Loris Capirossi has ended his and Ducati's two-year MotoGP win drought by taking a hard fought victory over countryman Max Biaggi in today's Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi - following a dramatic race that saw Valentino Rossi collide with Marco Melandri during a failed overtaking attempt, which took both riders out and left Melandri on a stretcher.

Qualifying had seen Capirossi lead a Bridgetsone one-two with a new pole record of 1min 46.363secs - enough to hold off closest challenger John Hopkins by a massive 0.498secs, whilst Marco Melandri was the top Michelin qualifier in third.

2004 race winner Makoto Tamada revived his forgettable 2005 season with fourth, ahead of Repsol Honda team-mates Max Biaggi and Nicky Hayden, but world champion Rossi - capable of wrapping up the championship today - was left in his worst qualifying position since being sent to the back of the grid at Qatar last year.

After qualifying, most riders felt that Capirossi would be hard to beat today but - while the Italian would lead Hopkins, Gibernau (seventh on the grid) and Rossi in morning warm-up - the top three were covered by a mere 0.247secs suggesting a close race.

So, could Capirossi go on to claim his first race win in over two years? Would Hopkins finally stand on his first MotoGP podium - and would Rossi be crowned a seven times world champion this afternoon? Much would depend on getting through turn one unscathed, something the field had failed to do for the past two years...

When the red lights went out it was Melandri who stole the early advantage as the leaders cautiously threaded one-by-one around the first turn, the young Italian leading Biaggi, Capirossi, Hopkins, Tamada, Hayden, Gibernau, Roberts, Barros and Rossi in close formation.

Thereafter, Rossi - just as he had in Qatar - cut ruthlessly through the field, climbing to eighth (behind Gibernau) by the end of lap one, while up front Capirossi and Biaggi made contact as the Ducati rider squeezed past his countryman under braking at the end of the back straight.

Meanwhile, Rossi continued his rapid ascendancy - passing Tamada for fourth on lap 3 - but he couldn't close in on the three fellow Italians ahead. Also of interest was that Tamada stuck with Rossi and - by lap 9 of 24 - the Japanese hero was starting to think about repassing the #46 and closing the two-second gap to the leaders ahead.

The action between the top three was even more intense, with Melandri, Capirossi and Biaggi nose-to-tail, with each looking to pass the other at almost every corner - with Loris adding to the interest by taking some 'Bridgestone' lines through the corners.

But the #65's hopes almost came to an end on lap on lap 10, when he dived inside Melandri for the lead - but nearly lost the front of his Desmosedici, forcing him to lift the machine and run wide, allowing both Melandri and Biaggi through and leaving him within grasp of Rossi.

Capirossi would be helped back into contention a few laps later when Biaggi also made a failed attempt for the lead, passing Marco cleanly at the end of the back straight, but running slightly off line on the exit, allowing the #33 to cut back past under power.

Such incidents all helped Capirossi, Rossi and Tamada to close back up to the top two and, while Biaggi would eventually force his way into the lead at the halfway mark, by then Capirossi was back in his wheeltracks and would also demote Melandri a few corners later.

Perhaps sensing that the race was starting to slip away from him, Melandri then began to make some minor errors - perhaps caused by tyre wear - such as running wide on the exit of corners, allowing Rossi and Tamada to march further towards his rear wheel.

Soon after, Capirossi attempted to outbrake Biaggi for the lead at the end of the back straight (repeating his lap one move), but was firmly repassed on the exit. However, there was much greater drama just behind them as Rossi, seeing the top two pulling away from Melandri, tried a desperately late outbraking move down the inside.

Rossi was simply too far back heading into the downhill braking area, prior to the tight right hand turn, and had no chance of stopping his M1 in time - a rare 'human error' from a superhuman rider. The result was that the Yamaha star torpedoed into the side of the unfortunate Melandri at considerable speed, hitting him as he turned towards the apex on the normal racing line.

Rossi struck the RCV near Melandri's right leg, flipping the machine and sending both riders into the gravel. To his credit, Rossi instantly rushed over to Melandri - who was holding his leg and clearly in considerable pain - to apologise and offer assistance, before being asked to move away by the track marshals.

The world champion's body language said it all as he walked slowly through the gravel with his head bowed, while Melandri was lifted onto a stretcher. It remains to be seen how badly his leg is damaged.

Melandri's exit completed a disastrous double DNF for Fausto Gresini's team, with Sete Gibernau crashing out on lap 12, while the Yamaha pits was left in an awkward silence. Rossi will have to wait until Sepang at the earliest to celebrate his latest title success - any hopes of a home Yamaha party being well and truly over.

Meanwhile, Capirossi would crawl all over Biaggi's rear wheel until launching a surprise victory pass, with 6 laps remaining, by squirting his GP5 alongside Biaggi in the middle of a double apex right hander. Loris had the inside line for the exit, made the pass and then threw everything into breaking Biaggi from his tow.

After two intense laps the plan worked and Max was soon left around one-second from the #65, an advantage Capirossi would keep until he wheelied over the line to celebrate Ducati's second ever MotoGP victory - at the home of the Italian manufacturer's mighty Japanese rivals.

Biaggi duly claimed top Michelin honours and strengthened his second position in the championship, while Tamada - who had been a lonely third since the Melandri/Rossi collision - claimed a breakthrough first podium of 2005 for the Japanese sponsored Konica Minolta Honda team.

The second factory Ducati of Carlos Checa took fourth ahead of Suzuki's John Hopkins - the #21 successfully holding off countryman Colin Edwards by less than two-seconds, while the other Americans - Nicky Hayden and Kenny Roberts - took seventh and eighth.

A large number of DNFs helped Tech 3 team-mates Toni Elias and Ruben Xaus claim ninth and tenth, while WCM's Franco Battaini was the eleventh and final finisher.

Of the non-finishes, Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano retired with engine failure - the frustrated Japanese dropping the machine after stopping it in the gravel following his second mechanical in as many days - while team-mate Alex Hofmann collided with D'Antin's Roberto Rolfo.

Both Camel Honda's also failed to finish, while Moriwaki wild-card Naoki Matsudo didn't complete his first MotoGP race lap. The second Blata WCM of James Ellison didn't start the race due to the elbow injuries sustained in testing after Brno.

In terms of the championship, Rossi's first DNF of the season sees his title lead over Biaggi reduced from 132-points to 112 - with five rounds, and 125-points, to go - while Capirossi has advanced to fourth in the standings.

The Malaysian Grand Prix will take place next weekend.

Full results to follow...

Japanese Grand Prix:

1. Capirossi
2. Biaggi
3. Tamada
4. Checa
5. Hopkins
6. Edwards
7. Hayden
8. Roberts
9. Elias
10. Xaus
11. Battaini



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