Valentino Rossi earned his hardest victory of the season during today's incident packed Qatar Grand Prix, the Italian emerging on top after overcoming Movistar Honda team-mates Sete Gibernau
and Marco Melandri
- the latter losing out with just a few turns to go, while long time race leader Gibernau's curse continued with another costly mistake...
Qualifying had seen man-of-the-moment Loris Capirossi
claim his third pole position in as many attempts, putting the Ducati-Bridgestone rider on course to complete an incredible hat-trick of three wins in three weeks this afternoon - but to do so he would have to overcome stiff opposition from fellow front row starters, Gibernau and Rossi, over 22 laps under the searing desert sun.
Morning warm-up then indicated that momentum had swing back towards the Michelin riders as Gibernau - looking to finally end his one-year win drought today - lapped 0.2secs ahead of Movistar Honda team-mate Melandri, with Rossi a fraction further behind in third.
Meanwhile, Capirossi had been just seventh fastest, 0.8secs from Gibernau, with his team-mate Carlos Checa the top Bridgestone rider in fourth - and over 0.6secs from Sete - but would, as some teams suspected, the Bridgestone have better race endurance?
When the red lights went out for the start of 22 laps around the scorching - and surprisingly windy - Losail circuit, Capirossi converted his pole to a turn one lead while some close action behind ended with Gibernau pinching off Rossi for an early second with Hayden, Melandri, Edwards, Checa, Rolfo and Biaggi completed the top nine.
Even before the end of the first lap the top six were starting to edge away from Checa and fast starting rookie Rolfo, with Gibernau then taking the lead for the first time by outbraking Capirossi into turn one of lap 2. That innocuous move marked something of a turning point for the Ducati rider, who would drop a further two positions (to Rossi and Hayden) within a few corners - then lose fourth place to Edwards a lap later.
Nevertheless, Loris remained with the lead group - and could potentially have mounted a Bridgestone inspired comeback later on - but it simply wasn't to be: the warm-up form was correct and all the Bridgestone riders would struggle this afternoon, with Capirossi's chances of a three wins in a row eventually disappearing when he ran off track on lap 8, demoting him from sixth to twelfth.
Meanwhile, Gibernau had continued to confidently lead the now all-Michelin lead pack, extending his advantage over Rossi - who in turn now had a charging Melandri in his wheel tracks - to a peak of 0.9secs on lap six, before the #46 and #33 begin to make ground.
Nevertheless, by the halfway stage Gibernau was still 0.5secs clear of new second placed man Melandri - the young Italian, still riding with 36 stitches in his foot, having exploited a Rossi error to take second place a lap earlier - as he, Valentino and Hayden remained just a few bike lengths apart.