Motorcycling: Doohan ready to deliver

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The Independent Online
Michael Doohan's seemingly inexorable progress towards retaining his world 500cc motorcycling championship title is unlikely to be diverted at today's British Grand Prix. After yesterday's final practice at Donington Park, he gained his eighth successive pole position.

The Australian, on his Repsol Honda, needs only a place in the top seven this afternoon to win the title and join those titans Geoff Duke, John Surtees, Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini and Eddie Lawson, who have won the world crown four times. He would also become only the third rider behind Hailwood and Agostini to achieve that feat in consecutive seasons.

Victory today would be his 10th of the season and at the same time emphasise the reason why 500cc grand prix racing is in need of closer competition. He starts with a massive 116-point lead over Japan's Tadayuki Okada, who also rides one of Honda's works machines. Doohan is not oblivious to the fact that his success is causing the championship to become too predictable, but he intends continuing next season, although possibly after moving to Yamaha.

For this weekend, he is doing his best to give the impression that things are not going well. You would hardly have noticed as he rode a classic practice session yesterday. Admittedly, he made the tiniest of errors on the last bend of his last lap, but long before that he had confirmed pole position.

He blazed into fast times almost from the beginning. After less than 10 minutes getting the feel of the track, with its surface temperature of over 100 degrees, he set a time of 1min 32.872sec, which remained the best of the day and for a long time seemed likely to be the only lap of under 1min 33sec. Eventually, Carlos Checa, also on a Honda, defied the aches and pains of his previous day's crash to put up a remarkable time of 1min 32.93sec, which on paper may appear to give him a chance of having a debate with Doohan today. In reality, the Spaniard is unlikely to be within shouting distance at the finish. Yet another Honda rider, Alex Barros, of Brazil, was third fastest.

Doohan put the falls of several riders yesterday down to the slippery surface, which he points out had nothing to do with dirt. He says the slight lack of adhesion makes it difficult to get messages from the tyres. "The grip here is pretty bad. But the bike was working well and I'm on the front of the grid, so we've just got to treat the race like any other," he said. "After all, we've got five more in which to clinch the title."

At least those last few races of this summer could see Doohan reunited in competition with his Honda colleague Alex Criville, whose serious wrist injuries are almost healed. But the Spaniard is unlikely to be fit enough to put up the sort of challenge seen earlier in the season.

Among the fallers yesterday was Jean-Michel Bayle on the British-built Kenny Roberts Modenas KR3. It was left to Kenny Roberts Jnr to pursue the dream of getting the rapidly improving Modenas bikes on to the front row of the grid this season 18 months after they were still on the drawing- board. He failed, but did well to finish eighth fastest, having been a remarkable fourth in the day's earlier free practice.