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Rossi maintains his rule with Yamaha at Catalunya

Rossi maintains his rule with Yamaha at Catalunya

Rossi maintains his rule with Yamaha at Catalunya

Valentino Rossi started the 2004 MotoGP season in exactly the same way he finished in 2003, topping the rider standings and driving home in a brand new BMW Z4 after the MotoGP Official Test at the Circuit de Catalunya. Rossi, riding the Yamaha YZR-M1, set a lap of 1'44.571 during the 40-minute timed and televised ‘Official Practice' this afternoon despite cool track temperatures at the Barcelona venue to win the sports convertible ahead of Honda riders Colin Edwards and Sete Gibernau. Rossi now also leads the BMW Award – MotoGP Best Qualifier competition, with a model 645Ci on offer at the end of the season for the riders with the lowest accumulated qualifying times, and has delivered a huge psychological blow to the pretenders to his World Championship crown.

"I am very, very happy because we are at the top also with Yamaha," said Rossi, who made the controversial switch from Honda during the off-season. "I need to say a big, big thank you especially to all my mechanics – to Jeremy Burgess and all the mechanics who have come with me on this new adventure – and also to Yamaha who have made a big effort. In two months they have done incredible work and the bike is not so bad, so I am happy. For sure, the conditions were quite strange and nothing is won yet, but we are competitive."

The mouth-watering 2004 MotoGP season got off to a flying start in the first few minutes of the session, when Loris Capirossi went faster than any other rider in the history of the sport, making the most of a 40km/h tailwind to clock 347.4km/h on the Ducati Desmosedici GP4. Minutes later, Capirossi was one of the protagonists of a five-rider pileup caused by an oil spillage in turn five, where he was joined in the gravel trap by his team-mate Troy Bayliss, Aprilia rider Jeremy McWilliams, Honda's Alex Barros and Carlos Checa with the Yamaha.

The incident called for a red flag, which was displayed for a little over five minutes as the track marshals cleared the debris and threw cement dust on the affected area, but the excitement returned as soon as the pit-lane re-opened. Former World Superbike Champion Colin Edwards took control, setting a series of fast laps to dislodge Capirossi from the top of the time sheets and establish himself as a serious contender for the BMW.

However, Rossi imposed his authority over motorcycling's elite with just a few minutes remaining, setting a benchmark which would not be superseded despite the best efforts of Edwards and Gibernau as the chequered flag beckoned. Local favourite Ruben Xaus, preparing for his rookie season in the MotoGP class, made a valiant job of entertaining the 30,000 crowd alongside Gibernau, lapping seventh fastest on the 2003 version of the Desmosedici, whilst former World Champion Kenny Roberts gave signs of a Suzuki revival as he lapped in the top positions throughout the session and ended up sixth.

Whilst the ‘Official Practice' finished at 3pm, the action continued until track closure three hours later as the teams, plagued by a day and a half of constant rain, made the most of the dry conditions to complete valuable set-up work with just three weeks remaining until the start of the season at Welkom, South Africa, on April 18th. Gibernau, Barros and Nicky Hayden all improved their times but none were able to overcome Rossi, with Barros coming within 0.060 seconds of the Italian's best lap and setting a top speed which was just 0.2km/h slower than Capirossi.

Unfortunately the improved weather conditions in Barcelona did not spread to the south of Spain and the Jerez Circuit, where the 125cc teams completed their final day of official preseason testing. Former World Champion Roberto Locatelli was again the fastest rider on a wet track, although he was one of several riders to crash before the session ended an hour early.

MotoGP, 2004

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