Apr 7, 2002
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From a Honda press release:<BR><BR>HONDA RACING NEWS<BR><BR>MotoGP WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP 2002, JAPANESE GRAND PRIX, SUZUKA, Race Day, <BR>Sunday April 7 2002<BR><BR>ROSSI AND RCV TRIUMPHANT AT SUZUKA<BR><BR>The stunning combination of Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) and his all-new Honda V5 four-stroke proved unbeatable in today's historic Japanese GP, the first event of MotoGP racing's new four-stroke era. <BR><BR>Despite atrocious weather conditions at the high-speed venue and the efforts of unflinching rival Akira Ryo (Suzuki), Rossi and the RCV were victorious, giving Honda its first four-stroke GP win in 35 years.<BR><BR>Last man to ride a Honda four-stroke to GP success was the late, great Mike Hailwood, who won the factory's final outing in its original four-stroke era at Mosport, Canada, in September 1967. A dozen years later Honda returned to the GP fray with the fabulous oval-pistoned NR500, but though this machine earned Honda a huge amount of four-stroke technical expertise it never beat the then-dominant two-strokes. The man in charge of NR development was Suguru Kanazawa, fresh out of university. Today Kanazawa, now HRC president, was at Suzuka to see his earliest and most recent work bear fruit.<BR><BR>"Our goal has always been to win GPs with four-stroke machinery, so today's victory is very meaningful to me and everyone else at Honda," said Kanazawa. "We are still benefiting from what we learned from the NR500."<BR><BR>The race, held at the circuit which Honda founder Soichiro Honda had built in 1962, was a real thriller. Rossi made a steady start from pole position, which he achieved in dry conditions at the very end of yesterday's final qualifier, completing the first lap in fifth place. Considering this was his first real ride in wet conditions with the RCV, apart from this morning's warm-up and a handful of laps during Sepang tests back in February, he knew he had to learn as he went along. The Italian thus rode a typically intelligent race, moving into third on lap four, behind Shinichi Itoh (Team HRC RC211V) and leader Ryo. From there he bided his time, watching and learning from the locals, before sneaking past Itoh into second at half distance. Then six laps from the flag he moved into the lead, resisting constant counter-attack pressure from Ryo to win by 1.5 seconds after setting the fastest lap of the race on the final lap.<BR><BR>"When I woke up this morning I wasn't so happy to see that it was raining, like most riders, I'm sure," said Rossi, who has now won 14 GPs for Honda. "We were only 14th in warm-up but I stayed calm and made sure I got a good start. It's very important to stay with the leading group in these conditions, because only then can you understand where the limit really is. So I used this tactic and when I could overtake some riders I did it at the chicane. Then I was with the wild cards, Ryo and Itoh, who both know this track very well in the wet. When it was just me and Ryo I could see he was faster in some parts and I learned from that. Also, I have ridden the Superbike in the wet here, so that helped. This weekend has given me very much emotion, both good and bad, because I had two crashes in practice. It was a good race for sure, now I'm very happy!"<BR><BR>This crucial success was Rossi's third consecutive Suzuka win, following last July's Eight Hour victory (achieved aboard an SP-1 Superbike in partnership with American rider Colin Edwards) and last April's Japanese GP victory aboard his NSR500 two-stroke, which gave Honda its 500th GP success.<BR><BR>Itoh also rode a brilliant GP, considering he hadn't even raced in almost a year. The Japanese veteran, who was heavily involved in development of the RCV, slipped to fourth at the flag but was happy enough with his day's work.<BR><BR>"I kept cool and I think I helped the team in gathering more data for the RCV," he said. "I didn't realise that Rossi was following me early in the race, he passed me just after I had big slide riding through a puddle exiting 130R."<BR><BR>Alex Barros (West Honda Pons NSR500) finished sixth, the second two-stroke home, six seconds shy of Norick Abe (Yamaha) and seven second ahead of Nobuatsu Aoki (Proton KR). The Brazilian admitted he rode a wary race after sliding off in warm-up. "It took me a while to get into my rhythm because I didn't want to take too many risks after my earlier fall," said Barros who won last year's sodden Italian GP. "It's a shame because I was in with a chance in these conditions."<BR><BR>Team-mate Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500) was ninth in the crash-strewn race, just behind Regis Laconi (Aprilia). Second quickest in qualifying, Capirossi had a disastrous getaway from the grid, his NSR spinning its rear tyre and losing drive. "From that moment I was struggling with grip, just like at Valencia last year," said the Italian, who had also fallen in warm-up. "The important thing was to finish and that was the total focus of my race."