MASTERFUL MELANDRI POWERS TO MAIDEN WIN

Today belonged to 23-year-old Honda hotshot Marco Melandri (Team Movistar Honda RC211V) who won his first MotoGP race from reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) with Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) third.

The 23-lap race got off to a blistering start at this 5.340km track that was new to all riders this weekend. With ambient temperature at 20 degrees and with the track surface at 26 degrees, conditions were ripe for a fierce contest - but no one had an answer to Melandri's sheer pace here.

The Italian had qualified on the front row for the eighth time this season and this time he made sure the victory was his as he scorched into the downhill left-hand turn one with five clear bike-lengths between him and his team-mate Sete Gibernau (Team Movistar Honda RC211V), who eventually finished fourth.

The pattern for the race was set early when Melandri, Gibernau and Hayden made the early running. Rossi got a poor start and had to claw his way up from eighth in the opening lap, but by lap three he was making inroads into Hayden's third place, setting a fastest lap of 1m 53.7 seconds as he did so.

Then it was Gibernau's turn to make the running with a fastest lap as he and Melandri circulated together in a bid to establish supremacy. But Gibernau succumbed to his own enthusiasm as he visited the gravel trap on lap five. The Spaniard rejoined the race in seventh place - but despite a spirited effort he was never going to get back on terms with the front-runners.

Melandri was never going to be denied this victory. He looked smooth and rapid as he made the fastest lap of the race with a 1m 53.11s effort on lap 17. He was carving times in the mid 1m 53s region throughout the race and this was always going to be too hot a pace for anyone to get near him - let alone make a pass.

As Rossi climbed to second past Hayden on lap eight Melandri held a 1.075s lead. This was extended to 1.5 seconds by lap 12 and to a full two seconds by lap 17. It dropped to 1.5 seconds again in the closing laps, but by then he had done more than enough to reap the rewards for his determination to end his first season with Honda in the premier class with a richly deserved win.

He said, "This win in the MotoGP class feels different to winning in the 250s. I liked this track from the first moment I tried it and the team did a great job. After dominating the free sessions I knew I could have a good race, but it's not always that easy. I got away well and even though Sete got past me I was happy to wait as we were opening up a gap on the rest. I want to enjoy this moment and thank Fausto (Gresini) for the confidence he has shown in me, Fabrizio Cecchini, my chief mechanic and everyone at Honda and Michelin."

Hayden said, "That's the first time in MotoGP I've had three consecutive podiums so that's definitely a step forward but to be honest I haven't really had the pace all weekend. In the race I came through much faster than we'd managed during the practice days and for that I'm happy. Congratulations to Marco, he definitely deserves it - we now have a little gap to second place."

For Gibernau, this race was 'so near yet so far'. He said, "This is not my year and it's a shame because the team did a great job this weekend and we had a great chance to take our first win. We have wasted another chance but race after race things have not gone my way. I went off after a mistake; I went into a corner to quickly and tried to brake but couldn't. It cost us dear again."

Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V) finished eighth and said, "Even if I started well, in the first few laps I lost too many positions. I didn't feel enough grip to push more, but after some laps the tyres has reached the ideal temperature and this allowed me to recover a lot thanks to a good race rhythm. Eight doesn't make me happy. I must end the season with a good performance in Valencia."

Alex Barros (Camel Honda RC211V) was ninth. The veteran Brazilian said, "I don't have too much to say other than the fact that I'm disappointed with this race. I'm still in pain from the crash in Australia but not enough to not be able to do better than ninth. In any case, I will try to get a good result in the last race in Valencia."

Chris Vermeulen, standing in for the injured Troy Bayliss (Camel Honda RC211V), finished just outside the top ten in 11th. He said, "We can say that I managed to complete one of my objectives, which was to finish ahead of another Honda, but it's not enough though. I would have had to do much better to be satisfied. As I ride this bike more I realise how many things I still have to learn and that this is building up some great experience for me. Today I got away better than in Phillip Island and I battled with several riders for a few laps. I also committed a few mistakes and one of these allowed Tamada and Nakano to pass me."

