Nicky Hayden has put one hand on the 2006 MotoGP World Championship by repeating his debut US GP victory of one year ago - while Valentino Rossi suffered a potentially title-shattering retirement.
Hayden, starting from sixth on the grid, gained three places into turn one - and was soon hot on the heels of fellow American Kenny Roberts Jr and pole sitter Chris Vermeulen.
But Vermeulen grabbed vital breathing room by bravely diving inside Roberts at the final turn, to lead at the end of lap 1 of 32. Rizla Suzuki's star rookie, a double Laguna winner in World Superbikes, then rode the wheels off his GSV-R to pull a near two-second lead by the time Hayden squeezed past Roberts at the top of the corkscrew on lap 9.
Questions remained about how long Vermeulen's Bridgestones could perform in the crippling temperatures - of 39 degrees C (102.2 degrees F) ambient and 56 degrees C (132.8 degrees F) on the track - but with nearly a third of the race gone the Aussie was showing no signs of weakness and Hayden had a straight fight on his hands.
The Kentuckian chipped down Vermeulen's lead relentlessly over the following laps and - as the halfway stage arrived - was within striking distance. Chris soaked the relentless pressure for another lap before running slightly off line and reluctantly conceded the lead.
Thereafter, Hayden quickly built a comfortable two second buffer in front of his nearest rival - that then grew steadily to three-seconds by the chequered flag - but it wasn't over Vermeulen...
The #71 had continued to lap consistently after being passed by Hayden, but then began to suffer from an intermittent fuel supply problem and was mercilessly reeled in by Nicky's team-mate - and double 2006 race winner - Dani Pedrosa. The 20-year-old rookie had dropped from fourth to seventh during the opening laps, before starting his fight back from lap 4 onwards.
The Spaniard despatched fellow Honda rider Marco Melandri and front row starter Colin Edwards in as many laps, but then found his progress blocked by determined former 250cc rival Casey Stoner. The pair battled for every turn, catching third placed Roberts in the process - resulting in a dramatic moment on lap 10 when Pedrosa elbowed past Stoner into turn six, then outbraked Roberts at the final corner... only to run wide and lose drive on the exit.
That allowed both Roberts and Stoner back through and the trio then fought side-by-wide for the next half a lap; with the experienced Roberts again losing out to the youngsters as he was shuffled behind both Casey and Dani respectively. But, perhaps due to the constant pressure from Pedrosa, Stoner's challenge finally ended in the turn six gravel when he low-sided his Honda LCR out of third place on lap 15.