Long time race leader Sete Gibernau came agonisingly close to claiming his – and Suzuki's – first MotoGP victory today in atrocious conditions at Estoril.
With rain pouring down all morning this afternoon's Grand Prix would be a case of survival of the fittest, but having taken the lead in the early stages the Spaniard looked to have Rossi beaten as the final laps wound down – only to spat unceremoniously from his #15 machine at one of the slowest corners on the track, handing the runaway championship leader yet another maximum points haul.
Starting from pole had been Carlos Checa who made the most of yesterday's wet/dry final qualifying session to secure his first ever MotoGP pole, holding off Honda heroes Daijiro Kato and Valentino Rossi, while the two stroke of tough racer Alex Barros completed an explosive front row.
Heading the equally competitive second row was Brno winner Max Biaggi, confident of a strong race set-up, with Jeremy McWilliams sixth after benefiting from a tow off Rossi, while Capirossi sat in seventh one place ahead of Repsol rider Tohru Ukawa – but a lot would depend on the start… and the weather.
By race morning Estoril had been completely covered by dense dark cloud that soon spilled its contents consistently over the Portuguese track for all three of today's MotoGP events.
Nevertheless it would be the same for everyone and when the red lights disappeared it was Barros who made the best attempt at feeding the 200+ horsepower through his rear rubber, while Checa made a terrible start after too much wheelspin.
But by the end of lap one the Suzuki's were the main gainers, with Gibernau into the lead and teammate Kenny Roberts also into the top four, both from third row starts.
On lap four the atrocious weather claimed Regis Laconi, who had been storming through the field superbly on the ill handling Aprilia. Meanwhile the order up front was: Gibernau, Rossi, Roberts, Ukawa, Checa and Barros the top two stroke on a day when weather conditions meant that they would never have a chance of matching the 4-strokes smother power delivery.
Men on the move in the lead pack were Ukawa (up to third) and pole sitter Checa who was rapidly reeling in Kenny Roberts, while Gibernau made a break up front.