Loris Capirossi has ended his and Ducati's two-year MotoGP win drought by taking a hard fought victory over countryman Max Biaggi in today's Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi - following a dramatic race that saw Valentino Rossi
collide with Marco Melandri
during a failed overtaking attempt, which took both riders out and left Melandri on a stretcher.
Qualifying had seen Capirossi lead a Bridgetsone one-two with a new pole record of 1min 46.363secs - enough to hold off closest challenger John Hopkins
by a massive 0.498secs, whilst Marco Melandri
was the top Michelin qualifier in third.
2004 race winner Makoto Tamada revived his forgettable 2005 season with fourth, ahead of Repsol Honda team-mates Max Biaggi and Nicky Hayden, but world champion Rossi - capable of wrapping up the championship today - was left in his worst qualifying position since being sent to the back of the grid at Qatar last year.
After qualifying, most riders felt that Capirossi would be hard to beat today but - while the Italian would lead Hopkins, Gibernau (seventh on the grid) and Rossi in morning warm-up - the top three were covered by a mere 0.247secs suggesting a close race.
So, could Capirossi go on to claim his first race win in over two years? Would Hopkins finally stand on his first MotoGP podium - and would Rossi be crowned a seven times world champion this afternoon? Much would depend on getting through turn one unscathed, something the field had failed to do for the past two years...
When the red lights went out it was Melandri who stole the early advantage as the leaders cautiously threaded one-by-one around the first turn, the young Italian leading Biaggi, Capirossi, Hopkins, Tamada, Hayden, Gibernau, Roberts, Barros and Rossi in close formation.
Thereafter, Rossi - just as he had in Qatar - cut ruthlessly through the field, climbing to eighth (behind Gibernau) by the end of lap one, while up front Capirossi and Biaggi made contact as the Ducati rider squeezed past his countryman under braking at the end of the back straight.
Meanwhile, Rossi continued his rapid ascendancy - passing Tamada for fourth on lap 3 - but he couldn't close in on the three fellow Italians ahead. Also of interest was that Tamada stuck with Rossi and - by lap 9 of 24 - the Japanese hero was starting to think about repassing the #46 and closing the two-second gap to the leaders ahead.
The action between the top three was even more intense, with Melandri, Capirossi and Biaggi nose-to-tail, with each looking to pass the other at almost every corner - with Loris adding to the interest by taking some 'Bridgestone' lines through the corners.