500 GP wins for Honda
Honda notched up their 500th victory in Grand Prix motorcycle racing on April 8th, 2001.
It was a 22-year-old Valentino Rossi that took the chequered flag on that momentous occasion which unfolded at the opening round of the 2001 season at Suzuka.
Loris Capirossi had taken pole, also on a Honda, while Rossi qualified seventh. 25 riders entered the race, including three Australians, the aforementioned Garry McCoy who took second, while Mark Willis and Marcus Payten failed to finish the race. Almost half the field failed to finish the race that day, which serves as a reminder as to just how challenging the two-stroke era was.
We include our full race report from that event below so you can re-live the event now, almost two decades later.
2001 Grand Prix 500
Round 1 – Suzuka – Race Report
As written live by Trevor Hedge during the race back in 2001
A perfect run for Honda so far today with wins in both 125 (Masao Azuma) and 250 (Daijiro Kato) to set up the possibility of the company taking it’s 500th GP win. And if they can do it here today on their home soil then the achievement would seem that much sweeter I am sure. But a whole bunch of Yamaha riders will be out to stop them including Max Biaggi and Garry McCoy. Suzuki’s Kenny Roberts and Sete Gibernau have been struggling a little this weekend and it seems unlikely that either of them will be front-runners in this race.
Loris Capirossi stunned all in final qualifying yesterday by going eight-tenths quicker than any one else, but can he hold that type of speed in the race? That is the largest gap between P1 and P2 qualifiers since Doohan’s pole at the Czech GP in 1997.
The 500 season is underway!
They all got away well, Biaggi leading them through turn 1 but Capirossi moved through to the lead in turn as Nakano, Abe, McCoy, Roberts, Barros, Haga gave chase. Chris Walker was in the dirt. Nakano then went through on Biaggi for second, and McCoy moved up to fourth.
McCoy nearly made a pass on Biaggi into the 130R turn which would have been absolutely amazing if he pulled it off, but decided to wait a couple more corners before making his move, he then did so and took that third place from Biaggi. Criville ran off into the dirt but managed to rejoin. McCoy then went around the outside of Nakano, the boy from Camden is on fire!
Capirossi still out in front but being stalked by McCoy, there we go, McCoy through for the lead on lap two. Rossi is fighting his way through the field and now up to fifth, a lap later he makes another move and takes fourth.
McCoy, Nakano, Biaggi, Rossi, Capirossi, Abe, Ukawa is the race order. McCoy is really throwing that Red-Bull Yamaha around. Valentino tries to put a move on Biaggi but could not make it stick. Haga makes a fantastic fast move into fifth.
Through the chicane Biaggi and Rossi were leaning on each other, then onto the straight Biaggi forced Rossi out on to the dirt with elbows right out, an obvious aggressive move to force Rossi into the dirt but all is fair in love and war and Max can’t be criticised for that. Haga and Ukawa are having a great battle and swapping places for 5th.
Rossi tries again on Biaggi but Max simply closes the door again which slowed Valentino and allowed Ukawa to challenge him, but the Italian held him out.
Rossi finally gets through with an aggressive move on Biaggi in retaliation for the earlier elbows incident, great racing, get stuck in boys. Rossi even hung a finger at Biaggi when he got in front of him.
Rossi through on Nakano for 2nd and rushing into the corners so hot, he nearly put a move on McCoy as well. It looks to be a matter of time, there he goes, Rossi hits the lead. McCoy slip-streams him down the straight and nearly gets him back but Rossi holds him out. Biaggi up into 3rd and Haga 4th.
Lap 7 and Ukawa through on Haga for 4th. Rossi opening a gap now at just over one-third race distance. Biaggi through on McCoy for second, if he can catch up to Rossi stand-by for some serious elbow action, bring it on…..
McCoy makes a bit of a mistake and Haga is right on his case now, the Red-Bull Yamaha’s look to be joined at the frame. Biaggi is trying really hard, it looks as though he has decided he will catch Rossi or crash trying.
Rossi, Biaggi, McCoy, Ukawa, Haga, Abe, Nakano is the race order now after nine of the 21 laps. Biaggi the fastest man that time around. Ukawa through on McCoy for third.
Somebody in the dirt, Haga maybe, yep Haga in the dirt it looked as though he lost the front, the same as he did yesterday during qualifying and making it three crashes for the weekend. Haga looks unhurt.