Max Biaggi (Repsol Honda RC211V) was 12th. He said, "I never felt comfortable on the bike around here at any point of the weekend. My team tried so many things but nothing seemed to work. I rode as hard as I could on the package we had today and in the end it was only good enough for 12th place. To be in this position hurts me so much."

Casey Stoner (Aprilia) won the 250cc race. The Aussie has now consolidated second overall in the World Championship to Dani Pedrosa (Team Movistar Honda RS250RW) who was second today. Hiroshi Aoyama (Team Movistar Honda RS250RW) was third.

Stoner looked hungry today after the crushing disappointment of a fall at his home race last weekend. Tyre wear was a huge issue and all riders complained of a fierce deterioration of the left side of their rubber - chiefly the front tyres.

But all had to compensate and Stoner and Pedrosa were plainly the men who could best ride around the problem. The pair were eight seconds ahead of the pursuing duo of Alex de Angelis (Aprilia) and Aoyama at mid-distance.

Stoner got the verdict over Dani by just under a tenth of a second at the flag while Aoyama had to cope with a desperate De Angelis leaning on him mid-crash at the final turn. The Italian didn't recover and Aoyama cruised to the podium alone.

Pedrosa said, "The front tyre was gone and so was my confidence in it. I made a mistake staying behind Stoner, but there was little I could do because my engine was not quite as strong as his today. The team did a great job as usual but I just couldn't quite do it today."

His team-mate Aoyama was happy enough with a gritty third and said, "We all had trouble with the front tyres but I was never going to catch Casey and Dani today. I'm sorry about De Angelis' crash, but this third place is as important to me as it was to him."

Lorenzo in fourth said, "We weren't quick all weekend and we could not expect miracles in the race. My battle with Hector and Dovizioso on the last lap would have been spectacular if it had been for victory, but coming fourth is no good to me really. It's not where I want to be."

Fifth-placed Dovi said, "I gave my best today. I started well
but I couldn't keep the pace of the leading group because my bike had some set-up problems. I expected a better Championship race but I had many problems we never solved completely."

Barbera in sixth said, "I am not happy at all. I could have
got on the podium today but the engine just did not perform. We worked well on the chassis, but if the engine doesn't work that doesn't really matter. I followed Pedrosa into the corner, but when we came out on to the straight he pulled half a second on me. I think I was ready to get on to the podium and even win, but it seems instead of moving forward we have taken a step backwards."

Mike Di Meglio (Kopron Racing World Honda RS125R) won the 125cc race, his first Grand Prix win. Mattia Pasini (Aprilia) was second and form rider Tomoyoshi Koyama (Ajo Motorsport Honda RS125R) was third for his second consecutive podium finish in his rookie season.

The big news is that Mika Kallio (KTM), the man mounting the challenge to series points leader Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R) crashed on the last lap. He nearly collected Luthi as he slid across the asphalt, but the Swiss remained composed enough to finish fifth and extend his lead to 23 points with just one round remaining in the series.

Luthi led into turn one with a bold ride around the outside of the pack and he made sure he remained bunched in the lead group of nine riders in the early laps. As the front-running men were whittled down to five riders when Sergio Gadea and Hector Faubel (both Aprilia) eliminated themselves when they tangled and fell at the final turn on lap four, Luthi held station in fourth.

Koyama joined the fight by mid-race of the 19-lap contest while Di Meglio always looked as if he could cope with the pace. Aside from a scare in the closing laps when Luthi dropped back from the tail of the group only to climb back into contention, the Swiss man is now in a strong position to try and clinch the title in Valencia in two weeks time.

Luthi has 235 points to Kallio's 212, with Gabor Talmacsi holding third place overall with 178. The Constructor's World Championhsip shows KTM with 307 points to Honda's 294 with Aprilia on 280.

