All but Barros made it through the tight right/left turn one, the Brazilian pirouetting gracefully across the track in a low speed fall after an unseen tangle, before remounting, while WCM's Chris Burns would later be given a jump start penalty, then later retire, as his unbelievably tough rookie GP season continued.
Meanwhile, Checa turned heads as he slipstreamed past Capirossi on the long straight leading into the hairpin, giving a running order of Gibernau, Checa, Capirossi, Rossi, Biaggi, Hayden, Bayliss, Ukawa, Nakano and Haga as the field crossed the line for the first time.
Rossi was soon past Capirossi, then took Checa a lap later, to sit directly behind the man he needed to beat for the championship – Gibernau, the Telefonica rider once again putting his qualifying troubles behind him with a strong early race pace.
By contrast, Capirossi was being shuffled further down the order as Biaggi took fourth from him on lap 4, leaving the #65 to contend with a threatening Hayden, while Max now focussed on former team-mate Checa. With Capirossi continuing to slip further back, the top four – separated by 2.7secs - were able to pull a 2.5secs lead over the Ducati rider by lap 5 (of 21).
Checa's challenge to the leading Hondas would end soon after as he was dropped by the top two, and in turn lost third to Biaggi, the Camel Pramac Pons rider now needing to find 2.4secs to catch Rossi. Max's day would soon get a lot worse however, when Rossi neatly out-braked Gibernau, on lap 8, to lead the field for the first time and raise the pace still further.
The Repsol rider's speed soon began to tell and at the midway point Vale held a 1.5secs lead over the #15, while Biaggi had only gained 0.2secs on the Telefonica liveried machine ahead.
But grabbing most of the attention by that stage was the thrilling battle between Capirossi and Hayden – the young American putting his formative dirt track years to good use as he got his factory Honda in all sorts of interesting shapes under hard braking and acceleration.
The AMA Superbike champion's efforts paid off on lap 12 when, after being foiled on several previous efforts, Hayden surprised Loris with a sudden, but clean, dive inside. Checa was then next on the #69's list, the Spaniard being just 0.5secs up the road as the M1 rider fell further from the 'spread-out' RCV trio ahead.
Checa lasted just three laps before he had an orange V5 being thrown inside him, but the Spaniard twice cut back to retake the position and would hold firm heading into the closinhg stages.
By that point, Gibernau was still clearly in fighting form, sliding his factory spec machine in ever longer drifts as the laps wound down, dropping Biaggi by over 5secs, and remaining within 2secs of champion elect Rossi – close, but not nearly close enough to pull off any sort of overtaking move.