Victory in France for Rossi
Valentino Rossi won a rain-hit French GP at Le Mans to maintain the Honda RCV’s perfect start to the 2002 season.
Crucially, the Italian had taken the lead on lap 21 when he passed team-mate Tohru Ukawa, so when heavy rain started to fall two laps later, Rossi was declared the winner.
Because 75 per cent of the race had been completed, the result was counted back to the end of lap 21, giving Rossi his third win of the season and first at the famous Bugatti circuit.
He had timed his attack on Ukawa perfectly had he left it just a few seconds later he would have lost the race.
Having led from the start, a mistake as drizzle started to fall at Le Mans started on lap 10, Rossi made a mistake that let Ukawa and Max Biaggi through on the rejuvenated Marlboro Yamaha YZR-M1.
Rossi said: " It was a difficult race. Some parts of the track wet while others were dry. I was just lucky to have got the lead when I did. "
Ukawa was second to remain Rossi’s most dangerous title threat, while Biaggi put a miserable start to the season behind him with his first podium.
Improvements to Yamaha’s hi-tech computer-controlled engine braking system had clearly got the M1 back on the pace.
Norick Abe was fourth after Daijiro Kato had crashed out on lap 12, while Carlos Checa crashed on gravel strewn across the surface by an off track excursion for Tetsuya Harada on lap nine.
He was lying fourth and right in the thick of it with the leading bunch.
Briton Jeremy McWilliams scored his first points of the season with a battling 10th place despite rear tyre problems.
1: Valentino Rossi 2: Tohru Ukawa 3: Max Biaggi 4: Norick Abe 5: Kenny Roberts 6: Nobuatsu Aoki 7: Loris Capirossi 8 Alex Barros 9: Regis laconi 10: Jeremy McWilliams 11: John Hopkins 12: Sete Gibernau 13: Shinya nakano 14: Jean Michel Bayle 15: Jurgen Van De Goorbergh 16: Joe Luis Cardoso
DNF: Daijiro Kato, Olivier Jacque, Tetsuya Harada, Carlos Checa.
Fonsi Nieto extended his world 250 championship lead with a second successive win in France today.
Nieto fended off the challenge of Italian Marco Melandri to open up a 17-point lead over Roberto Rolfo who could only finish fifth on the works Honda.
Melandri’s second place showed what a gritty character he is as he rode just two weeks after breaking a bone in his left ankle. Home favourite Randy de Puniet sent the 70,000-strong crowd as he held on to the last podium place despite a late surge from Roberto Locatelli. British rider Jay Vincent scored a solitary point for his battling 15th place, while Honda team-mate Leon Haslam still hasn’t completed a single race lap at Le Mans in three years after his clutch broke on the grid.
1: Fonsi Nieto 2: Marco Melandri 3: Randy De Puniet 4: Roberto Locatelli 5: Roberto Rolfo 6: Toni Elias 7: Emilio Alzamora. 8: Sebastien Porto 9: Alex Debon 10: David Checa 11: Naoki Matsudo 12: Taro Sekiguchi 13 Shahrol Youzy 14: Hector Faubel 15: Jay Vincent.
Not classified: Casey Stoner, Leon Haslam, Franco Battaini, Haruchika Aoki.
Veteran Italian Lucio Cecchinello claimed his second successive 125 victory to throw himself right into world championship contention.
Cecchinello fended off the determined challenge of defending champion Manuel Poggiali to win by just seven-hundreths-of-a-second.
Frenchman Arnaud Vincent retained his world championship lead after he finished fifth, although he might have won the race had he not twice been relegated to seventh due to other rider’s rash riding while battling for the lead.
Teenage Spaniard Daniel Pedrosa completed the podium. British teenager Chaz Davies scored his best ever GP result by claiming 18th, although he was disappointed as once again his Aprilia RS lacked power.
1: Lucio Cecchinello 2: Manuel Pggiali 3: Daniel Pedrosa 4: Arnaud Vincent 5: Masao Azuma 6: Pablo Nieto 7: Stefano Bianco 9: Andreas Dovizioso 10: Gino Borsoi 11: Steve Kenkner 12: Mirko Giansanti 13: Max Sabbatini 14: Klaus Nohles 15: Hector Barbera 16: Andrea Ballerini.
18: Chaz Davies