In front of a packed Jerez circuit in southern Spain, Valentino Rossi extended his lead in the championship to 29 points after another display of commanding riding won him the Gran Premio Marlboro de Espa?a. A massive 127,079 fans crammed themselves into the Andalusian track to witness the first European race of the 2002 MotoGP World Championship, and they weren't disappointed as a real scrap for places ensued at the front between five Honda riders, all of whom finished within five seconds of each other.

In a repeat of his victory celebration here last year, Rossi crossed the line standing on his footpegs, comfortably clear of second-placed Daijiro Kato. The Italian rider took the lead from his team-mate Ukawa on the 17th lap, and pulled away from the trailing group with a series of fast laps. 'I was very lucky at the beginning of the second lap when I nearly fell. Maybe Kenny forgot to brake and it was a miracle that I didn't go down. I lost a few places, but moved back up quickly and got in behind Ukawa and Barros. This bike wears the tyres very quickly and it's not easy to make up ground. The most important thing is that I won, and at a circuit where I really like the track and the atmosphere.'

With the World Champion out in front it was left to the other Honda riders to fight for podium positions, and they did so right up to the line. Daijiro Kato rode superbly once again, and a better starting position combined with some aggressive overtaking manoeuvres meant that the Honda Gresini rider claimed his first MotoGP podium in second spot. Kato had held off several attempts by his compatriot Ukawa to reclaim second position after the latter had even led the early parts of the race. However as they entered the last lap it was Ukawa who had cause for concern.

Loris Capirossi and he were involved in a classic battle for the final podium position after Barros dropped down into fifth. The Italian briefly held third a couple of times before the Japanese rider outguessed him on the final section and took the last rostrum position. As the two Honda Pons riders settled for fourth and fifth, Checa, trying to hold off Abe, suddenly lost all power in his engine and had to retire with just five bends to round for sixth place in front of his home fans. Abe took advantage of the Spanish rider's misfortune and with it sixth place, Aoki rode well for seventh and Roberts and Gibernau took their first points of the season in eight and ninth.

Max Biaggi and Olivier Jacque both had ten-second stop-and-go penalties, but as the Frenchman took his and returned to finish eleventh, Biaggi did not enter the pits, and subsequently received the black flag and was excluded from the classification. Harada rode well to take tenth, with Vd Goorbergh, McCoy, McWillams and Hopkins finishing off the points. Before the race the crowds were able to pay their respects to Alex Criville, and did so in spectacular style as the Spaniard made a lap of honour in an open-top car after announcing his definitive retirement from racing yesterday.

The local masses had more than reason to celebrate in the 250 class, with Fonsi Nieto taking his first career win with a brilliant ride. To please the fans not only did the Aprilia rider finish first, but compatriot Emilio Alzamora took advantage of a last lap collision between Melandri and Battaini, to take third spot behind his colleague Roberto Rolfo. The two Italians had been battling for third position when they touched and they both ran off track, with Melandri sent out of the race. The race was all about Fonsi though, who worked his way through the field to the delight of the thousands of Spaniards present, to cross the finish line with tears in his eyes.

The 125 race saw a heartbreaking last bend crash for reigning champion Manuel Poggiali as he tried to pass race leader Lucio Cecchinello. The young San Marino rider was unable to take his second win of the season as he tumbled into the gravel, leaving Cecchinello clear to take his third career win ahead of championship leader Arnaud Vincent, who rode a solid race, and Steve Jenkner, the early leader. Poggiali had also been involved in a collision earlier with Alex de Angelis, the World Champion staying on his bike while the other San Marino rider crashed out and injured his hand slightly.


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