Valentino Rossi became the first rider in 2003 to take back-to-back MotoGP victories today at Estoril, the Italian overcoming early leader Max Biaggi to take a comprehensive victory – while the final podium position would be decided right at the line.
Qualifying had seen Loris Capirossi claim his third pole position for Ducati as Italian supremacy once again shone through with Capirossi, Biaggi and Rossi sweeping the front three positions. Capirossi's time of 1min 38.412secs was also a new pole position record and the former 125cc and 250cc World Champion admitted even he was surprised by his pace.
Behind the Italian trio, Sete Gibernau was forced to settle for a front row start in fourth, despite improving his time on his second machine after first crashing and then running into the gravel as he pushed to improve his rhythm.
After setting the second fastest time yesterday, Olivier Jacque was baulked by a slower rider in the final two sections of a last gasp lap which had him on course to snatch pole. However, the Frenchman equalled his best ever grid position on the Yamaha M1 with fifth place, just ahead of former team-mate Shinya Nakano. The pair are joined on the second row by factory colleague Carlos Checa and the second Ducati ridden by Troy Bayliss.
Tohru Ukawa was one of the major victims of the improved pace, dropping from the front row to the third, where he was joined by Makoto Tamada, Marco Melandri and Alex Barros.
Further down the order, Spanish rider David De Gea would pilot the WCM four-stroke on its race debut from 22nd on the grid - ahead of 2000 winner Garry McCoy's factory Kawasaki, Nobuatsu Aoki's Proton V5 and his own team-mate Chris Burns - who unfortunately wouldn't start after damaging his machine in a morning warm-up fall.
Onto race day, and when the red lights disappeared it was something of a surprise to see Biaggi beat Capirossi's fast starting Ducati into turn one, while Gibernau tucked into third ahead of Rossi, Bayliss Jacque, Nakano, Ukawa and Checa.
That order would remain to the end of the first lap, when Rossi slipstreamed past Gibernau for third by turn one – then pitched his RCV inside Capirossi a few turns later to set his sights on the rapid Roman up front.
It took Vale just two laps to close Biaggi's slim lead and shape the battle at the front into a two-by-two-by-one affair with he and Biaggi contesting the lead, Capirossi and Gibernau fighting over third (0.7secs behind) and fifth placed Bayliss dropping back into the clutches of Melandri and Ukawa.