantage in the drag to the line, taking his second win here. Hayden took the last podium place, hotly pursued by Valentino Rossi, whose pace for the last few laps was such that, had the race have been a couple of laps longer, he would have certainly been on the podium. Fifth, just a few tenths back, Toni Elias made Honda's day better still while Loris Capirossi managed to get a tenth of a second ahead of Chris Vermeulen after a magnificent last lap duel that saw them pass each other three or four times to take sixth. Nakano, Edwards and Tamada round out the top ten. Dani Pedrosa picked up just two points for his efforts after remounting and finishing fourteenth, while Hopkins finally came in seventeenth, thirty seconds off the lead, having pitted in to change his rear tyre when it was sliding so much that he considered it dangerous.

So Rossi and Yamaha showed some sign of their old brilliance, Suzuki look as though the disasters of Qatar are well and truly behind them and are going in the right direction and the new arrivals showed that they aren't afraid to rock the boat a little. Next we're in Shanghai with Le Mans just a week later. It's going to be great...

See that half a Repsol Honda at the top? That's Dani Pedrosa, and Melandri is just one place ahead of him... At the front, Hopkins tries to go around Gibernau while Vermeulen makes fresh air.Results

1 M Melandri, Honda
2 C Stoner, Honda
3 N Hayden, Honda
4 V Rossi, Yamaha
5 T Elias, Honda
6 L Capirossi, Ducati
7 C Vermeulen, Suzuki
8 S Nakano, Kawasaki
9 C Edwards, Yamaha
10 M Tamada, Honda

Championship Standing after 3 rounds

52N Hayden
51 L Capirossi
45 M Melandri
41 C Stoner
40 V Rossi
32 D Pedrosa
32 T Elias
22 S Nakano
19 C Edwards
18 S Gibernau


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