It was the race the capacity Mugello crowd came from all over Italy to see – their heroes Valentino Rossi, Loris Capirossi
and Max Biaggi battling relentlessly for 23 laps around the stunning 5.2km circuit for the honour of a home victory.
The trio didn't disappoint, with the reigning World Champion forced to fight right to the flag as Capirossi rode the wheels off his bucking, sliding and wheel-spinning Ducati as he chased the marques first ever GP victory.
Qualifying saw Rossi take revenge on Capirossi by snatching pole with a last gasp lap, which eclipsed an almost identical effort from his compatriot the day before.
It seemed as though there would be a three-way Italian battle for pole as Rossi, Capirossi and Max Biaggi all mounted late attempts, but ultimately only Rossi did enough to edge out the Ducati rider, by 0.027secs.
Capirossi, who claimed he'd sacrificed pole for race set-up as he eyes Ducati's first GP victory, still held second despite not improving over yesterday. Loris was also outdone in the speed stakes, by team-mate Troy Bayliss, who beat the #65's previous benchmark with a scorching 331.1km/h velocity down the main straight.
Surprise of the session was Shinya Nakano, who sprung a surprise attack to split the all-Italian top three and pushed Biaggi down to fourth for the D'Antin rider's first front row start aboard an M1.
Just over half a second covering the top ten, with factory Honda pair Tohru Ukawa and Sete Gibernau
sealing fifth and sixth places on today's grid, just ahead of Yamaha duo Carlos Checa and Olivier Jacque.
The Frenchman relegated Gauloises team-mate Alex Barros
to the third row, where the Brazilian was joined by Makoto Tamada, Bayliss and Marco Melandri.
The new Proton V5 machines qualified 19th and 23rd, at the hands of Jeremy McWilliams
and Nobuatsu Aoki respectively.
Having been warmed up by the 125 and 250cc races – which included a home victory for Lucio Cecchinello and a 'near' home victory for San Marinese Manuel Poggiali - the atmosphere among the sell out Mugello crowd was on knife-edge by the time the 23-rider grid assembled for the main event.