Kenny Roberts may not have been able to repeat his shock qualifying pace in Sunday's Rio Grand Prix, but the American at least led the first lap on his way to a best 2004 finish of seventh.

Roberts took his and Suzuki's first pole since he won the 2000 world championship in final qualifying for the Brazilian event, then battled second on the grid Max Biaggi into turn one on race day.

Kenny overtook the Roman, then opened up a large enough gap to hold his position along the 1km back straight, where the higher top speed of his rivals gave them a significant advantage.

"I got away ahead of everyone other than Max, and then I passed him right away," recalled Roberts afterwards. "I was trying to pull a gap so I could hold them off down the straight and I managed to do that. I knew that they would come by me there eventually, but I was in a good position and I pushed as best I could to the end of the race."

Roberts was far enough ahead to hold the lead for the rest of the first lap, but was overtaken by both Biaggi and Honda colleague Nicky Hayden on lap two, before steadily sliding further down the order.

In the closing laps, Roberts lost pace as the tyre performance dropped away and had to give best to old US racing rival Colin Edwards. But he was well clear of the next group and finished 23 seconds behind the leaders, the GSV-R's best performance in two years.

"It's been a very positive weekend for us - we were only 23 seconds behind the winner, which is the best we've done for some time," said Kenny. "I must congratulate Bridgestone on their first win. It's a fantastic performance after their recent problems and takes one thing out of the equation for us, at least at this track.

"Our two biggest problems at the moment are acceleration, which will come when we get more horsepower; and traction control. I noticed the others guys were using it and when the tyres go off, we desperately need it if we're going to keep getting closer to the front," revealed KR Jr.

"It was a great feeling to see a Suzuki back in the lead at that first lap, but it was predictable that Kenny would get picked off down the straight. Nobody got past him in the corners," added team manager Garry Taylor. "The tyres performed well and it was good to see our tyre partners Bridgestone get a first win. It wasn't our bike in front but we're getting closer over race distance."

Team-mate John Hopkins finished 15th after a last lap tangle with Kawasaki's Alex Hofmann (see separate story).