Valentino Rossi has completed his trilogy of world titles by clinching the 500cc crown in fantastic fashion at Phillip Island today, when he took victory by just 0.013secs over Max Biaggi in the Australian Grand Prix.

The scenic coastal circuit always seems to provide some of the best racing of the year, but the 2001 500cc Grand Prix will go down as one of the best ever, with a seven way fight for the lead seeing Rossi, Biaggi, Capirossi, Barros and Haga all ahead at some stage, while the fanatic Australian fans witnessing some breathtaking passing manoeuvres from start to finish.

Biaggi may have taken his seventh pole of the season yesterday, but the Roman knew his title chances have virtually evaporated after a string of crashes left him 67 points behind Rossi with just 75 available.

Nevertheless, the Marlboro Yamaha rider would doubtless still have a point to prove and a second consecutive 500cc victory at the magnificent Phillip Island racetrack would certainly help reduce the pain of losing the title to his countryman.

So, appropriately, the two Italian s who have dominated this years championship lined up side by side on the grid, with Alex Barros third - and racing despite spraining his neck in a practice crash, while Sete Gibernau would start a superb fourth for Suzuki after a banzai effort in the dying seconds.

As the red lights went out and the twenty-two rider field thundered into the sweeping fast first right hander, it was Rossi who took the lead - Biaggi being forced to back off after trying to tough it out around the outside, dropping him to fourth behind Barros and Jacque, with Haga storming up the grid from eleventh to overtake the Roman soon after.

The positions at the front remained until Barros took the lead on lap two, with Haga working his way past Jacque and into third at almost the same moment - then stuffing his Red Bull Yamaha inside Rossi just one lap later.

With 24 to go, Rossi retaliated across the start-finish line, while Biaggi began to creep up the field after hanging on to the tail of the five man lead pack for the opening laps.

Barros though was holding his own up front, and one of the hardest men to overtake in MotoGP was clearly suffering few effects from the neck sprain sustained in yesterday's second qualifying.

By lap 6 Haga was back into second ahead of Rossi, as the Japanese ace showed the form that made him such a threat in World Superbikes, however, try as he might Haga couldn't find a way past the black and white Pons machine in front.

Over the next few laps the top five (Barros, Haga, Rossi, Biaggi and Jacque) were never separated by more than 1sec, as Rossi and Haga traded places on every lap, while Biaggi stalked the trio ahead.

Biaggi duly overtook Rossi for the first time in the GP on lap 9 of 27 as he slipstreamed the Honda NSR along the main straight, while Jose Luis Cardoso, who had pulled into the pits with mechanical problems, had been involved in some sort of accident apparently while in the pit lane, leaving the Spaniard needing medical treatment.

Haga finally found a way past the Honda ahead on lap 11 and the Japanese star led the 500cc Australian GP for the first time, only for Barros to sneak back ahead half a lap later, before the #41 climbed into "P1" once again.

A heart stopping moment for Rossi followed soon after as the field fanned out along the main straight: Barros swerved to try and overtake Haga, but unknown to him Rossi was right behind him and the Brazilian rear wheel hit Rossi's front - at 190mph, with both fortunately staying upright.

The top five continued to battle neck-and-neck around every inch of the 4.448km coastal circuit, with the lead pack being caught by sixth placed Capirossi, McCoy, Ukawa et al as the half way point approached.

Rossi took the lead of the race on lap 16, with Biaggi now in second as the two battled it out for yet again, the third Italian was also on his way, with Capirossi carving quickly through the lead pack and into fourth behind his teammate and ahead of Haga.

Last year's victor Biaggi overtook "The Doctor" towards the end of the lap and with 10 to go the two were separated by just 0.010secs, as the top six - Biaggi, Capirossi, Rossi, Barros, Haga and Jacque - now began to pull away.

Lap 19 and Capirossi completed a magnificent fight back by taking the lead from Biaggi, with Rossi third in the now all-Italian one-two-three, with the trio shuffling positions in a thrilling dice over the next few laps.

Lap 22 and McCoy's lack of pace appeared to be caused by some sort of Clutch problem, while Olivier Jacque worked his way into third behind Ross and Biaggi (leading), with the two West Honda Pons pilots battling with Haga.

Rossi squeezed ahead through the left hand turn two on lap 24, with Barros trying to follow suite past the Roman a few corners later, but Biaggi held firm and Barros was forced to back off after clipping the rear wheel of the Marlboro Yamaha.

All this allowed Rossi some breathing room up front, but Biaggi was soon closing on his countryman and the two enjoyed a 0.5sec advantage over third placed man Jacque with two laps to go.

Biaggi used the slipstream to surge clear along the front straight on the penultimate lap, leaving Rossi to decide just how badly he wanted the win with the title in sight.

The last lap began with Capirossi in third, behind Rossi and Biaggi, but Vale looked to be less 'desperate' than on a normal last lap - but then the Honda hero out braked Biaggi into the hairpin and despite the Roman tucking behind the #46 on the run to the flag for a photo finish the clocks showed that Rossi had won by just 0.013secs, with Capirossi completing yet another all-Italian podium.

Rossi was visibly relieved after clinching the title and following his full repertoire of slow down lap 'extravagances' he stopped to greet members of his Nastro Azzurro team and put on a celebratory T-shirt, before returning to the pits where he was congratulated by almost all the pit lane.

Full results to follow...

1. Rossi
2. Biaggi +0.013secs
3. Capirossi +0.581secs
4. Barros +0.714secs
5. Ukawa +1.288secs
6. Jacque +2.534secs
7. Nakano +2.579secs
8. Haga +2.582secs



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