Ukawa now the fastest man on the track and hounding Biaggi, this will of course help race leader Rossi. McCoy falling a bit behind the leading trio now. Reigning world champion Kenny Roberts in 9th. Ukawa and Biaggi fighting hard, Ukawa forces his way through, an aggressive move.
The next lap Ukawa ran a little wide which left him off line for the next turn which allowed Max to go round the outside of him. This battle for second is doing great things for Rossi’s lead which is now well over two-seconds.
Ukawa through on Biaggi in the chicane for second. Biaggi looks to be fading a little, perhaps his tyres worn out from the chase, McCoy should take him shortly. Six-laps remaining.
McCoy through on Biaggi for third at the end of the main straight. Let’s hope McCoy has got his second wind and can make some ground on Nakano.
Mark Willis in the pits with what looks like mechanical problems. Bad luck for Mark, but at least they completed plenty of laps to give them some direction for the bikes development. Only 15 riders now left in the race.
Rossi has over three-seconds on the now second placed McCoy who just relegated Ukawa to third.
Ukawa, HUGE highside, I saw it from the onboard rear-facing camera on McCoy’s bike and it looked savage, a chill went down my spine with the force of that impact. He is hurt but conscious, god knows how…. Biaggi had to do a major emergency braking maneuver to avoid the ensuing carnage. That happened so quick and Ukawa had absolutely no chance of saving it, a crash like that will surely take some getting over both physically, but maybe even more importantly, mentally…
Rossi has 3.5-seconds over the second placed McCoy. Abe through on Nakano for third. Biaggi pushed back to fourth by Abe.
Two laps to run and Rossi still has over three-seconds on McCoy, who now has around half-a-second over the third placed Abe. Biaggi just went so sideways on the way out of a left hander, not the fastest way around but absolutely beautiful, I could watch that all day.
Final lap and Rossi has this thing wrapped up if nothing untowards happens. What sort of celebration will we see?
Biaggi on a last lap charge, through on Abe and after McCoy. Hold on Garry…. Abe is coming back at Biaggi.
Rossi has a look behind him as he exits the chicane, Rossi wins, McCoy 2nd, Biaggi 3rd.
Rossi will be the golden boy tonight in the Honda camp. Honda’s 500th GP win.
MotoGP 500cc 2001
Round One – Suzuka – Race Results
- Valentino Rossi – Honda
- Garry McCoy – Yamaha +0.724
- Max Biaggi – Yamaha +0.956
- Norick Abe – Yamaha +1.176
- Shinya Nakano – Yamaha +3.256
- Alex Barros – Honda +14.515
- Kenny Roberts – Suzuki +22.876
- Loris Capirossi – Honda +28.732
- Alex Criville – Honda +34.478
- Carlos Checa – Yamaha +53.765
- Jurgen vd Goorberg – Proton KR +58.688
- Haruchika Aoki – Honda +77.338
- Leon Haslam – Honda +77.681
DNF – Jason Vincent – Pulse
DNF – Tohru Ukawa – Honda
DNF – Mark Willis – Pulse
DNF – Akira Ryo – Suzuki
DNF – Olivier Jacque – Yamaha
DNF – Noriyuki Haga – Yamaha
DNF – Sete Gibernau – Suzuki
DNF – Barry Veneman – Honda
DNF – Johan Stigefelt – Sabre
DNF – Jose Luis Cardoso – Yamaha
DNF – Chris Walker – Honda
2001 Grand Prix 500 – Round 1 – Quotes – Suzuka
Valentino Rossi – 1st – “This is the first time I ever had any luck at Suzuka, now I finally had some good luck and my thanks to Honda and my team. I’ve only won three GPs for Honda but now I will be in the history books! “I got a good start but after a few laps I felt pretty tired, so I just kept pushing. I had a big fight with Nori (Haga, Yamaha), Alex (Barros, West Honda Pons) and Max and then finally I had the track to myself. I found it hard to pull away but suddenly I saw I had 3.5 seconds on everyone. I had a few scary moments touching other riders, including one time when I went on the grass! The 500 class is so tough now, no one wants you to overtake, especially guys like Haga, Barros and Biaggi. As soon as they see you, they let their brakes off!”
Garry McCoy – 2nd – “I think I just left it all a little too late, I knew this wasn’t a track where you could really make a break and pull away so I opted to sit back and settle into a rhythm. When I started seeing everyone else moving around I felt it was time to make my move and went after Rossi. I felt comfortable, and I could see I was catching him, but I just couldn’t do it in the time I’d left myself.”
