It was the race the capacity Mugello crowd came from all over Italy to see - their heroes Valentino Rossi, Loris Capirossi and Max Biaggi battling relentlessly for 23 laps around the stunning 5.2km circuit for the honour of a home victory.

The trio didn't disappoint, with the reigning World Champion forced to fight right to the flag as Capirossi rode the wheels off his bucking, sliding and wheel-spinning Ducati as he chased the marques first ever GP victory.

Qualifying saw Rossi take revenge on Capirossi by snatching pole with a last gasp lap, which eclipsed an almost identical effort from his compatriot the day before.

It seemed as though there would be a three-way Italian battle for pole as Rossi, Capirossi and Max Biaggi all mounted late attempts, but ultimately only Rossi did enough to edge out the Ducati rider, by 0.027secs.

Capirossi, who claimed he'd sacrificed pole for race set-up as he eyes Ducati's first GP victory, still held second despite not improving over yesterday. Loris was also outdone in the speed stakes, by team-mate Troy Bayliss, who beat the #65's previous benchmark with a scorching 331.1km/h velocity down the main straight.

Surprise of the session was Shinya Nakano, who sprung a surprise attack to split the all-Italian top three and pushed Biaggi down to fourth for the D'Antin rider's first front row start aboard an M1.

Just over half a second covering the top ten, with factory Honda pair Tohru Ukawa and Sete Gibernau sealing fifth and sixth places on today's grid, just ahead of Yamaha duo Carlos Checa and Olivier Jacque.

The Frenchman relegated Gauloises team-mate Alex Barros to the third row, where the Brazilian was joined by Makoto Tamada, Bayliss and Marco Melandri.

The new Proton V5 machines qualified 19th and 23rd, at the hands of Jeremy McWilliams and Nobuatsu Aoki respectively.

Having been warmed up by the 125 and 250cc races - which included a home victory for Lucio Cecchinello and a 'near' home victory for San Marinese Manuel Poggiali - the atmosphere among the sell out Mugello crowd was on knife-edge by the time the 23-rider grid assembled for the main event.

Cheers, air horns, fireworks and flag waving from their respective supporters during the warm-up lap left Rossi, Biaggi and Capirossi (carrying the hopes of the huge Ducati contingent) well aware that second would be a form of failure today.

When the red lights went out it was Capirossi who fuelled further rumours of launch control as he made a faultless charge down the long main straight and into the right hand turn one, leaving Biaggi, Nakano, Gibernau, Rossi, Checa, Melandri, Ukawa, Jacque, Bayliss and Edwards in his wake.

Immediately making his presence felt was Nakano, who slipstreamed past Biaggi for second into turn one on the following lap, while Bayliss was using his awesome top speed to work his way up the order. The Australian had also made a strong start, but found his progress blocked by the riders ahead.

Nakano mixed it with the Italians for three laps before Biaggi and Rossi relegated the D'Antin rider to create an all-Italian fight for first, second and third that would last to the flag.

One lap later and Capirossi scared the Ducati fans when he allowed the rear of his Marlboro machine to slide more out of line than even he would have liked under braking - allowing Biaggi to cut inside and take the lead.

Rossi would pounce soon after, and for a five lap period the three maintained formation, studying each others strengths - the Hondas were faster through the turns, but Capirossi was 10 kph quicker down the main straight and unafraid to throw his bike sideways under braking.

Although not openly admitted, the fear for Ducati was that the Hondas would now simply ride into the distance, with Capirossi fading as the race went on... but not today.

On lap nine the #65 pitched his machine under Rossi to momentarily take second before the Repsol rider retaliated, but just two laps later Capirossi would use the tow from the two RCVs in front to clock a new all time top speed record of 332.4kph (206.6mph) at the end of the home straight.

But while Capirossi was coming alive, his team-mate Bayliss saw his hopes end in a cloud of dust as he lost the front of his Desmosedici and slid into the Mugello gravel. The Australian had worked his way into fifth at the time and might even have caught the top three with the time available, but he just hasn't seemed his usual confident self all weekend.

