Max Biaggi took a magnificent second Grand Prix victory of the year today at Sepang, as the Roman Emperor out-rode the RCV's of Rossi, Barros and Ukawa – who almost needed to swap insurance details after their epic battle.
Yesterday, World Champion Valentino Rossi was left in just eighth place after a thrilling final qualifying session that saw Alex Barros take a last gasp pole, for the fourth time in his GP career and for the first time since the British GP in 2000, ahead of Max Biaggi – taking his tenth front row start of 2002, but hoping not to repeat his early race exit last year.
Top two stroke – and starting on the outside of the front row was Loris Capirossi, whose best time was the fastest ever lap of the Sepang circuit by a two-stroke machine, a massive 0.852 seconds under his pole lap from last year. Meanwhile, next quickest two-stroke, in seventh was Jeremy McWilliam's – who managed to punch out a lap 3.377seconds faster than the best by the Proton KR3 last year.
As the red lights went out at the unbelievably hot and humid Sepang circuit, it was Barros who launched away from the line best, and led Biaggi, Kato, Ukawa, Checa and Rossi around turn one, while McWilliams made a complete mess of the start to drop back to 18th, with M1 new boy Shinya Nakano surging up to an excellent 8th with his team-mate Olivier Jacque 11th.
In the early stages, Barros and Biaggi were soon breaking away from the field and held a 1secs gap over third placed Kato, with Rossi now pressuring the Gresini rider. However, the Repsol riders handling problems he's suffered since Motegi one week ago definitely hadn't disappeared overnight (as he'd hoped) and the Italian was have obvious trouble under braking.
In more serious trouble was Jacque, who's M1 debut came to a premature end on lap 3 when he fell from his Gauloises sponsored Yamaha and had to helped from the 'sand pit' after injuring his foot.
With one third race distance gone Barros and Biaggi looked to have broken the chasing pack and held a 2secs gap over the Rossi, who had problems of his own with a particularly stubborn Tohru Ukawa who refused to be shaken.
The Brazilian pace setter began to really put the hammer down as id race approached – and dropped Biaggi by 0.8secs in one lap – while Rossi was now almost on the Roman Emperor's rear. Further back, fifth placed Kato was quickly losing ground to nearest rival Ukawa, while Man-on-the-move was McWilliams, producing another gutsy recovery to hold 12th.
Lap 11 and the normally unflappable Barros made an uncharacteristic error, allowing Biaggi the chance to bravely out brake the #4 rider bravely into the turn one chicane, with Rossi and Ukawa now next in line to pounce.