Mike di Meglio said, "A good race. I'm really happy to be on the top step of the podium. I knew I needed to get to the front in the opening laps and it was a lot of fun in that lead group."

Koyama said, "The team did a great job and gave me a very fast bike. It was tough in the lead group because no one had any real advantage - it was good fun too."

Luthi said, "That was really a very wild race. When I
was leading the lap I was very comfortable on the bike but when I was brought back into the group I was fighting really hard to keep my position. When Mika (Kallio) crashed I missed him by millimeters. I tried my best to win the race but it was not to be for me today."



HONDA TEAM QUOTES:

MotoGP:

Marco Melandri, MoviStar Honda: 1st: "It was an incredible day to cap a great weekend. I can't describe my happiness. I have not won since Valencia in 2002, and since then I've had a difficult couple of years due to injury and misfortune. This win in the MotoGP class feels different to winning in the 250s. I liked this track from the first moment I tried it and the team did a great job. After dominating the free sessions I knew I could have a good race, but it's not always that easy. I got away well and even though Sete got past me I was happy to wait as we were opening up a gap on the rest. Then Sete made a mistake and I found myself on my own at the front and I just concentrated on maintaining my rhythm. I want to enjoy this moment and thank Fausto for the confidence he has shown in me, Fabrizio Cecchini, my chief mechanic and everyone at Honda and Michelin."

Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda: 3rd: "That's the first time in MotoGP I've had three consecutive podiums so that's definitely a step forward but to be honest I haven't really had the pace all weekend. In the race I came through much faster than we'd managed during the practice days and for that I'm happy. The team did a great job and they definitely made a difference. I'm disappointed for the points situation. With Marco having such a great ride - congratulations to him, he definitely deserves it - we now have a little gap to second place. I want to dedicate this podium to a very special friend of mine back home. We all recently found out he's been taken ill and wish him all our best. He's had a huge influence in my career I wouldn't be where I am today without him. Our thoughts are with him."

Sete Gibernau, MoviStar Honda: 4th: ): "Once again it has been demonstrated that this is not my year and it's a shame because the team did a great job this weekend and we had a great chance totake our first win. We have wasted another chance but race after race things have not gone my way. I went off after a mistake; I went into a corner to quickly and tried to brake but couldn't. It cost us dear again."

Makoto Tamada, Konica Minolta Honda: 8th: "Even if I started well, in the first few laps I lost too many positions. I didn't feel the right grip to push more, but after some laps the tyres has reached the ideal temperature and this allowed me to recover a lot thanks to a good race rhythm. The eight position doesn't make me happy. I want to end the season with a good performance in Valencia and give some satisfaction to the Konica Minolta Honda Team."

Alex Barros, Camel Honda: 9th: "I don't have too much to say other than the fact that I'm disappointed with this race. I'm still in pain from the crash in Australia but not enough to not be able to do better than ninth. In any case, I will try to get a good result in the last race in Valencia."

Chris Vermeulen, substitute rider for Troy Bayliss at Camel Honda: 11th: "We can say that I managed to complete one of my objectives, which was to finish ahead of another Honda, but it's not enough though. I would have had to do much better to be satisfied. As I ride this bike more I realise how many things I still have to learn and that this is building up some great experience for me. Today I got away better than in Phillip Island and I battled with several riders for a few laps. I also committed a few mistakes and one of these allowed Tamada and Nakano to pass me. For a few laps I lost my rhythm a bit, and only in the last part of the race did I feel much better again. I closed in on Nakano but not enough to get past him. As I said, it's all experience which will help me improve, whether it's in setting up the bike or in racing, especially if I get the chance to ride again in Valencia."

Max Baggi, Repsol Honda: 12th: "I never felt comfortable on the bike around here at any point of the weekend. My team tried so many things but nothing seemed to work. I rode as hard as I could on the package we had today and in the end it was only good enough for 12th place. To be in this position hurts me so much. My spirit is gone here and I can only hope we have some small piece of sunlight in Valencia to end this season that I want to forget on some sort of a reasonable note."



