Having paid their respects, the MotoGP riders continued their pre-race preparations and were soon back in racing mode as they sat on the grid awaiting the off. When it came, McWilliams made (another) dreadful getaway from pole, while the front row in general had their worst nightmare come true as the four strokes swamped them by turn one, with Barros leading from Rossi. Ukawa, vd Goobergh, McCoy and Kato – with McWilliams down in fourteenth and trapped behind Lori Capirossi.
The leading West Honda Pons rider immediately put a 0.8secs gap between himself and Rossi, while a fuming McWilliams was up two places by the end of lap two. Having become one of the Ulsterman's early victims, things then went from bad to worse for Capirossi, who was forced to retire with front fork problems as early as lap 4 of the 27.
Meanwhile, Rossi had now woken up to Barros' lightening pace and the top two were now pulling away from the third placed fight to hold a 4secs lead by lap 8, as Kato, Ukawa and the determined vd Goorbergh slugged it out. Van den Goobergh raised eyebrows in the HRC camp by not only staying with the V5's – but even having the nerve to overtake Kato on lap 11, but he couldn't break away and the trio would fight all the way to the flag.
Rossi upped his pace once again, recording a series of fastest laps that left him just 0.7secs behind Barros as the half way stage of the Grand Prix approached. However, Barros is one of the hardest riders in the world to pass and after clashing trying to do just that one-week ago at Sepang – allowing Biaggi to escape – the world champ would need to pick his place carefully.
Also entertaining the Phillip Island faithful was the no holds barred fight for sixth between Biaggi, Aoki, Roberts and Jacque – the foursome almost equal in several paces on the track, before swapping positions almost in formation as they weaved their way around the ups and downs that comprise 'The Island'.
A notable absentee from that battle was home hero Garry McCoy, who was forced to pit for a new rear tyre – before rejoining at the very tail of the field, while also in the pits – albeit permanently – was Regis Laconi, whose Aprilia suffered terminal engine problems.
Back up front and Rossi was now all over Barros and clearly experimenting with his lines and chalking up possible passing manoeuvres, with the pair away in a class of their own, 10secs ahead of Ukawa.
Rossi was paying particular attention to the run from the final corner to the line, and was opening 'rolling off' the throttle into Doohan's – the trouble for him was that he didn't look like he'd be able to steal victory on a last gasp charge to the flag, his move would have to come before then.
Meanwhile, as the final quarter of the race approached, McWilliams was now lapping at a pace not far off the leaders, and had charged his way up from last to twelfth by lap 17. Team-mate Aoki was no les impressive and even overtook Biaggi for sixth – before the Garner straight and M1 horsepower took effect…
One lap later and the top two were playing games: Their lap times had dropped off substantially and they had even been caught by lapped man McCoy. Barros looked to be inviting Rossi to pass, but Vale had no intention of playing by those rules and he continued to shadow the Brazilian with less than 0.1secs between them.