Sete Gibernau has led a Telefonica Honda one-two in a dramatic first ever Qatar Grand Prix, which also saw Ruben Xaus take his first ever MotoGP podium and world championship leader Valentino Rossi crash out after a determined charge from the back of the grid.

The big pre-race news was that world championship leader Rossi and third in the points Max Biaggi had both been dropped to the back of rear of the field after members of their respective teams were caught illegally cleaning their eighth and twelfth placed grid slots last night. Did they honestly think no-one would notice...?

Following the inevitable morning protest by rival teams, both Italians were handed a six-second penalty to be added to their qualifying time; sending Biaggi to the back of the 22-rider grid and leaving Rossi - who held a 39-point world championship over Sete Gibernau heading into the race - to start just one place in front of the Camel Honda rider.

With the dusty racetrack extremely slippery off the racing line, Rossi and Biaggi - who had been second and seventh in a morning warm-up session led by Colin Edwards - clearly faced a serious test as to how far they could advance up the order this afternoon...

When the red lights went out to start the first Qatar Grand Prix, pole sitter Carlos Checa got a strong start to lead the field through turn one - but team-mate Rossi turned heads by quickly carving through the pack, then diving deep inside the field at turn one. He would emerge on the edge of the top 10!

But at the front Checa was leading Gibernau, Xaus, Nakano, Barros, Capirossi, Bayliss, Hayden, Rossi and McWilliams - Bayliss would stumble on the dust, while by the end of lap one Rossi was up to eighth, behind Capirossi... Biaggi was just 18th.

Checa would lose the lead to Gibernau after the Telefonica Honda slipstreamed past into turn one, and the ever impressive Nakano would repeat the move one lap later to take third from Xaus.

Edwards, Barros and Rossi were next to pass Xaus, but drama was to follow when Rossi then tried an optimistic out-braking move on the Repsol Honda rider into turn one - and hit the Brazilian. Neither rider fell, but Barros was knocked wide. Rossi instantly raised his hand to acknowledge fault... It didn't help Alex much though; he had dropped to 17th by the end of the lap after also slipping on oil from Shinya Nakano's Kawasaki.

But worse was to follow for the now fourth placed Rossi, who ran wide onto the 'grass' on the following lap (6), and was promptly thrown from his M1 when the rear kicked out - sending the Italian superstar sliding down the asphalt with sparks flying from both man and machine. Valentino was fortunately unhurt and quickly scrambled off the racing line, before starting the lonely walk home to consider his second DNF of the season.

At around the same time, Nakano was frustratingly forced to retire from an excellent third place when the engine on his ZX-RR exploded in a plume of smoke, while Capirossi made several trips through the gravel (dropping him to eleventh). The Italian would later join factory Ducati team-mate Bayliss in retiring with mechanical problems.

All of which gave a leading order by the end of lap 8 of 22 as: Gibernau, Checa (+3.29), Edwards (+4.0), Melandri (+13.3), Xaus (+13.5), Hayden (+17.7), Biaggi (18.1), Barros (+21.4) and Hopkins (+21.6).

The charging Edwards would seize second from Checa midway through lap 9, leaving the Texan with only team-mate Gibernau between himself and a first ever GP victory. With Rossi out Sete desperately needed the 25-points to really revive his title hopes, but would Edwards play the team game?

It looked like we'd soon find out because the American began quickly catching Gibernau, and by lap 13 was less than two-seconds away from the #15, but then Sete responded and stabilised his lead.

Two other team-mates who were doing battle were Repsol Honda duo Hayden and Barros, the latter having recovered from his earlier knock to close up to the sixth placed American's rear wheel... which soon become fifth when Melandri retired from fourth position ahead of them.

Barros would soon pass Hayden, but by then the pair had caught last on the grid Biaggi - the Camel Honda rider in turn reeling in fourth placed Xaus - and although Barros was clearly fired-up, it would take until lap 17 for the #4 to muscle past the former 250cc world champion.

With four laps to go, Edwards began turning up the heat on Gibernau once again - closing the gap from 2secs to 1.6secs in one circulation - but Sete still seemed to have things in hand and promptly responded, putting his lead back up to the two-second mark.

Further drama would follow behind them when Checa was forced to withdraw from a safe third place when his M1 suffered late race mechanical problems, handing Xaus a potential first MotoGP podium. Ruben would have the prized position if he could keep Barros (+2secs) behind him in the two laps that remained.

The last lap began with Gibernau 1.57secs in front of Edwards, and the pair would duly finish the first ever Qatar Grand Prix in that order - Sete having claimed his fourth victory of the season, Edwards his second ever GP podium and the Gresini team their first ever MotoGP one-two.

Gibernau also reduced Rossi's world championship lead to 14-points with three rounds and 75-points still available, while Edwards has risen to fourth in the championship - between Biaggi and Barros.

Meanwhile, a jubilant Xaus took his first ever MotoGP podium - and also first top three finish for any Ducati this season - while Barros took fourth place and Hayden was gifted fifth when Biaggi ran wide on the final lap.

Norick Abe would be the only Yamaha rider to finish, in seventh, while Hopkins was top Suzuki and Bridgestone rider in eighth. Kawasaki's Alex Hofmann and Camel Honda's Makoto Tamada completed the top ten on a day when just thirteen riders reached the chequered flag.

The remaining three places were taken by BSB regulars Yukio Kagayama (Suzuki), James Haydon (Proton KR) and James Ellison (WCM). All claimed well deserved world championship points, with Haydon's ride arguably the most impressive; James having never ridden the KR V5 before this weekend.

Full results to follow...

1. Gibernau
2. Edwards
3. Xaus
4. Barros
5. Hayden
6. Biaggi
7. Abe
8. Hopkins
9. Hofmann
10. Tamada
11. Kagayama
12. Haydon
13. Ellison



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