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Marlboro Yamaha Team in for the long haul

Marlboro Yamaha Team in for the long haul

Marlboro Yamaha Team duo Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa finished third and tenth in this afternoon´s breathtaking season-opener at Suzuka. The Japanese track is renowned for producing thrilling high-speed battles and today´s race was no exception, Biaggi taking the lead at the first turn and fighting for victory in thrilling style until after half-distance. Checa´s hopes of a fine start to the year were dashed when he slid off, remounting to claim a top-ten finish.

Yamaha 500 Grand Prix project leader Shuuji Sakurada shared mixed emotions at the day´s result. ´Third place is not such a bad start,´ he said. ´Ourtarget was to make sure we finished on the podium at the first few races, so we can challenge for the title. Max didn´t have great starts the last two years, so this is better for us. He showed great fighting spirit today. Itwas a pity Carlos crashed and I want to thank him for not giving up. Now we know we have some work to do, but we feel confident for Welkom becauseYamaha has won both 500 races there.´

Max Biaggi took a hard-fought third-place finish today, the first time in three years that he´s scored points in the first GP of the year. In cool,overcast conditions the Marlboro Yamaha Team rider got the holeshot from the front row and enjoyed a frantic battle for the lead with fellow Yamaha men Garry McCoy and Shinya Nakano. Defending his position with utmost bravery and commitment, he was pushed back to fourth, before rejoining the top three, only to lose crucial time when Tohru Ukawa (Honda) crashed heavily in front of him.

´I´m very pleased because for the last two years I´ve not scored points at the first GP,´ grinned Biaggi. ´It´s been on my mind that I must finish thefirst two races without injury. Everyone was nervous today because it´s the first race of the year and the start of the final 500 two-stroke championship, so there was a lot of pressure. It was difficult because everyone was using different lines and there was a lot of body contact goingon. Haga, Ukawa, Rossi and I all made contact at one time or another! It was hectic but that´s what racing is all about! I had a huge moment when Ukawa crashed; Abe and Nakano were able to get through while I had to brake and go the long way round. I plan to do better at the next race.´

Carlos Checa had a luckless start to his 2001 campaign, sliding off his YZR500 at half distance as he charged through the pack. After an entertaining battle with World Champion Kenny Roberts (Suzuki), the Marlboro Yamaha Team man was zeroing in on Alex Barros (Honda) when he lost the frontat the dead-stop chicane. Refusing to give in, Checa remounted and continuedon his way despite rear-brake problems caused by the tumble. The Spaniard finished the race tenth.

´We´ve had some problems all weekend, plus I had a fever over the first two days,´ said Checa, who had clocked ultra-rapid times during tests at Suzuka two weeks ago. ´The bike never worked as it did during those tests, so I couldn´t go as fast as I wanted. I put Kenny behind me and set my sights on Barros. I was trying to make up time at other points of the track because the bike didn´t feel so good into the chicane, but the front just went. I was fast wherever we tested over the winter so I´m disappointed with this result and I think we can hope to do better at Welkom.´

Valentino Rossi made history today by scoring Honda´s 500th GP win, almost exactly 40 years after Tom Phillis scored the marque´s first GP success atthe 1961 Spanish 125 GP. Rossi came through from eighth to grab the lead on lap seven after a frantic encounter with Biaggi. He won the race from McCoy by 0.7 seconds. ´I´ve always had bad luck at Suzuka - this is the first time I´ve finished in the top ten here in any class,´ he grinned. ´I had a big fight with Haga, Barros and Biaggi and found it quite hard to pull away onceI got out front.´

Winner of last year´s season-opener at Welkom, Garry McCoy rode a strong race, leading the early stages before Rossi took over. ´I

500cc, 2001

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