Meanwhile, by the halfway point the race had developed into three main groups at the front: Biaggi, Rossi and Capirossi up front, - then a 1.5secs gap to Nakano and Gibernau - then a 2secs gap to Checa and Ukawa.

After examining all possibilities in the proceeding laps, Rossi made his move for the lead on 12, out-braking his arch rival into turn one and immediately punching out the quickest laps of the race to try and break any opposition.

Seeing this Loris repeated Rossi's move on Biaggi at turn one the next time around, but just as he was thinking about working on Rossi, his bike got sideways in a downhill braking area allowing Max back through.

The Camel rider then made a mistake of his own when he ran wide, and the two made considerable contact when Capirossi dived for the space inside. Both stayed upright, and Biaggi braved it out around the outside to hold his position into the following turn - but the drama had allowed Rossi vital breathing room of around 1.2secs.

Rossi's advantage grew still further as Capirossi again launched an attack on Biaggi, outbraking the #3, only for Max to return the move seconds later - this time however Capirossi wasn't budging and with the two mere millimetres apart, and the Desmosedici kicking and sliding underneath him, Loris held firm around the outside and could finally call second his own when Biaggi suffered a scare when his RCV's front wheel slid into a high speed chicane.

Having broken free for Biaggi, Capirossi had no intention of settling for second and with the huge Ducati grandstand urging him on he gave more than anyone could have asked to catch Rossi in the five laps left.

Vale had a 1.8secs lead when Capirossi moved into second, but that immediately began to disappear at the rate of 0.2secs a lap - culminating in Capirossi setting what would be the fastest lap of the race of lap 20, as he closed to within a second of Rossi's rear wheel.

However, his progress was nothing less than miraculous given the shapes his Ducati was getting into - it was barely upright and stable even on the straights - and that finally took its toll with two laps to go when he ran slightly wide and lost some of his momentum.

The last two laps saw Capirossi regain that ground, but he simply ran out of laps and Rossi was left punching the air with delight as he won by 1.4secs - but it was closer than the time indicates: Rossi kept his head down and rode flat out right to the finish line, there simply wasn't the chance for any of his usual victory celebrations.

Capirossi was suitably pleased with second - Ducati's best MotoGP result to date - and the team swamped the exhausted Loris as if he'd just won.

Biaggi stayed in touch with the top two, finishing 3secs behind Capirossi, but he clearly backed off in the final stages after his front-end scare and was by far the least happy Italian on the podium this afternoon.

10secs behind Biaggi was Tamada, who undoubtedly rode the race of his short GP career to steal fourth from countryman Nakano on the very last lap, having carved his way past Ukawa, Gibernau, Checa and Edwards.

It says much for Tamada and his Bridgestone tyres that he was able to set the third quickest lap of the race in the process, beaten only by Capirossi and Rossi!

Ukawa had a quiet race for sixth, but at least finished in style by beating Gibernau in the run to the flag, the Spaniard had looked strong in the early part of the race, but was unable to pass Nakano and then faded in the closing stages.

Edwards will be satisfied with ninth after fighting with old rival Bayliss in the early stages, while his team-mate Haga crashed out. Barros fell on lap 3, losing the front at the same corner as Bayliss.

Rookies Melandri, Hayden and Kiyonari all took valuable points, while wild-card Hofmann claimed the top Kawasaki accolade as both he and McCoy finished in the points.

Suzuki endured a nightmare event when Kenny Roberts hit John Hopkins on the third lap, sending them both into the gravel. The two team-mates wisely walking away in opposite directions to cool down...

The Proton V5's performed well in their debut race, only for McWilliams (who was in the points) and Aoki retire with the same fuel pump problems they had suffered yesterday.

Full results to follow...

1. Rossi
2. Capirossi
3. Biaggi
4. Tamada
5. Nakano
6. Ukawa
7. Gibernau
8. Checa
9. Edwards
10. Jacque
11. Melandri
12. Hayden
13. Kiyonari
14. Hofmann
15. McCoy
16. Pitt



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