Valentino Rossi fought back from a first corner clash with Alex Criville and Sete Gibernau, to win the 500cc Catalan Grand Prix in dominating fashion from countryman Max Biaggi.

Rossi had claimed pole with a one-off flying lap on soft tyres towards the end of yesterday's final qualifying session, with impressive 500cc rookie Shinya Nakano lining up in second, while Loris Capirossi and Max Biaggi completed the front row.

As the red lights disappeared at the top of the long main straight, it was Norick Abe who shot to the front - from eighth on the grid!

Into the right-left first chicane and Rossi was knocked wide when Gibernau arrived too hot into the turn and pushed Criville out into him - leaving Rossi well down the field, while up front Abe lost the lead to Nakano when he ran wide around the long right hander.

So, across the line for the first lap and Nakano led, Capirossi, Barros, Abe, Roberts, Gibernau, Ukawa and Biaggi - with Rossi down in twelfth.

Around the first gear chicane and Capirossi out-braked Nakano to take the lead, with the top three starting to break away from the pursuing pack led by Abe.

Rossi continued his charge back to the front; passing Alex Criville by lap three and moving past arch rival Max Biaggi for eighth soon after. Lap four and World Champion Kenny Roberts Jr. flung his Suzuki into the gravel trap at turn one, after losing the front way before the turn in point, and shooting off the track.

Meanwhile Biaggi was back by Rossi, and Barros stole second from Nakano at the first turn, however disaster would follow when the Brazilian slid off his West Honda Pons machine just a few turns later.

Lap 6 of 25 and Rossi slipstreamed Ukawa down the main straight and into fourth place to continue his meteoric recovery. But back at the front Sete Gibernau was having his best race of the year so far, thriving on the atmosphere generated by the local fans to move steadily up the order, culminating in him taking second from Nakano and holding off Rossi's #46 Honda when the young Italian followed him by Nakano's Tech 3 machine.

So, by Lap 7 the order was: Capirossi, from Gibernau, Rossi, Nakano, Ukawa and Biaggi.

Within two laps and the top three were beginning to pull a slight lead, as Gibernau looked anxiously for a way past the black and white Honda in front.

Lap 10 and the ferocious battle for fourth continued with Ukawa and Nakano slugging it out, while Criville out-braked himself into turn one taking him out of that four way battle between Ukawa, Nakano, Biaggi and Abe.

15 to go and Rossi slipped inside Gibernau for second at the first turn, as the factory Honda rider benefited from the considerable HRC horsepower under the bright yellow bodywork, while Capirossi - on the older spec Honda - put up a brave defence.

Rossi took the lead two laps later when he pulled out of Capirossi's slipstream along the start/finish straight and simply rocketed past the Honda Pons machine, to take the lead of the Catalan Grand Prix for the first time at the half way point in the race.

Spaniard Gibernau was now keen to get around the second placed Italian in order to stay in touch with Rossi, and the #15 Suzuki found his way past just a lap after Rossi, while Biaggi and Abe were now also closing on the #65 machine.

Lap 16 and Rossi was beginning to run away up front, while the chain of riders from second placed Gibernau to seventh placed Nakano (suffering from his choice of a soft front tyre) all closed up.

Capirossi showed he had not given up by slicing ahead of Biaggi for second, after the pair of them had passed Gibernau, but the sole remaining Suzuki rider was hanging on to the back of Biaggi's Marlboro Yamaha.

Lap 20 of 25 and Biaggi finally found a way around Capirossi for second, after winning the drag race along the main straight, and trying to eat into Rossi's comfortable four-second lead.

Into the final few laps and Biaggi had no answer for the lead Honda, the Roman only taking a few tenths out of Rossi's advantage, but at least the red #3 machine was pulling away for third placed Capirossi for his efforts.

The last lap saw Rossi roll to the finish, while Nakano continued his recovery from his mid race slump to take fourth - just 0.004secs behind third placed Capirossi, while Gibernau took his best finish of the year in fifth.

Full results to follow...

1. Rossi
2. Biaggi +2.579secs
3. Capirossi +3.216secs
4. Nakano +3.257secs
5. Gibernau +3.989secs
6. Abe +4.705secs
7. Ukawa +4.769secs
8. Checa +13.459secs



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