The race looked like mirroring the unforgettable Jacque/Nakano fight for the 250cc crown that went right to the flag, at the same circuit, several years ago – but Rossi's move came earlier than Jacque's had and the Doctor hit the front on lap 23 and immediately tried to runaway.
Desperate to respond, Barros had a near escape at turn two when he locked the rear under braking (he would later complain of clutch problems when downshifting) – but it didn't prevent him reeling Rossi right to within 0.2secs as they lapped 0.8secs inside their previous circulation. Now they were really racing…
Onto the penultimate lap and Rossi was also looking ragged – allowing Barros to take the lead back under braking at the Honda hairpin, but the normally supreme late braker ran wide, allowing Rossi to square the turn off and cut back inside.
Final lap and Rossi held firm until Barros caught right up in the run down to Honda hairpin. The Italian read precisely what he was going to do and took a wide line to defend his inside (at the hairpin) as they hit the brakes. Barros, however, didn't back down and forced his way around Rossi, but the angle was so tight to make the turn that he was forced to sit up and hit the brakes hard, rather than try and coax his RCV around the right hander.
The Brazilian went straight on down an escape road and was forced to do a rapid three point turn, before rejoining 10secs behind Rossi, but still in front of the third placed battle. Rossi was therefore handed an easy half a lap in which to cruise to the flag for a well deserved fiftieth GP victory, but behind him the fight was still on…
Ukawa, van den Goorbergh and Kato were still nose-to-tail entering the final lap, but despite his valiant efforts the Dutchman lost out to Kato's four stroke power mid way around, with Ukawa taking third ahead of the Gresini rider for a Repsol one-three. Vd Goorbergh at least had the honour of top two stroke after a difficult season.
Behind him Biaggi took sixth, just ahead of Aoki, after the MYT Sepang victor was never able to threaten the front runners, while Jacque took his first M1 finish in a credible 8th (Nakano was 13th) ahead of Roberts and McWilliams (10th) – if only the Proton pole sitter had got the start he needed and stayed on track…
Home hero Andrew Pitt
finished 17th, just 0.027secs behind John Hopkins
after the American dropped and remounted his Red Bull Yamaha. His team-mate McCoy finished last of the runners in 18th and a lap down.
“50 victories is a dream,” began Rossi with his trademark smile, in the post race press conference. “Today was very difficult with Alex. I'm lucky because I had a great start but at the beginning Barros' rhythm was incredible.
“I waited then went inside and tried to push but he came with me. On the last lap I expected his attack at the hairpin, but there was no way he could turn in time. I'm very happy with this victory because Barros is very hard to race,” added Rossi.