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Rossi’s First 500 GP Title is Also The Last

With two rounds remaining, Honda’s enormously gifted Valentino Rossi won the 500 GP championship yesterday at Phillip Island, Australia. Needing only eighth place to secure the championship over Yamaha’s Max Biaggi, Rossi nevertheless went for the victory and obtained it in stunning style — just one-hundredth of a second ahead of Biaggi at the checkered flag.

This is the last 500 GP championship before the rules change next year to allow 990cc four-strokes in the premier class, which will be known as MotoGP.

Just as many great basketball players and hockey players were forced, by fate, to operate in the shadows of Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, so too may Max Biaggi find frustrations in his rivalry with young Rossi. Rossi shows all the signs of dominating the world of motorcycle roadracing for many years to come. While many champions would have settled for a comfortable eighth place, Rossi went for the win from the outset at Phillip Island, and took great risks (bar banging was everywhere on the track) to win the race. Rossi seems to know he is destined for greatness, and was comfortable with the risks.

Since riding a four-stroke is typically easier than riding a 500cc V-4, two-stroke (indeed, everything is easier than riding one of these machines), there is no reason to doubt that Rossi will be the man to beat next year, as well. Honda indicates it has developed a system to progressively remove engine braking from its V-5, four-stroke machine developed for Rossi and a teammate next year. Rossi, who has spent his life on two-strokes, should be devastatingly quick on the machine. Engine braking seems to be the one variable that poses problems for two-stroke experts switching to four-strokes.