Rossi stuns Gibernau for crown

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The Independent Online

Imagine that Michael Schumacher had abandoned his comfortable seat at Ferrari at the end of 2003, joined an under-performing team such as BAR or Sauber, and won the Formula One championship for them in 2004.

Imagine that Michael Schumacher had abandoned his comfortable seat at Ferrari at the end of 2003, joined an under-performing team such as BAR or Sauber, and won the Formula One championship for them in 2004. That is the equivalent of Valentino Rossi's astounding achievement in clinching the MotoGP world championship for Yamaha here in Australia yesterday.

The Italian prodigy won his sixth world title at the age of 25 when he beat his Honda rival Sete Gibernau in a breathtaking last-lap duel. The audacity of Rossi's campaign now places him among the very greatest of motorcycle and car racers.

He had won the MotoGP title for Honda from 2001 to 2003, but became bored with the lack of challenge. So he switched to Yamaha, and took a motorcycle that had achieved only one podium position in 16 races in 2003, and destroyed the reputation of his previous employer. The Australian victory was Rossi's eighth of the season.

It is the mischievous madness of Rossi's approach to racing that has made him a legend. He needed only to finish second yesterday to claim the title with a race in hand before the final round in Spain in two weeks. Yet he engaged in a gigantic tussle for the lead with Gibernau, risking a crash as the pair swooped around MotoGP's second-fastest circuit at 200mph.

The victory leaves Rossi with an unassailable 35-point lead and only Gibernau had the tenacity to challenge Rossi this year. Yesterday he ripped into the lead from the start and Rossi barged into second place.

For 18 laps Rossi held in the exhaust blast of the Honda. On lap 19 he squeezed past. On lap 22 Gibernau got back in front. Rossi then closed a five-length gap on the straight and dived inside his opponent. Gibernau retaliated as Rossi ran wide.

But the Italian broke through for a final time, to give Yamaha their first world title since 1992.

Even off the bike and with the championship secure, Rossi continued the psychological warfare that has become his hallmark. He donned a white helmet and a white T-shirt bearing the legend "Che spettaculo," (What a show!).

"It was a good battle and we tried our best," Gibernau conceded. Rossi offered no eye contact to his rival and referred only to the Spaniard as "Gibernau". "Next year will be harder," Rossi said.

¿ British teenager Chaz Davies achieved the highest finishing position of his career with sixth place in the 250cc race.

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