Valentino Rossi will go down in history as the last rider to win a 500cc GP after a thrilling two part Rio Grand Prix, which saw the race stopped due to rain after four laps, before the remaining 20 were run.
The second part decider saw Carlos Checa carve his way through the field to take the lead from new World Champion Rossi, with Max Biaggi also left in the Spaniard's wake. Despite Vale's best efforts Checa looked to have the race sewn up – until the very final corner and a backmarker…
Tohru Ukawa had upset the establishment yesterday by becoming the first non-Italian rider to take pole position this year, with the pinnacle of a superb series of quick laps proving enough to hold off the challenge of Loris Capirossi and Kenny Roberts, who qualified in second and third respectively.
Completing the front row was Shinya Nakano, ahead of new World Champion Valentino Rossi, Sete Gibernau, Carlos Checa and Olivier Jacque, while normally dominant qualifier Max Biaggi, who could lose second place in the championship if he were to score five points less than Capirossi today, qualified in tenth - despite briefly flirting with top spot.
So this was it: The last ever 500cc Grand Prix, and the last of the 2001 season – a year that had seen some of the closest, most thrilling, races in the sport's history and a fitting end to the exclusive half litre class before big bore 4-strokes join the fight next year.
Adding to the tension was the fact that the weather in Rio had been decidedly 'dodgy' today – resulting in the 500cc warm-up being run in wet conditions – and with Jurgen van den Goorbergh setting the pace in his last ride with Team KR, ahead of Rossi and Kenny Roberts, while V-Twin rider Anthony West had impressed in the tricky conditions.
Approximately 3hours later at 2.00pm local time, and with the track now effectively dry, the red lights went out for the final time at the start of a 500cc Grand Prix - sending the 21 rider field charging into the first turn with Roberts leading the way from Ukawa – but behind them Jacque lost control of his Tech 3 Yamaha under braking and high sided at the apex, unfortunately (and embarrassingly) collecting his teammate Shinya Nakano and sending them both into the gravel, although Nakano would rejoin.
Jacque's crash allowed Roberts and Ukawa to break away slightly from their pursuers – Capirossi, Rossi, Checa, Abe, Biaggi and Barros.
Onto the long back straight on lap two and Ukawa calmly pulled out of Roberts' slipstream to slip effortlessly ahead of the American and into the lead of the Rio Grand Prix.