Valentino Rossi absorbed race long pressure from Loris Capirossi to take a sensational seventh win of the year at the Portuguese Grand Prix today, with the World Championship leader's title hopes boosted by Max Biaggi's second crash in two races.
Biaggi had been superb in yesterday's second qualifying session to firstly catch – and then beat – Rossi's Friday pole time that had seen the Honda star over 0.5secs in front of the field.
However, West Honda Pons pilot Loris Capirossi had also upped his pace in yesterday's final qualifier and the tenacious former 125 and 250cc World Champion started today's race between the two championship contenders.
Following Biaggi crash while leading in Brno, Rossi took a 29 point advantage into Estoril – meaning that even should he DNF today he would still be leading the World Championship, putting the pressure firmly on the Marlboro Yamaha man to get a strong result and above all finish in front of Rossi, while Vale himself had admitted he would be prepared to ride tactically for points as the end of the season approaches.
So, the front row of Biaggi, Capirossi, Rossi and Ukawa (the Repsol Honda man producing one of the best qualifying efforts of his short 500cc career) spread across the Estoril grid and looked intently at the five red lights ahead.
When they disappeared it was Biaggi who seized the initial advantage into turn one after holding off a strong challenge from Capirossi, while behind them chaos reigned when Abe crashed – collecting Criville, Barros and Gibernau (while Ukawa went off all on his own), with Abe's machine then catching fire, although fortunately all the riders concerned were unhurt.
When the dust settled Jurgen van den Goorbergh was now into second, ahead of Capirossi, with Rossi fourth and soon on the move. By lap three Rossi had passed both Capirossi and vd Goorbergh before unusually (at this early stage) overtaking Biaggi for the lead – with Capirossi now looking to follow suit.
So, by lap 4 of 28 and the order was: Rossi, Capirossi, Biaggi, McCoy, vd Goorbergh, Checa, Haga, Jacque, Roberts and Cardoso.
Back up front and the three Italians were still nose to tail, while the two Red Bull Yamaha's were now making good progress with last year's winner McCoy catching Biaggi, while teammate Haga was now just one place behind, by lap 6.