Motorcyling: Biaggi's hollow `victory' anulled

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The Independent Online
IT BEGAN in an atmosphere of acrimony and ended in uproar, the implications of which could long reverberate through the Blue Ribboned class. Michael Doohan secured victory at yesterday's 500cc Catalunya Grand Prix here but leading him over the finishing line was Max Biaggi. The upstart Italian had ignored a black flag, however, issued after both he and the Brazilian Alex Barros had also failed to respond to a stop-and-go penalty. Biaggi's Honda team immediately lodged an appeal against his disqualification.

The shattering blow to Biaggi's championship ambitions on lap 16 was for overtaking on a yellow flag following a three-machine pile-up on the race's first corner. "I'm obviously very upset about what happened," the distressed Italian said. "I felt very good before the race; I was leading and I thought I could win. I feel like I deserve the 25 points."

In finishing the race, Biaggi was making a perverse point, but the "victory" was emphatically a Pyrrhic one. The 25 points went to Doohan, while the Italian was unclassified and earned nothing but further rancour. Doohan now leads Biaggi in the title standings by 21 points with three rounds remaining. Biaggi's hopes of a first 500cc title in his debut season in the class now appear forlorn.

The pre-race exchanges between Doohan and Biaggi were as vicious as the unrelenting Catalan sun, which lifted temperatures into the 90's. Having rubbed his nose in the Imola dirt in front of the Italian's home crowd in Round 11, Doohan showed that four titles have not eased a cantankerous nature by responding to some inflammatory comments from Biaggi with a liberal application of verbal rocket fuel. "He carries on like a baby. I've had enough of his excuses," the 33-year-old fumed.

Biaggi then waded in with his own terse opinions, that Doohan was too old to handle the pre-race pressure. With all the petulant sparring going on, the attention was diverted away from the local favourite and only other championship contender, Alex Criville.

Second in the previous round at Imola the quiet, undemonstrative Catalan produced a blistering qualifying time to steel both pole position and the warring Biaggi and Doohan's thunder. It also considerably boosted the gate receipts, the passionate locals responding to their hero's challenge with jeers and whistles each time Doohan steamed past the galleries, as a crowd of 82,000 packed the circuit for its highest-ever attendance.

Criville's race was also to end in disappointment. On the first bend of the long starting straight he was scythed down by the tumbling Suzuki of Katsuaki Fujiwara, which also put Jean-Michael Bayle out of the race. Out came the yellow flag and the failure of Barros and Biaggi to heed as they tussled for first position, ultimately leading to their disqualification.

Barros eventually returned to the pits but Biaggi remained at the head of the field as Doohan trailed in his wake to a bizarre victory.

Results, Digest page 22