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Barros wins battle of the Pacific!

Lap 4 of 24 and Kato gave the partisan crowd a lift by pulling off an incredible around the outside pass on notoriously hard to overtake Barros at the first turn hairpin. The Brazilian used his superior exit speed to regain the position along the following short straight – only for Kato to go around the outside again at the next turn.

Barros then put HRC's finest firmly in his place with a firm outbraking move half a lap later – and followed that up by taking the lead from “The Doctor” on lap 5, while his team-mate Capirossi turned heads by proving he wasn't about to be forgotten as the Italian actually gained time on the three four strokes ahead.

One lap later and Rossi made an uncharacteristic mistake when he outbraked himself at the end of the back straight, allowing Kato into second, while 10secs behind on track Sete Gibernau's miserable weekend came to a premature end when his Suzuki's engine blew.

But Gibernau's exit marked the start of a series of mechanical failures as Yanagawa's – and Kawasaki's – MotoGP debut finished when the ZX-RR seized and spat the Japanese veteran over the front and into the gravel. Akira was fortunately unharmed and clearly knows how to fall.

Then the spate of failures continued when a devastated Kato (by his cool standards) suddenly sat up and slowed – dropping down the order as he was struck by a mystery power loss problem, from which he would retire on the next lap.

The battle of the Pacific had now become a three way fight between Barros, Rossi and Capirossi respectively.

Into the middle stages of the race and Rossi turned up the pace with a series of fastest laps that put Barros under increasing pressure – but Capirossi wasn't to be forgotten and the top three had a lead of nearly 3secs over Biaggi, Ukawa, Checa and Roberts.

The speedy threesome stayed nose-to-tail, with Rossi appearing to be sizing up the Brazilian for a late race pass, while behind them Tohru Ukawa – who had an off in the morning warm-up – brought a smile to the Honda faithful by shooting past Biaggi for an all Honda top four.

However, it soon became apparent that Biaggi had become the latest to suffer possible engine problems when smoke began to creep from the back of his Marlboro Yamaha – leading the Motegi officials to black flag the #3 machine for safety reasons.

The Roman Emperor duly retired on lap 15, shaking his head with disbelief as he crawled into the pitlane and behind the impenetrable shutters of the MYT pit box for an autopsy. Rumours would later circulate that Biaggi's retirement had actually been the result of a massive tyre failure causing rubber to hit the bodywork and the resulting smoke. The true cause will be confirmed on as soon as MYT announce their findings.

Back on track and on lap 19 Barros appeared to let Rossi past and into the lead, in what was either a very brave – or foolish – decision. Rossi had been sizing up the black and white West livered machine for several laps and so Barros may have pre-empted a late race pass by allowing him ahead – but for that plan to work Barros would have to stay with the Repsol rider.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
West Honda Pons team-mates Barros and Capirossi celebrate their own respective heroics in Motegi.
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