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Randy Mamola dissects the drama of Motegi

Randy Mamola dissects the drama of Motegi

Randy Mamola dissects the drama of Motegi

Motegi was a strange weekend and it left me wondering ‘what on earth happened to the championship?' When we arrived in Japan we were all looking forward to the latest chapter of the title battle between Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau, and wondering if guys like Colin Edwards, Alex Barros and, of course, Makoto Tamada could battle for victory at the home of Honda.

However, from Friday afternoon it was clear that Sete was in trouble, and his problems got worse as the weekend went on. Motegi is the hardest circuit on front tyre and brake usage on the whole calendar and Michelin went there with a built-in safety margin, bringing special tyres to cope with these demands.

They had learnt from their experience from 2002, when Max Biaggi had to retire with a shredded front tyre, and had made the provisions to make sure that scenario didn't happen again. What they didn't expect was that the tyre would be virtually useless to certain riders, in particular Gibernau. Sete never came to terms with the new rubber and it developed into a long and hard weekend for him.

Even so, there was plenty to look forward to in the race, with Tamada and John Hopkins both on the front row, loaded and ready to go. Hopkins was using the new spec Suzuki which showed good pace in qualifying and he was virtually assured of a top five finish, if not better.

Biaggi showed potential race-winning pace in qualifying and had won at Motegi last season, whilst Edwards and Loris Capirossi were both optimistic of a podium finish, Colin using a new chassis from HRC to good effect and Loris showing glimpses of good race pace and that never-say-die attitude of his always giving him a chance.

With Gibernau looking to make up positions and salvage his weekend, a world title on the line and guys all the way down the grid fighting for their Grand Prix futures, there was a lot of tension out there and a lot at stake going into that first corner. That, of course, is when all those predictions were thrown out of the window. Capirossi came too hot into the corner, touched with Hopkins and what happened then was a chain reaction, with Biaggi, Edwards, Kenny Roberts and Nicky Hayden all out of the race.

My first reaction was a sinking feeling in my stomach – firstly for the safety of the riders and secondly, once we heard there were no serious injuries, for the spectacle of the race. A lot of depth of quality was gone from the field and, apart from the battle taking place between Rossi and Tamada at the front, it was hard to see where the excitement was going to come from.

As it happened, Shinya Nakano emerged through the pack on the Kawasaki to challenge for the podium and it seemed as though the whole of Motegi was shouting for him. Nakano is one of the nicest guys in the paddock and, for my money, one of the most talented.

I don't really know why Yamaha let him go last season but their loss was Kawasaki's gain, because he is a guy capable of putting a top machine on the podium every weekend. Hopefully Kawasaki can come up with something next season which will allow him to do that.

His performance was a sign that they are on the right lines and was also a clear demonstration of the progress being made by Bridgestone. It seems incredible that it was Nakano tumbling down the Mugello straightaway at 200mph just a couple of months ago after a tyre failure, yet here he was on the podium alongside another Bridgestone rider in the shape of Tamada.

I wonder what have happened if it wasn't for the crash – I think Nakano would be the first to admit he wouldn't have been on the podium but he kept his head down, took his chance and he shares the ‘man of the race' award with Tamada, who rode superbly at the front of the pack to control the race in the same way Rossi had done to him at Portugal two weeks ago.

Without taking anything away from Tamada, I can't help but think that Rossi could have pushed him a little harder, especially in the second part of the race. But with nobody putting pressure on Rossi for second place, Biaggi out on the first lap and Gibernau struggling in sixth place, he wisely opted to consolidate his position and extend his advantage to 39 points at the top of the championship.

Now we go to Qatar, which will be an interesting race for so many reasons. It's a long time since we visited a track where nobody has ever been before, not even to test, and with all those jobs still on the line it is an opportunity for somebody to really stake their claim. Unfortunately for Hopkins he's got four races in just over a month to try and earn himself a contract - with broken ribs and stitches in his backside! There is never a good time to get injured, but this is definitely the worse.

But going back to that title battle, there are only two ways Rossi can lose it now – and they are machine failure or rider error. Norick Abe had a breakdown at the weekend and as far as my memory serves it's the first one for Yamaha this season. As we know, Rossi doesn't make many mistakes, so you've got to say it's looking bleak for Biaggi and Gibernau.

However, just think of this. What if it had been Rossi who got wiped out by Capirossi in that first corner instead of Hopkins? And what if it was Rossi who now faced the final four races of the season with broken ribs? Anything can happen in racing so all Sete and Max can do is keep their heads down and try and win every race between now and the end of the season.

Tags:
MotoGP, 2004, CAMEL GRAND PRIX OF JAPAN

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