Valentino Rossi now has one hand firmly on the 2003 MotoGP world championship after finishing a thrilling Pacific Grand Prix in second place, while flu ridden rival Sete Gibernau could only manage fifth (revised fourth) after a last lap off track experience.

The gap at the top of the rider's table between the two Honda aces is now 58 points with three races to go and a maximum of 75 points up for grabs.

However, it could all have been so different when - after working his way into second behind Max Biaggi - Rossi suffered a 'Catalunya flashback' when he missed his braking point and ran wide through the gravel, dropping him back to ninth.

"After a few laps I make a mistake in the braking at the first corner. I lost the control of my bike. I go straight on at the corner and the situation was very bad with Gibernau in second place and me in ninth," he admitted.

But the reigning World Champion would set a record fastest lap of 1min 48.885secs as he dug deep to make up the final few yards on Biaggi's immediate pursuers. He soon made short work of them, taking Tamada on lap 18, Hayden on lap 19 and then Gibernau two turns after he'd disposed of his American Repsol team-mate.

Nevertheless, Biaggi would remain untouchable and accepting second behind his arch-rival at Honda's home circuit - whilst in the midst of difficult contract negotiations - was tough to bear. As a result, he was keen to magnify the positives in terms of the championship, rather than dwell on his costly mistake.

"After it was possible to recover," commented Vale. "I ride well, make the fastest lap and it was possible to come back to the second group. At the end it was possible to overtake everyone and to make a good lap on the last lap. Also Sete have some problems so I recover some points. It is possible to arrive in Malaysia with a big advantage."

Rossi's second place was his 19th consecutive podium and he is now only three short of Giacomo Agostini, who managed 22 straight podiums in 1967/8/9 seasons.



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