The West Honda Pons duo of Alex Barros and Loris Capirossi both battled through the rain to score vital World Championship points in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka this afternoon (Sunday). Barros was sixth and Capirossi ninth in the 21 lap race won by the four-stroke Honda of World Champion Valentino Rossi in appalling conditions.

Both riders had trouble finding grip on the wet track, riding their NSR-two stroke Honda machines, but fought through the spray to score points that could be so important by the end of the season.

"I rode to take maximum points especially as two riders in front of me were wild card entries," said Barros. "All race I was losing the front end of the machine turning into the bends which was a shame because otherwise the bike was fine. We had problems with the front tyre but the rear was fine. We need to try a new compound on the rear. It may suit the four-stroke but not the two-stroke and we will be working hard to change things for South Africa."

"We had a really bad day," Capirossi said. "We tried many things in the wet warm-up but I had no feeling from the machine. We tried to change the set-up for the race but after a few laps the rear wheel was spinning very much. With so many guys chasing I thought about pulling in but I stayed out on the track to try and score as many world championship points as possible. It was a bad result but I hope those points will be important by the end of the year."

Italian Rossi had to work very hard to win the first ever race in the new MotoGP class fighting off the challenge of Japanese wild card entry Akira Ryo, riding the four-stroke Suzuki and the Yamaha of Spaniard Carlos Checa.

"This morning was the first time I'd ridden the four-stroke Honda in the rain," revealed Rossi. "I followed Ryo until six laps from the finish in order to learn more about riding the four-stroke in the rain. It's been an incredible weekend with two crashes, pole position, the rain and then the win. I'm very proud to have won the very first MotoGP Championship race for Honda."

Ryo was the surprise of the race and led from the first lap in the pouring rain. Rossi was fifth at the end of the first lap and moved into second place past his team-mate, Japanese wild card entry Shinichi Itoh. He slowly closed on Ryo and made his move to the front when he dived inside him at the chicane.

Itoh was relegated to fourth by the impressive Checa with former Japanese Grand Prix winner Norick Abe the first two-stroke to finish in fifth place in from of Barros. Frenchman Olivier Jacque made a tremendous start on the two-stroke Yamaha but was penalised for jumping the start. Many other fell by the wayside in the rain.

Sete Gibernau crashed out of third place on the four-stroke Suzuki. His team-mate Kenny Roberts also fell as did Max Biaggi, Garry McCoy, Jurgen van den Goorbergh, Jeremy McWilliams, Shinya Nakano, Tohru Ukawa and John Hopkins. The America Yamaha rider remounted to finish a brave 12th.

It was a fantastic start to the new MotoGP era with three different machines filling the first three place. Everybody is hoping for dry weather at the second race in South Africa in two weeks time.