<BR><BR>Daijiro Katoh (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR500) suffered similar problems in his MotoGP debut. "I got a lot of wheelspin at the start, a lot of guys came past on the grid, so it was quite dangerous," said the 250 champ. "I don't like racing in the wet but today was worse than normal. I wasn't getting any feeling from the bike, so my only hope was a finish."<BR><BR>Tetsuya Harada (Pramac Honda NSR500) finished his first race for Honda a steady 11th. Rossi's team-mate Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) was going well in fifth place and chasing Itoh when he joined the many fallers just three laps from the end. "I'm really disappointed," said the Japanese star. "I usually do well in the rain and I wanted to do well at home but I had a big highside and that was it. But I now know the RCV is a winner, now I want a podium finish!"<BR><BR>Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Kanemoto Racing Honda NSR500) also fell while making good progress in his first race on his NSR500.<BR><BR>Wild card riders Osamu Miyazaki (Yamaha) and Daisaku Sakai (Endurance/Toshio Asahi Honda RS250R/W) used their intimate wet-track knowledge of the Suzuka circuit to dominate the soaking 250 GP, 36-year-old Miyazaki coming out the winner after a spirited challenge by 20-year-old Sakai. Third went to Frenchman Randy de Puniet (Aprilia) whose two rivals for the final podium place Hiroshi Aoyama (Team Harc-Pro Honda RS250R/W) and Haruchika Aoki (Arie Molenaar Racing Honda RS250R/W) both crashed on the final lap.<BR><BR>Miyazaki, who started racing way back in 1984, beat Sakai by almost seven seconds. "I'm so happy," grinned the Japanese rider who'd qualified eighth in the dry. "My bike and tyres were great for the conditions."<BR><BR>Fellow All-Japan 250 battler Sakai, who'd started 12th on the grid, was delighted with his first GP podium finish, even though he'd had no sixth gear from half distance. "For sure it would've been very difficult for us to compete so well in the dry," he said after scoring his first world points. "But with my rain tyres and my knowledge of the track we had an advantage over the visiting riders."<BR><BR>Honda's two factory NSR250 riders had a tougher start to their 2002 season. Emilio Alzamora (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) completed the race a steadfast fourth, taking advantage of a number of tumbles ahead of him. The Spaniard beat Sebastian Porto (Yamaha) by a fraction after his other rival Fonsi Nieto (Aprilia) had fallen, remounting to take 13th. "I suffered from the cold but my determination got me close to a podium finish," said Alzamora. "My bike was overgeared for the conditions but I stayed calm and got some points, so I'm proud of what I did today."<BR><BR>Teammate Robby Rolfo (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) ended the race eighth, climbing through the pack after a sluggish start. "I lost a lot of time when another rider fell in front of me on the first lap," he said. "I came from last place to eighth, so I'm very happy with my race. I hope I'll have better luck at the next race."<BR><BR>Wild card rider Chojun Kameya (Burning Blood R.T Honda RS250R/W) also rode an excellent race in the treacherous conditions, finishing seventh.<BR><BR>The rain-lashed 125 GP featured the day's largest number of tumbles, Arnaud Vincent (Aprilia) emerging from the chaos the winner. The Frenchman had been battling for third with Stefano Bianco (Aprilia) until the teenager tumbled out, then race-leader Jaroslav Hules (Aprilia) also fell and second-placed Steve Jenkner (Aprilia) pitted for a new rear tyre giving Vincent an apparently unassailable lead.<BR><BR>But over the next nine laps the group battling for second zeroed in on Vincent, Mirko Giansanti (Scot Racing Team Honda RS125R) closing to within 1.164 seconds at the chequered flag to take the runner-up spot by a fraction from Manuel Poggiali (Gilera) and veteran Nobby Ueda (Semprucci-Angaia Racing Honda RS125R), who ran off the track with three corners to go.<BR><BR>Giansanti may well have won if he'd been able to see his pit board. "I had no idea of my position, or who was in front of me," said the Italian. "I just kept pushing as hard as I could, passing riders wherever I could."<BR><BR>Vincent had been playing it safe until his pit board told him the others were closing. "I had a big gap at one point but I wanted to stay on the track, so I slowed down to be safe," he said. "Then I noticed the others catching me, so I made sure I did just enough to stay ahead."<BR><BR>First-time pole-sitter Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Jr Team Honda RS125R) led from the start but slumped to eighth in the race but was content with the points. "I've never been good in the wet, but my lap times were close to those of the rain specialists, so I'm satisfied with my result," said the 16-year old.