Valentino Rossi has extended his world championship lead from 17 to 29-points over Sete Gibernau after delivering a faultless ride in today's Portuguese Grand Prix – an event which saw Makoto Tamada, rather than Gibernau or Max Biaggi, prove the Italian's nearest rival.
When the red lights went out it was Ducati's Loris Capirossi – riding in his 100th premier-class GP – who rocketed from eleventh on the grid to lead Rossi, Biaggi, Tamada, Melandri, Gibernau, Barros, Hopkins, Edwards, Checa and Kenny Roberts around the first turn.
Capirossi would then hold his own around the next sequence of corners, but as the field approached the ultra tight chicane for the first time Rossi dived inside to take a lead he would never lose.
However, further drama would occur as Biaggi – perhaps unsighted by Rossi's move – appeared to miss his braking point and, with his rear wheel in the air, ploughed into the back of Capirossi, sending his own Camel Honda to the ground.
Biaggi stayed on his feet, but couldn't remount his RCV and was forced to walk away from both the race and almost certainly his 2004 world championship chances (Biaggi is now 51-points from Rossi). Capirossi held his machine on two-wheels, but ran wide as a result of the impact and would slip to the back of the pack... although his race was far from over.
Tamada was the main beneficiary of the mayhem, and would slot into second behind Rossi, with Barros now third. Gibernau was naturally desperate to keep in touch with Rossi and was soon literally rubbing his front wheel on Marco Melandri's Spiderman leathers as he tried to extract fourth from the Italian ASAP. The pressure eventually told on the Tech 3 rider, and Gibernau would slot into fourth by the start of lap 3 of 28.
By that stage Rossi's race-winning plan was clear: push hard and break away early from the opposition. The factory Yamaha star was soon putting that plan into practice as he edged a few tenths away from Tamada with each successive lap – but more significantly, Barros and Gibernau were in turn unable to keep up with Tamada.
Meanwhile, Melandri's race came to another dramatic end when he fell out of fifth on lap 8, after touching a dusty white line under braking. The former 250cc world champion was sent sliding down an escape road unharmed, while his Spiderman liveried machine barrel-rolled itself to pieces.
Back on track and by the halfway stage Rossi had built a 3.8secs lead over Tamada, with Barros and Gibernau still nose-to-tail but a further 2.7secs behind, while Checa, Hopkins, Bayliss and Edwards completed the top eight.