But behind them the #46 was looming, and wit three laps to go he outbraked Nakano for fifth into turn one, then dispatched Checa a few turns later, before setting his sights on Biaggi (who'd been slipstreamed by Gibernau on the main straight). He arrived on the Camel rider's rear wheel at the end of the back straight and again took no prisoners as he immediately dived inside the Roman for third into the uphill left-hander.
Biaggi wasn't having that and returned the move mere metres later – only for Rossi to immediatley re-pass him on the entry to the final fast right-handers.
A truly fantastic lap by Vale was made complete when he took second from Gibernau into turn one on the penultimate lap – that meant the Repsol rider had shot from sixth to second in exactly one circulation.
Seeing Rossi escaping, Biaggi turned up the heat on fans favourite Gibernau, getting a run on the Barcelona born star onto the back straight and putting an outbraking move on him for third, or so he thought...
...As the Roman hit the brakes and eased ahead of the Telefonica Honda, his back wheel began skipping and he simply couldn't lower his speed enough to take the turn, forcing him to sit up and charge into – and through – the gravel, holding his Camel liveried racer right until it slammed into the tyre wall.
Both rider and bike were relatively unharmed and he would rejoin to finish 14th.
Onto the last lap and Rossi was giving his all to eat up the 1.5secs gap to Capirossi, sliding his rear wheel spectacularly around the sweeping Catalunya curves – but he would run out of time and with the #65 riding faultlessly to the flag was helpless to prevent the much anticipated first Ducati victory.
Behind them Gibernau took a safe third, while Nakano and Checa swapped placed several time on the final lap before the Spaniard secured fourth – and top Yamaha.
Capirossi was cheered over the line by his deliriously delighted Ducati team, jumping up and down on the pit wall, while Rossi took a sporting second – riding side saddle as he waved to the fans on the start finish straight after taking the flag, before sincerely congratulating Capirossi.
Loris himself was shaking is head with disbelief and literally fell to his knees with emotion as he returned to the pits and the waiting Marlboro Ducati team.
Further back Tamada utilised his Bridgestoen tyres for yet another late race charge, this time up to seveth, while Hayden will draw comfort from holding off Bayliss (who ran off track) for ninth.
The newest of the MotoGP rookies, Ryuichi Kiyonari had his best ride to date with eleventh - ahead of Haga and Melandri.
Lone Suzuki rider John Hopkins
took the final point, while Aoki and McCoy completed the finishers.
Full results to follow...