Rossi secures Yamaha victory

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Yamaha's new signing Valentino Rossi left a six-man fleet of Honda riders struggling to find excuses when he won the opening round of the 2004 MotoGP championship in South Africa yesterday.

The 25-year-old Italian beat his Honda rival Max Biaggi by 0.21sec after 28 laps of the 2.6-mile Welkom circuit. Other Honda riders Sete Gibernau, Alex Barros and Nicky Hayden filled the next three places.

After he gave Yamaha their first grand prix victory in 18 races, Rossi leapt from his bike and kissed its fairing.

But Biaggi said: "We have a new chassis and we have not been able to test it properly. We have to learn a little more about the secrets of this bike."

Gibernau added: "We were having a lot of chatter from the chassis. We can put one or two laps together, but then the chatter makes me make mistakes."

It was Rossi's 60th grand prix win. "It is strange to describe my emotions about this one," he said. "It is different to all the victories." Rossi, who is trying to give Yamaha their first world title since 1992, had qualified in pole position, and led from the start on his four-cylinder bike.

Biaggi took the lead three times on his five-cylinder machine, but could not resist Rossi's charge in the final laps.

The British Superbike champion Shane Byrne scored a point in his grand prix debut with 15th place on a factory Aprilia, but his compatriot Neil Hodgson, the current World Superbike champion, dropped out of 13th position on lap 13 when his Ducati leaked oil.

Elsewhere, in San Marino, Carl Fogarty's Foggy Petronas team achieved their best finish in a World Superbike event when Troy Corser rode the three-cylinder FP1 bike to second place in the first of the two races in San Marino yesterday.

The Briton James Toseland, who qualified 20th on the factory Ducati, lost the championship lead when he finished in 10th and sixth places. The Italian Pierfrancesco Chili now heads the series with 97 points, and Toseland is second with 77. France's Regis Laconi, winner of race one ahead of Corser, moved to third with 70 points.

Laconi, also riding a factory Ducati, edged Corser by 1.9sec and Chili by 7.4sec. In race two Chili stormed to victory following a bad start, chasing down an 11-second lead to beat Laconi by 1.4sec and the third-placed Australian Steve Martin by 32.2 sec. Corser finished seventh in the second run, with a gap of 48.5 seconds from Chili.

It was the 17th career win in World Superbikes for Chili, a 39-year-old who used to compete in the rival 500cc World Motorcycle Championship.