250cc:

Dani Pedrosa, MoviStar Honda: 2nd: "It was a difficult race, especially at the start, when there was a bit of confusion as the riders went into the first corner. On the warm-up lap I noticed the bike wasn't as quick as I would have liked. I remebered what my mechanics had told me, but it's difficult to make adjustments on the grid. I was crowded at the start and as everyone headed into the first turn I had to break hard and four riders got in front of me. Stoner took advantage of that to get a lead of more than one second and so I had to react and do everything to catch him quickly. But I noticed that, especially at some corners, it was really hard to close him down. The tyres were skidding a bit as mine were hard. Towards the end we both had problems with the front tyre as they had worn more on the left side than we thought they would. When I caught him I was behind him for a while but he was still faster. I would have liked to win and think with a bit more power we could have done so. Now we are going to head home and relax for a while so we get to Valencia in the best shape possible."

Hiroshi Aoyama, MoviStar Honda: 3rd: "It was a tough race, as I expected, but I am proud to be on the podium. I really wanted to do so after getting up there in the last few races and the team really worked hard to enable me to do so. These races are very important for me and today we did a good job. On the last lap I blocked off all De Angelis' moves; in the end we touched and I was worried I might have fallen. Now we are heading back home and I'm looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere and ending the season well at Valencia."

Jorge Lorenzo, Fortuna Honda: 4th. "We weren't quick all weekend and we could not expect miracles in the race. My battle with Hector and Dovizioso on the last lap would have been spectacular if it had been for victory, but coming fourth is no good to me really. It's not where I want to be. In the warm-up this morning we improved a bit, but in the race the problems with the front-end flared up again. We had the same problems in Australia, but they were worse here. We'll see if we can improve in Valencia."

Andrea Dovizioso, Scot Honda: 5th. "I gave my best today. I started well but I couldn't keep the pace of the leading group because my bike had some setting problems. I expected a better Championship race but I had many set up problems we never solved completely."

Hector Barbera, Fortuna Honda: 6th. "I am not happy at all. I could have got on the podium today but the engine just did not perform. We worked well on the chassis, but if the engine doesn't work that doesn't really matter. I followed Pedrosa into the corner, but when we came out on to the straight he pulled half a second on me. I think I was ready to get on to the podium and even win, but it seems instead of moving forward we have taken a step backwards. On the last lap I got in front of Lorenzo and Dovizioso but knew that later on they would be able to pass me."

Alex Debon, Wurth Honda BQR: 12th. "I'm not happy, very angry in fact. I got a good start and was running in ninth place but on lap five Cardenas ran into me and put me off the track. That cost me so much time and many places and I had to fight hard to take 12th place. It was a pity because the bike was running very good today, we could have taken a lot more points from this race."

Jakub Smrz, Molenaar Honda: 15th. "We could not find a solution to the front end vibration I had on my best bike in qualifying. I had to use the back up machine but it doesn't handle as well as my best bike and didn't have enough power at top rpm. My start was not good but I won a few places at the first corner. At one point I was racing with Debon but he was very late on the brakes and I couldn't get passed him. Then Ballerini and Giansanti caught me but I was having problems with the shifter coming off the turns late in the race and they got away from me."

Dirk Heidolf, Kiefer Castrol Honda: 16th. "I don't really like this circuit too much and right from free practice I had a few problems getting good lap times. The engine was not so bad and worked well today but I ran with the hard compound tyre and that was a mistake. When De Puniet crashed I had to avoid the confusion and after that I never found a good race rhythm and I didn't ride well. A poor race from me after such a good one in Australia."

Arturo Tizon, Wurth Honda BQR: 18th. "I am still learning to ride and set up the 2-stroke. I'm happy with today. In the race I had some problems with the rear tyre sliding while I was expecting the front to go first. The bike was sliding badly and I almost crashed twice, once in the middle of the race the second time near the end of the race. I have improved from Phillip Island so I have to be pleased with my performance."

