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Randy Mamola reflects on Portugal and looks ahead to Japan

Randy Mamola reflects on Portugal and looks ahead to Japan

Randy Mamola reflects on Portugal and looks ahead to Japan

The race at Estoril last week was an example that if Valentino Rossi, Jeremy Burgess and the rest of his Yamaha crew are given the chance to identify set-up problems and eliminate them one by one, they are a very difficult proposition to beat. With all that wet time during qualifying at Brno followed by two days of dry tests and mainly dry sessions at Estoril, they have made serious progress with the M1 which will see them through until the end of the season.

We all know what a fantastically talented rider Valentino is, but what has impressed me this season is the way that Yamaha have responded to having that talent working for them, reacting quickly to what he and Jeremy Burgess request and enabling them to meet their objectives. Having been a factory rider with Yamaha myself, I can't tell you how helpful that sort of support is.

We saw Valentino win the opening race against the odds in South Africa and then suffer from the occasional problems, like at Jerez, Le Mans and Rio. However, the more he gets used to the motorcycle and the more opportunities the team get to develop, the stronger he gets and the harder he is to beat.

The only thing I can say is that, if the race in Portugal is anything to go by, for his rivals and the sport as a spectacle it is a good job it is taken him until now to really get his momentum going!

The other impressive performances in my view came from John Hopkins, Makoto Tamada and Alex Barros. Firstly, I think John has been getting stronger with every Grand Prix this season, particularly the last three. What a lot of people, including myself, didn't realise was how much he has been struggling with his ankles having broken them in that supercross accident in the winter.

He says he is fitter than ever now and that is showing in his performances, with sixth place in both qualifying and the race at Estoril, finishing just one second down on Carlos Checa. Carlos has been on the podium this season and there is no reason why John can't be there too in at least one of the remaining five races.

Tamada came good in the race after not really been on the pace with race tyres during qualifying. Like Hopkins, he is benefiting from improved rubber from Bridgestone and he looks certain to have a strong finish to the season.

For my money, Tamada heads to Motegi next weekend as one of the hot favourites to take victory, having been denied a podium there last year when he was disqualified for hitting Sete Gibernau. Riding in front of his home crowd and with the experience of a win already this year under his belt, Tamada will be looking to avenge that decision with another victory next Sunday.

Barros deserves a pat on the back for taking third place after bouncing back from two crashes in practice and, of course, on the back of crashing out of the previous round at Brno. It takes a lot of courage and determination to put that to the back of your mind and ride like Alex did on Sunday so well done to him. Remember the race at Motegi two years ago? Alex rode the Honda RC211V for the first time and beat Rossi, who had been riding it all season – so he is another contender for honours next weekend.

It wouldn't be fair to talk about Portugal without giving a mention to Loris Capirossi, who single-handedly provided most of the excitement in the whole race by taking the holeshot from eleventh on the grid and then fighting back up to seventh from last place after the collision with Max Biaggi. A lot has been said about who held the blame for that crash and I don't want to get involved, but one thing for sure is that it has seriously damaged Biaggi's chances of winning the title.

The form of the Honda riders, like Tamada and Barros, is not necessarily such a great thing for the Japanese factory. Both of those guys took points from Gibernau in Portugal and there could be several other occasions where that happens again before the end of the season, effectively making life a little easier for Rossi.

It is a situation which seemed likely at the start of the year and, although Honda's plan of having three riders in front of Rossi has worked on a couple of occasions this year, I honestly can't see it happening again.

Rossi has been the thorn in Honda's side all year and he will be more determined than ever to be so again at Motegi. Of course, it is Honda's circuit and you can imagine how much Rossi is looking forward to marking his territory there on the Yamaha. He is the only man I can see breaking up Honda dominance on the podium this weekend but if anybody can...

The main thing I have noticed about Rossi this year is his sheer determination. In past seasons, I wouldn't say he has taken things easy but he's looked much more relaxed and happy-go-lucky. This year he has demonstrated that ruthless resolve to be the fastest rider in every session – from the free practice on Friday morning to the race on Sunday afternoon. He is a dangerous animal when he is in that sort of mood and Honda will be justifiably worried about him next weekend.

One other thing which makes life interesting at this time of the year is that a few contracts are running out and there is an extra competitive edge all the way down the field as riders scrap it out for factory rides next season. Whatever happens, there is plenty of entertainment left in the five races remaining and I for one am looking forward to seeing what happens at Motegi.

Tags:
MotoGP, 2004, CAMEL GRAND PRIX OF JAPAN

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