<BR><BR>Shuhei Aoyama (Showa Denk Honda RS125R) was the best-placed wild card in sixth spot. Masao Azuma (Liégeois Competition Honda RS125R), Jarno Muller (Pev-Spalt-Moto ADAC Sachsen Honda RS125R) and Andrea Ballerini (FCC-TSR Honda RS125R) were amongst the fallers, all uninjured.<BR><BR>The Grand Prix circus now heads to South Africa for the Welkom GP on April 19/20/21.<BR><BR><BR>HONDA TEAM QUOTES:<BR><BR>500cc:<BR><BR>Valentino Rossi, Repsol Honda Team, 1st:<BR>"That was a great result. I am so happy. I have had a difficult weekend with a crash on Friday and yesterday morning. We have hardly done any testing in the wet; I only did a few laps this morning. I got a good start in the race. I stayed with the leading group and tried to stay calm. I was happy to follow riders, watch the line and make a pass. Ryo was going well and I pass him near the end of the race. I am glad we do good racing. It is a good spectacle. This season will be close."<BR><BR>Shinichi Itoh, Team HRC, 4th:<BR>"I'm satisfied with today's result. I want to thank Honda and the team for this result. I didn't realise Rossi was following me and when he passed me I had a big slide, riding on a big water patch. Anyway I kept cool today and I think I helped the team in gathering data for the RCV. I also enjoyed the race very much."<BR><BR>Alex Barros, West Honda Pons, 6th:<BR>"Of course the race was completely different to the practice sessions and all the preparations we had done were of little use. It did not help either that I fell during warm-up. At the start of the race it took me some time to get into my rhythm without taking too many risks as I was wary of making any errors, but many other riders pulled away from me. It is a shame because I was in with a chance in these conditions, but at least a couple of the riders who finished in front of me are not competing in the World Championship and a lot of other riders crashed."<BR><BR>Loris Capirossi, West Honda Pons, 9th:<BR>"It was a very difficult race. The tyres lost grip on the starting grid and from that moment on it was practically impossible to stop the bike sliding off. It was really tough because I found it impossible to ride in these conditions as I had no grip in the front or rear. It was just like in Valencia last year where I had no feeling in the wet. In these conditions the most important thing was to finish and that is precisely what I concentrated on."<BR><BR>Sito Pons, Team Manager, West Honda Pons:<BR>"It has been a strange day where the climatic conditions have completely affected the result of the Grand Prix. I think that the true potential of the team has not been seen here and we have not been able to see the fruits of the excellent work that we have put in during the winter, and that was so evident in practice sessions. However, there are two positive things to come out of the race: on the one hand, we are second in the Team Championship and on the other, some riders who finished ahead of or riders will not be competing in the World Championship."<BR><BR>DAIJIRO KATOH, Fortuna Honda Gresini, 10th:<BR>"When I opened the throttle on the start line the rear tyre just spun up, I lost many places in a dangerous situation. I don't like racing in the wet but today was worse than normal. I had no feeling from the bike and could only hope to finish the race."<BR><BR>FAUSTO GRESINI, team manager<BR>"For us it was a difficult day, two of our three riders were debuting their bikes in the rain. For Katoh it was more difficult because it was his first time on the 500 with wet tyres at the very technical Suzuka circuit, in front of his home fans. At the start I was anxious for him when the bike started sliding and the other riders scraped past, it was a good result for him to finish. In any case, we earned a few points."<BR><BR>Tetsuya Harada, Pramac Honda Racing Team, 11th:<BR>"It was a very difficult race, completely different from what we had prepared in the last days of practice. It was the first time that I found myself riding my Honda NSR500 on a wet track and this made the race even more difficult. Until the track was completely covered by rain water, I was able to ride pretty well but when it began to dry up, even though it was still wet, I encountered several difficulties. Anyway, I gained a few points and for this I am satisfied. Another important thing I would like to say is that the tyres worked well on the wet track. "<BR><BR>TOHRU UKAWA, Repsol Honda Team: DNF<BR>"I am really disappointed. I have had good times in testing and I usually do well in the wet. The bike felt good this morning in wet practice and I wanted to do well in front of my home supporters. I had a big high-side and that was it. I have a little strain but nothing more. I must be positive and look forward to 15 more races in the championship. The bike is now a winner and I want to see the podium!"<BR><BR>MotoGP WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS:<BR>1. Rossi 25<BR>2. Ryo 20<BR>3. Checa 16<BR>4. Itoh 13<BR>5. Abe 11<BR>6. Barros 10<BR>7. Aoki 9<BR>8. Laconi 8<BR>9. Capirossi 7<BR>10. Katoh 6<BR>11. Harada 5<BR>12. Hopkins 4.<BR><BR><BR>