Yuki Takahashi, Scot Honda: dnf - crash. "Despite a good start I lost contact with the leading group: the gap between me and them increased and I couldn't keep their rhythm. After Guintoli and Locatelli passed me I tried to follow their slipstream. During the last lap, in corners 3 and 7, I tried to overtake them but in the eighth corner I lost the front and I crashed out. Now I have a bruise at the right wrist but it is nothing serious."



125cc:

Mike Di Meglio, Kopron Racing World Honda: 1st. "It was a funny and fair race but very difficult for all the leading group. I started very well, my bike was very fast and I had the same pace of Luthi and Kallio: the most important thing was to keep the contact with them. I made a clever race. I had only two hesitations: the last, in the last corner where I almost lost the front but I managed to arrive first despite Pasini was in my slipstream. I'm very, very happy and I thank my team for the good job they have done during these two years together: now I'm more mature."

Tomoyoshi Koyama, Ajo Motorsport Honda: 3rd. "That was a very hard and tough race for me and I'm really happy with the result. We had some problems in practice and qualifying, the engine was not accelerating and I had a front suspension problem. The team found the acceleration I needed and we found good suspension settings by softening the springs on the front forks springs and changing the rebound. I didn't get a good start and had to work hard to catch the lead group. I was running the same times as the best but the leaders were slowing each other and I caught them. I'm very pleased for myself and the team."

Thomas Luthi, Elit Honda: 5th. "That was really a really wild race. When I was leading the lap I was very comfortable on the bike but when I was brought back into the group I was fighting really hard to keep my position. The bike was not as good as yesterday in the first three gears but top speed was good. I made a mistake under breaking and went to the back of the group and from then on it was too wild. When Mika (Kallio) crashed I missed him by millimetres. I tried my best to win the race but it was not to be for me today."

Fabrizio Lai, Kopron Racing World Honda: 7th. "The bike today had good engine performance but during the first lap I lost the contact with the leaders and then I made all the race in the second group. There was a long duel with Simoncelli but I had problems with the rear suspension and then we also touched during the last lap. So I preferred to do not lose important points for the championship."

Alvaro Bautista, Seedorf RC3 Tiempo Holidays Honda: 12th. "Not an easy race for me. I got a good start and was quickly catching the second group. I got close to Iannone and Poggiali but riding alone without the slipstream is very difficult and I could not catch them particularly because my rear tyre was sliding a lt. On the positive side I was faster than in qualifying and I felt good on the bike."

Sandro Cortese, Kiefer-Bos-Castrol Honda: 14th. "That was very good, great to fight for positions with the others. My start was god and I was 18th at the end of the first lap racing with Poggiali and Iannone. After about six laps the bike was sliding on the left side of the tyre and I slowly dropped back from them. It became a lonely race for me. Once they were five seconds ahead of me and I had five seconds over the rides behind I just tried to hold my position and finish in the points."

Aleix Espargaro, Seedorf RC3 Tiempo Holidays Honda: 17th. "I got a very bad start and had to push too hard to make up positions. But after four laps I had used up too much of my tyres and was sliding badly. I just couldn't fight any harder because of the rear tyre, I nearly crashed a few times."

Sacha Hommel, Molenaar Honda: 26th. "My start was good and in contrast to the previous two races I raced for the team before today I could ride the full race distance. At Qatar the ignition failed and I crashed on the first lap in Australia. My lap times were not so bad today but I could not hold the group ahead of me. With five laps to go my rear tyre was finished but I'm happy I finished the race but sad that I was so far behind the group."

Alexis Masbou, Ajo Motorsport Honda: dnf - technical problem. "I am quite disappointed with the result of today. I was having a good race, always in the group fighting for the places between eighth and 12th place. But with five laps to go the engine seized and I was out. It had been getting slower on the laps before it stopped."

Source: Honda Motor Company, Ltd - Motor Sports Division, Tokyo, Japan

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