Valentino Rossi claimed victory in today's incident packed Rio Grand Prix – and with it the 2002 MotoGP World Championship, after nearest rival Tohru Ukawa crashed out on a day when Carlos Checa looked to have completed a fantastic last to first recovery - only for disaster to strike as soon as he hit the front.
Yesterday's thrilling final qualifying had seen Biaggi hold onto pole ahead of champion in waiting Rossi – who needed eleven points over team-mate Ukawa today to wrap up the first ever MotoGP crown.
But the battle all hoped to see was between Rossi and his countryman Biaggi – whose pole position was the fastest ever lap of the Rio circuit by a motorcycle, and with less than 2.2 sec covering all 20 riders, Rio would be the second closest grid ever in the top class of GP racing, the closest ever being in Germany earlier in the year.
Adding spice to the all-Italian mix up front was Ulsterman Jeremy McWilliams, who will start from the front row for the first time in 2002, and from the best ever grid
position achieved by the Proton KR machine, in what is the first ever front row start in MotoGP for a machine using Bridgestone tyres.
Also of interest was that the Proton KR was the top-two stroke machine on the grid for the first time ever in the MotoGP class, thanks to the poor showing by regular West Honda Pons pace setters Loris Capirossi
and home hero Alex Barros
on their NSR500's.
Behind McWilliams, and completing the front row, was Aussie slide ace Garry McCoy
who would start from the front for the second time in 2002, having finished third at Rio in 2000 - and looking for a repeat today on the bumpy Nelson Piquet circuit.
But the formbook established over the preceding days was well and truly upset when windy wet weather descended on the Nelson piquet circuit this morning – and showed no sign of shifting for this afternoons races.
The 125's and 250's had battled the inconsistent conditions, which at times looked as though the track would dry out entirely – only for the humidity and/or another rain shower to hit the circuit – and it looked like more of the same for MotoGP.