Max Biaggi claimed a perfect lights-to-flag victory in the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring, heading a Marlboro Yamaha one-two with Carlos Checa second and Shinya Nakano taking his first 500cc podium finish in third.
The 500cc stars lined up on the Sachsenring grid with Biaggi on pole ahead of Nakano, Barros and Checa, the Spaniard making his first front row start this year. Meanwhile championship leader Rossi was way down the order in eleventh after a torrid time in qualifying.
The last race before the MotoGP summer break, Biaggi and the Marlboro Yamaha team were desperate to claim a victory that would go at least some way towards closing the 26 point gap to Rossi.
However, few doubted that Rossi could win from eleventh – after all he had done just that two weeks previously at Donington – and a battle royal was on the cards between the two dominating Italians.
Also in the mix were Nakano and Barros, both of whom had sat on top of the times with mere minutes to go, before Biaggi had punched out his pole lap. Loris Capirossi, the third member of Italy's 500cc trio, had also been staring pole in the face before running wide on his West Honda Pons - leaving him down in seventh, but confident for race day.
Not racing today was Alex Criville, the Repsol Honda rider having had two huge crashes in qualifying yesterday and being told by Doctors to sit out today's German Grand Prix.
As the red lights went out to signal the start it was the Marlboro Yamahas that led the way with Biaggi ahead of Checa, and Abe (from seventh on the grid) up ahead of Barros and Roberts in third.
Meanwhile, Rossi had dropped a place to twelfth with Capirossi fairing little better being down in eleventh.
Lap two and Barros moved ahead of Abe – briefly – but the injured Japanese star fought back immediately and retook the position, while Leon Haslam's V-four debut ended prematurely as both he and Haruchika Aoki fell.
Lap 4 of 30 and Biaggi was setting the pace as he attempted to put some tarmac between himself and Checa – but more importantly Rossi – who was now up to eighth behind Olivier Jacque, with Capirossi following his countryman through the field.