Loris Capirossi gave Ducati its first MotoGP win on Sunday after surviving a four-way battle for the lead in the Catalunya Grand Prix and holding off a stunning late charge by Valentino Rossi.

Loris Capirossi gave Ducati its first MotoGP win on Sunday after surviving a four-way battle for the lead in the Catalunya Grand Prix and holding off a stunning late charge by Valentino Rossi.

Rossi (Repsol Honda) finished second after recovering from an off-circuit excursion in the final laps that put him down to sixth place. Local hero Sete Gibernau (Telefónica MoviStar Honda) completed the podium.

The finishing order was identical to that into the first corner at the start of the race, but there was huge drama from Lap 1 to the chequered flag… Capirossi, Rossi and Gibernau were followed into the first corner by Olivier Jacques (Gauloises Yamaha Team), Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pramac Pons), Shinya Nakano (d'Antín Yamaha Team), Alex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team), and Carlos Checa team mate Marco Melandri (Fortuna Yamaha Team).

As the pack arrived in the first corner, the two Kawasakis of Andrew Pitt and Akira Yanagawa collided and ploughed into the back of the Proton Team KR bike of Jeremy McWilliams.

Before the end of Lap 1, Rossi passed Capirossi to take the lead. Behind the pair, Biaggi got past Gibernau to go into third place, only for the Spaniard to regain the place two corners later, and yield it again before the end of the first lap.

Rossi then set the fastest lap of the race and began to pull away from Capirossi. By Lap 8, the top four, Rossi, Capirossi, Biaggi and Gibernau, were covered by just 1,4 seconds, and were opening up a gap over Nakano who was a further second back. However, on the next lap Rossi slowed the pace to conserve his tyres, and the top six riders began to close up.

On Lap 12, Jacques dropped out from his top-seven position while Rossi and Capirossi sped up. Capirossi then began to close right up on race leader Rossi, while Gibernau began to challenge Biaggi for third spot.

On Lap 15, Rossi’s tyres appeared to be wearing out and he ran too deep into a corner, allowing Capirossi to slip past and put the Ducati into the lead. Rossi pursued his countryman and closed right up behind him, only to outbrake himself into a tight right-hander and tour across the deep gravel trap. Rossi managed to keep the bike upright and returned to the track in sixth place, five seconds behind fifth-placed Nakano with seven laps remaining.

The defending world champion promptly set not only the fastest lap of the race, but a new lap record (1:45,530) with a top speed of 318,5 km/h down Circuit de Catalunya's main straight.

Then Biaggi made a mistake, allowing Gibernau to slip past into second place, much to the delight of the Spanish crowd. Rossi was slashing Capirossi's lead, and was 5,369 seconds behind the leader with five laps left. He was on a mission to take a second a lap from the leader and get back to the front of the race, but he had Gibernau, Biaggi, Checa and Nakano still ahead of him. Once more he set a new lap record, raising the bar to 1:45,472.

With just three laps left, Rossi passed Nakano and then blasted past arch-rival Biaggi. Biaggi briefly retook his position, with the two riders choosing alternate lines through the two corners. After no less than three position changes in two corners, Rossi prevailed.

Biaggi then tried to match Rossi's pace, but ran off into the gravel and crashed into the tyre wall. He recovered to rejoin down in 14th place.

But with three seconds left between them and one lap of the race left, Capirossi upped his pace and held off the magnificent charge by Rossi to give Ducati their first-ever MotoGP victory.

Checa and Nakano swopped places a couple of times in the last laps as they disputed fourth place, with the Spaniard taking the place just before the line. The excitement extended even further down the pack, with Noriyuki Haga (Alice Aprilia Racing) crossing the line in twelfth place just two thousandths of a second behind Marco Melandri (Fortuna Yamaha Team).