Mon, 23 Sep 2002

Rossi claims MotoGP title after Brazil win

Brian Homewood, Reuters, Rio de Janeiro

Italy's irrepressible Valentino Rossi won the inaugural MotoGP world title with four races to spare on Saturday by clocking up yet another victory at the rain-soaked Brazilian Grand Prix.

The Honda rider, who won the final 500cc championship last year before it was opened up to more powerful four-stroke machines, claimed his tenth win in 12 outings this season in a dramatic race held in wet, slippery conditions.

The 23-year-old opened up an unassailable lead of 106 points over compatriot and arch-rival Max Biaggi, who finished second in the race for Yamaha and moved up to second in the riders' standings.

It was Rossi's 49th victory in just 104 starts at all levels of grand prix racing and his fourth world title in seven seasons after last year's 500cc crown and the 125cc and 250cc championships he won in 1997 and 1999.

After the race, in one of his trademark staged celebrations, he posed for a 'team photograph' with supporters dressed as the world champion Brazil soccer team.

Rossi began the race needing to score 11 more points than his Japanese teammate Tohru Ukawa, second in the title race at the start of the day.

The title was in the making from the second lap when Ukawa lost control of his bike on a corner and skidded out of the race, while Biaggi, who began in pole position, dropped to third.

American Kenny Roberts, world 500cc champion in 2000, finished third and made his first visit to the podium this season after leading for nearly half the race on his Suzuki.

There was more drama on the 17th lap when Spaniard Carlos Checa overtook Rossi -- only to skid off the track almost immediately.

Rossi then held off the challenge from Biaggi, finishing 1.674 seconds in front of his compatriot.

Earlier, Argentina's Sebastian Porto won his first grand prix at the 103rd attempt in the 250cc race.

Championship leader Marco Melandri of Italy finished fourth but extended his lead to 45 points as nearest challenger Fonsi Nieto of Spain crashed out.