While all around him disappeared into the gravel, the 22-year old put in lap after lap of controlled riding to win by an eventual ten second margin. The gap had been even bigger - up to half a minute at one point - but a brief sideways moment and the exhortations of his pit-crew finally convinced the Italian that his lead was safe, and he backed off.
In his wake, literally, Gino Borsoi and Masao Azuma battled mightily for a podium place, which became the fight for second when initial leader Lucio Cecchinello went AWOL on lap 15. Almost with each corner, the pair passed and re-passed, with both appearing at times to have made the decisive break. Eventually, however, Borsoi had to settle for third on his first podium visit, as Azuma got the better of him on the final lap.
The duo should have been a trio, as the game Pablo Nieto tagged along until crashing on the 19th tour. It was remarkable that the Derbi rider should have even been in contention for the podium, however, as he had been forced through the gravel on lap one when team-mate Youichi Ui lost it at the opening chicane. Determined to finish in front of his home crowd, and on the local bike, Nieto dragged the battered Derbi out of the gravel for a second time to finish sixth.
He was not the only one to taste the dirt. Going into the race, the clever money was on championship leader Mirko Giansanti being deposed on account of the injury he suffered on Friday but, as it turned out, not one of his closest rivals was left standing at the end. Reigning champion Emilio Alzamora, Italian GP winner Roberto Locatelli and Ui all failed to finish, leaving Giansanti a little happier despite knowing that he will be out of action until Donington at least. Nobby Ueda, Steve Jenkner and Gigi Scalvini all also crashed, while Manuel Poggiali retired his Derbi after a trip through the gravel.
Arnaud Vincent took fourth for Aprilia, ahead of a best ever fifth-place finish for German Reinhold Stolz. Leon Haslam scored his first points with tenth position on the Italjet, but team-mate Jaroslav Hules could not make the most of his ninth place start because of a dead engine on the formation lap.
Race results - MotoGP - Catalunya GP.
Race results - MotoGP - Mugello.
1. Kenny Roberts
Jr USA Telefonica MoviStar Suzuki 24 laps 51mins 31.504secs
2. Norick Abe
Japan Antena 3 Yamaha - d'Antin +4.454secs
3. Valentino Rossi
Italy Nastro Azzuro Honda +9.541secs
4. Nobuatsu Aoki Japan Telefonica MoviStar Suzuki +12.621secs
5. Max Biaggi Italy Marlboro Yamaha Team +17.224secs
6. Loris Capirossi
Italy Emerson Honda Pons +25.906secs
7. Jurgen vd Goorbergh Holland Rizla Honda +45.688secs
8. David De Gea Spain Proton Team KR +62.945secs
9. Tetsuya Harada
Japan Aprilia Grand Prix Racing +81.784secs
10. Yoshiteru Konishi Japan Technical Sports Racing +93.670secs
11. Sebastien LeGrelle Belgium Tecmas Honda Elf +1 lap
12. Jeremy McWilliams
Britain Aprilia Grand Prix Racing +1 lap
13. Regis Laconi France Red Bull Yamaha WCM +1 lap
14. Shane Norval South Africa Sabre Sport Honda +1 lap
15. Tadayuki Okada
Japan Repsol YPF Honda Team +1 lap
16. Garry McCoy
Australia Red Bull Yamaha WCM +2 laps
Rtd Alex Barros
Brazil Emerson Honda Pons 13 laps completed
Rtd Alex Criville
Spain Repsol YPF Honda Team 11 laps completed
Rtd Sete Gibernau
Spain Repsol YPF Honda Team 6 laps completed
Rtd Carlos Checa Spain Marlboro Yamaha Team 5 laps completed
Dns Jose Luis Cardoso Spain Maxon Dee Cee Jeans