Alex Barros produced a stunning ride on his RCV debut to defeat World Champion Valentino Rossi by 1.6secs in a straight all-out fight, on equal machinery, that went right to the flag in today's Pacific Grand Prix.
Completing a great day for the privateer West Honda Pons team was Barros' team-mate Loris Capirossi, who delivered yet another heroic ride to take third on his underpowered NSR500, in an incident filled race littered by mechanical failures for some of the pre-race favourites – resulting in a black flag for Max Biaggi.
Yesterday, Daijiro Kato had clung on to pole despite crashing midway through the session – and not improving on his Friday time – leaving him to bite his fingernails in the pits while Capirossi and Checa charged, ultimately unsuccessfully, for the top spot, but the Japanese went on to take his first ever MotoGP pole.
Fellow non-improver Max Biaggi would start today second, ahead of top two stroke Capirossi (the fastest 500cc around the circuit ever) and Checa (looking for his fifth podium this year), while newly crowned champion Valentino Rossi was also unable to improve in the second session and would line-up in sixth place – putting him on the second row for the first time since Germany, with RCV new boy Alex Barros fifth.
Rossi, though, would be well aware that if he should take victory today he would be the youngest ever rider to take 50 career wins in Grand Prix racing…
Attention would also be on Akira Yanagawa, the first rider in 20 years to take part in the premier class of GP racing on a Kawasaki. The last Kawasaki to compete in the 500cc class was ridden by Kork Ballington at the final race of the 1982 season in Germany, when he failed to finish the race after crashing. Ballington was also the last rider to score points in the premier class for Kawasaki, finishing 7th at the San Marino GP at Mugello, the penultimate round of the 1982 season.
Suffering a set back even before the start was Regis Laconi, the Aprilia rider not getting away on time for the warm up lap and leaving the twelfth place qualifier to start from the back of the field.
When the field charged into the tight first turn it was Capirossi who shot to the front, ahead of Kato, Rossi, Barros, Roberts and Biaggi. Rossi then dived inside the Kato midway around the lap, with Barros demoting the home hero one place further seconds later.
Rossi wasted no time in getting to the front as he took Capirossi at the final chicane before Barros lazily blasted past his team-mates two stroke along the home straight – with Kato also making use of four stroke power to make it an RCV 1-2-3.