Valentino Rossi made history once again today by becoming the first man ever in the history of the MotoGP World Championship to win consecutive races with different manufacturers after clinching victory on his Yamaha debut at the betandwin.com Africa’s Grand Prix. The Phakisa Freeway circuit in Welkom, South Africa, bore witness to a classic duel between Rossi and his arch nemesis Max Biaggi, who went head to head from the first corner to the last. The reigning World Champion took the holeshot and tried to escape the chasing pack, with Biaggi and Sete Gibernau the only men able to keep the electric pace.
Biaggi made several exciting passes on his compatriot, who responded with his own brand of thrilling overtaking. A brief lull in the stand-off at mid-race, when Biaggi trailed the rear wheel of Rossi to the inch for around ten laps, sparked into another frenetic duel with six laps remaining. Biaggi was again the aggressor from behind, taking control only for Rossi to strike back within corners – the pair swapping positions until three corners from the end, when Rossi played his final ace and snatched victory from the jaws of the Honda rider.
“This was one of the best races of my career,” commented an emotional Rossi, who parked his bike and his extravagant celebrations on the warm-down lap, sinking to his haunches in tears of joy. “It was a great show and a really good battle between myself and Max. My plan was to get a good start and set a high rhythm and I managed to do that. By the end I just tried my best for the win and I was able to do it. All I can say is thanks to all my mechanics and everybody who came with me on this new adventure. Thanks to Yamaha… thanks to everybody!”
With Gibernau reduced to a spectator in a solitary third position, attention switched from the leaders to a gritty comeback from his Honda colleague Alex Barros, who battled back from ninth on the opening lap to seal fourth. The Brazilian overcame his team-mate Nicky Hayden at the halfway stage and broke free of the American youngster, who eventually emerged on top in a skirmish for fifth place with Colin Edwards and Loris Capirossi. Edwards had to settle for seventh place in his first MotoGP appearance with Honda after being overtaken by the Italian Ducati rider with just five laps to go.
Makoto Tamada made it six Hondas in the top eight ahead of Yamaha trio Norick Abe, Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri. Shinya Nakano finished his Kawasaki debut in twelfth place, whilst Shane Byrne was the only MotoGP rookie to score points in fifteenth behind John Hopkins and Troy Bayliss. Felloow newcomers Alex Hofmann and Ruben Xaus crashed and retired respectively. World Superbike Champion Neil Hodgson also retired.