Daijiro Katoh continued his perfect record in 2001, after an enthralling game of Cat-and-Mouse between himself and Tetsuya Harada - that was only decided on the very last lap of today's French Grand Prix.
Pole sitter Katoh was passed by Harada at the first corner, while the injured Melandri also made a storming start from third, despite his injuries. However, Katoh soon retook the advantage with Harada second, followed by Melandri, Nieto, Matsudo and Jeremy McWilliams.
Of main concern to the Aprilia contingent was that Katoh was already 0.5secs in front by the end of the first lap, and if Harada and/or Melandri didn't contain the rapid Japanese rider a repeat of the opening three races was on the cards.
Harada, though, hung on. And by lap 4 of 26the two Japanese riders were beginning to build a gap to Melandri, while Randy de Puniet had a heavy crash at the final corner leading onto the start/finish straight, destroying his Aprilia - and doing him no good either - as they were both sent cart wheeling through the air.
Lap 8 and Harada went past Katoh, surprisingly easily, suggesting that Katoh had either allowed Harada through to show his pace or he had a problem with his Telefonica MoviStar Honda.
There appeared to be no problem with Katoh's HRC machine in the following corners, but he was now being put under pressure from Melandri, with the top three now separated by just 0.897secs.
By lap 11 Katoh was still shadowing Harada, being just 0,2secs behind, apparently waiting for his moment to strike – and in no particular hurry at this stage. The problem for Katoh in his unwillingness to pass Harada was that Melandri was now on his rear tyre, meaning that the World Championship leader would have to watch the Aprilia both in front and behind.
Katoh attempted to pass the MS Aprilia at the end of the start/finish straight on lap 14 – but Harada firmly shut the door, but Katoh made the crucial move for the lead under braking at soon after.
The following laps saw Katoh try to break away – but Harada again went with him, while the brave Melandri began to fade away in third.