After an early tussle - and a near miss - rookie Dani Pedrosa disappeared into the distance to win Sunday's British Grand Prix, while two injured Italians took the fight for second down to the last corner.

Pedrosa had dominated practice and qualifying, making him by far the pre-race favourite, but the Repsol Honda rider lost out to the injured Marco Melandri into turn one - and struggled to find a way past the Fortuna Honda rider in the early laps.

That allowed Rizla Suzuki's John Hopkins to put pressure on the young Spaniard and, on lap 4 of 30, Dani made a big mistake while desperately trying to take the lead from Marco into the downhill Melbourne Hairpin. The 20-year-old got his factory RC211V completely sideways as he struggled to slow down, with his rear wheel locking and almost spitting the #26 off before he veered wide within inches of Melandri.

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Fortunately, Pedrosa regained control and - although the mistake allowed Hopkins into second - Dani had only lost one second. As is his character, Pedrosa then took several laps to calmly regroup before outbraking Hopkins for second into the Fogarty Esses, with Melandri only a few bike lengths further ahead.

This time Pedrosa made no mistakes and, on lap 11, neatly slotted inside the Italian into the flowing McLeans right hander - then disappeared. As a sign of his advantage, Pedrosa set a new lap record on lap 13 with a time 0.45secs quicker than the next fastest race lap, set by Melandri.

But Melandri's best came on lap 28 of 30 - and with good reason: As the closing stages began Marco was locked in a thrilling battle with Valentino Rossi for the runner-up spot, with the reigning world champion - riding with a fractured wrist - having climbed steadily up the order from 12th on the grid and just 10th at the end of lap 1.

Rossi had caught the then three-rider fight between Casey Stoner, Melandri and Kenny Roberts with ten laps to go - and jumped past both Roberts and Melandri in one go after Marco lost the front on the kerbing through McLeans, and only remained on two wheels after an amazing save that in turn hindered Roberts.

Stoner and Roberts then faded in the closing stages, but Melandri and Rossi - despite their injuries - continued fighting flat out; repassing each other several times before the last lap began with Melandri still clinging determinedly to Rossi's rear wheel.

Melandri, brave on the brakes throughout the race, dived inside Rossi into the Fogarty Esses at the end of the back straight to take second position with just two corners, and then took a defensive inside line into the Melbourne Hairpin.

But Marco ran slightly wide at the hairpin, allowing Rossi to cut back inside and it was now the Camel Yamaha's turn to take a defensive line into the tricky off-camber last corner. Melandri opted for the traditional racing line and, although able to carry superior speed into the apex, Rossi was able to keep a tight line and there was simply no room for Melandri to pass.

Meanwhile, Pedrosa had raced across the finish line 3.8secs before Rossi - after backing off substantially in the closing stages - to claim his second win of the season and cut the gap to team-mate, and championship leader, Nicky Hayden from 42 points to 26 after the Kentuckian finished in seventh position.

Like Rossi, Hayden had struggled in qualifying and had started from just 11th on the grid - but initially made better progress, rising to seventh as early as lap five, before missing his braking point for the Fogarty Esses on lap 7 - while trying to work his way around Chris Vermeulen - and losing four positions.

Just as at Assen one week ago, Nicky was then stuck behind countryman Colin Edwards but, unlike at Assen - where they were fighting for the lead - Nicky was unable to find a way past the Camel Yamaha rider. The pair rose through the pack together, with Edwards finishing in sixth and Hayden seventh.

Among those that the pair demoted along the way was the third injured Italian, Loris Capirossi, who brought his Ducat Marlboro machine home in ninth, one place behind early contender Hopkins.

All of which means that Hayden and Pedrosa continue to lead the championship standings, but Rossi has now moved ahead of Capirossi to take third in the standings - 35 rather than 46 points from the top - with Melandri four points further back in fourth and Capirossi 46 points from Hayden in fifth.

Rossi later said that his second place was "like a victory" and the thousands of British fans chanting "Rossi, Rossi, Rossi" below the podium clearly felt the same.

British Grand Prix:

1. Pedrosa
2. Rossi
3. Melandri
4. Stoner
5. Roberts
6. Edwards
7. Hayden
8. Hopkins
9. Capirossi
10. Checa
11. Tamada
12. de Puniet
13. Hofmann
14. Ellison
15. Cardoso
16. Vermeulen