Max Biaggi – 3rd – “I’m glad to have finished this race, it was hard racing out there and no one wanted to give anything. There were many different lines out there, and plenty of contact going on, so I’m more than happy with third. “For the past two years I have not scored points at the first GP. It’s been on my mind that I must finish the first two races without injury. Since it was the first race of the year, and the last race here at Suzuka for a two-stroke only GP, there was a great deal of pressure.”
Norick Abe – 4th – “It has been a very difficult weekend and I’m not too happy because my goal was to win, you can be fast in qualifying but the important issue is to be fast in the race. For me it was rear grip problems making it difficult to overtake.”
Shinya Nakano – 5th – “The start was good today, but I did play it safe and let Biaggi through to second. For the first half of the race my bike was perfect, but after that my front tyre started to feel tired and I settled for fifth place, we’ll have to get used to racing with harder compound tyres in the future, but I’m very happy with our debut.”
Kenny Roberts – 7th – “I had some sort of a vibration problem from the warm-up lap – I asked the guys to check to see if the tyres were out of round on the start line, but that wasn’t it. I guess some of the other guys also had chatter problems. We also have a problem of a lack of development to the motorcycle. In spite of a lot of hard work, we need to keep working to improve. Adding it all up, I got lucky. I should have done worse, but other people falling off gave us places.”
Alex Criville – 9th – “I started well, but at the end of the main straight, I had to hit the rear brake, and several other riders got past me. I overtook Gibernau in the following lap, and when I found myself riding behind Checa, I upped the pace a bit in order to stay with him and the group in front of me, and I ran off the track. I managed to hold on and stay upright, but obviously I dropped far back. From this moment on, all I could do was to maintain a consistent pace and pass other riders, which finally rewarded me with ninth position. The result isn’t good, but at least I’m leaving this Grand Prix with confidence, and it is clear to me that this was only the beginning.”
Carlos Checa – 10th – “We’ve had some issues this weekend, namely the fever I had during the first two days, after I had dealt with Kenny Roberts I had my sights set on Barros. I tried to make up time in other areas of the track because the bike didn’t feel quite right in the chicane, but as it ended up I lost the front anyway. I think we can hope to do much better at Welkom.”
Jurgen Van Den Goorbergh – 11th – “It went more or less as expected, and the points are very welcome. We were at a disadvantage all weekend, with just four hours of practice to get the bike set up, where the others already had three days. We had a reasonable set-up, but the standard of 500 racing is so high now that you need a good set-up to get a good result. The best part was how I was able to stay with Alex’s Honda until I lost his draft. Until then I could stay with him on the straight. Then I was alone again, and the lap times were not so good. The most important thing was to finish and get some points. I’m really looking forward to the next round in South Africa. We will start off more equal, because nobody has tested there – and the track should suit us well.”
Tohru Ukawa – DNF – “Fortunately, I didn’t break any bones, I’m just bashed and bruised all over my body and my left ankle is hurting. Today was a great day for Honda, because they could celebrate their 500th victory in Grand Prix racing at their home event. Today was my first race in the 500 class, and I realised quickly that it has nothing to do with 250 racing. In the 250’s, there were only four or five riders able to fight for victory, but in the 500 class, there are many more competitive riders. I had a lot of fun during the race today, and I did the fastest lap just before I went down. I thought I could make the break and get away from this group, but then I crashed. That’s racing, but I will be perfectly okay for the South African Grand Prix.”
Sete Gibernau – DNF – “The first laps were chaos, and without the horsepower I was having trouble passing people. Then I started to push the front and rear tyres real bad. Without more development, the bike wasn’t ready to race with the leading group, and I understood that and decided to follow Kenny and go for a finish. Then I kept making the same mistake out of the chicane, taking neutral instead of second gear, which was losing me almost a second every time. That really upset my rhythm, and I was trying too hard to make up the time again each lap. That’s why I ran off at another point on the track.”
Olivier Jacque – DNF – “I got a good start, but the idea of being surrounded by others, especially into the first corner was pretty stressful. For the first few laps I spent more time looking behind me before I realised I was strong enough to rider harder. But after eight laps my wrist support started to bother me, so I pulled in.”
Noriyuki Haga – DNF – “I’m disappointed. I did the best with what I had on the day but when I hit the white line there was nothing I could do to save it.”
Jean-Luis Cardoso – DNF – “I had made a good start and was getting settled in when suddenly a bike hit me as I went into the chicane and I crashed. That’s racing and these things can happen, but I hope not to me, again.”