Rossi whips low-powered Yamaha to finish on top

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Valentino Rossi, Italy's effervescent motorcycling superstar, swept to victory in the British MotoGP at Donington Park yesterday, and left his rivals wondering what they must now do to stop his championship charge.

The 25-year-old had such a comfortable lead that he slowed down on the approach to the finish line in order to stage a mammoth stand-up wheelie as he extended his title lead.

He beat Honda's Colin Edwards, who took the first podium position of his MotoGP career, by 2.94sec, with Spain's Sete Gibernau in third.

"I made a good start on the first lap, but I couldn't get a good feeling from my rear tyre because it was cold," Rossi said. "Then after two laps I got the feeling back, and I was able to overtake and open up a gap. I had problems when some soft rain fell, but everybody else slowed down and fortunately the good weather came back."

Edwards, the former World Superbike champion who has been criticised for his lack of success in MotoGP, responded to his second place in ebullient fashion: "To all the naysayers, I'm up here, I'm back and I'm ready."

Gibernau saw Rossi's championship lead stretch to 22 points, but was content with his finish after crashing in the two previous rounds. "We couldn't find a good set-up this weekend," he said. "But last night we changed everything on the bike, and it worked. This is much more than I could have expected on a track that I don't like." Rossi dominated qualifying, but this was a race no one could predict. He gained his fourth pole position of the year in dry conditions, where his controlled aggression chopped 2.02sec from the circuit record.

But Australian Troy Bayliss led the wet warm-up session on Ducati's V4 Desmosedici, and Gibernau, who excels in the rain, finished second. Briton Shane Byrne, who had qualified only 17th, also sparkled, finishing ninth on Aprilia's three-cylinder bike. Yamaha, however, are still having problems finding a good wet-weather set-up for Rossi, and he trailed in ninth place, 3.5sec behind Bayliss.

The roulette wheel of British weather eventually gave the riders a dry track.

Rossi gunned into the lead as they rounded the first turn at Redgate, but Loris Capirossi put a Ducati ahead in a MotoGP race for the first time this season with an audacious swoop on the downhill Craner Curves.

On the second lap Rossi performed one of his trademark overtaking manoeuvres: he split from the pack on the entrance to the Esses and regained the lead.

Now he focused on building a gap. After six laps he was 1.19sec ahead of Edwards. By nine laps the cushion was 1.5sec, and by 18 laps 2.15sec. His four-cylinder Yamaha lacks power compared to the five-cylinder Hondas, but Rossi's skills and crew chief Jeremy Burgess's bike settings had eliminated the disadvantage.

With eight laps remaining Edwards trailed Rossi by more than three seconds. Max Biaggi, only one point behind Rossi before this race, had a disastrous day. Only eighth fastest in qualifying, he pulled up to seventh, but dropped to 13th place with gearbox problems on his Honda.

Britain's World Superbike champion Neil Hodgson started from the fifth row of the grid in 13th place on his year-old Ducati, but he was determined to reward the 81,000 fans who lined the Leicestershire circuit. By lap 14 he was in 12th place, 1.8sec behind Ruben Xaus, his team-mate in the Madrid-based d'Antin squad. Six laps later he had ground his way past Xaus - an important blow in the psychological war between team-mates. And when Norick Abe joined the so-called "Craner Club" by plunging off his Yamaha on the downhill swoop, Hodgson made 10th place, his goal for the weekend.

Byrne also performed well on a bike that was not competitive with the leaders, working his way from 17thon the grid to 14th.

Now the MotoGP circus heads for Czechoslovakia on 22 August. Hodgson needs more finishes that will guarantee his future in MotoGP, and Byrne will seek a 2005 ride that better matches his talent. Suzuki's fast-improving V4 - American John Hopkins finished eighth on one at Donington - could suit him.