Despite a spirited challenge from Kawasaki substitute rider Olivier Jacque on a treacherously wet Shanghai circuit, Valentino Rossi won the dramatic inaugural Chinese MotoGP for Yamaha on Sunday.

Despite a spirited challenge from Kawasaki substitute rider Olivier Jacque on a treacherously wet Shanghai circuit, Valentino Rossi won the dramatic inaugural Chinese MotoGP for Yamaha on Sunday.


Rossi, who took the lead early in the race when Kenny Roberts's Suzuki developed a mechanical problem, won the first race of the season in Spain and was second in Portugal. And, following his victory in Shanghai, Rossi leads the championship by 25 points over Italian Marco Melandri ahead of the next round at Le Mans.


Morning thunderstorms dampened crowd numbers, with no more than 25 000 fans turning out to watch Rossi's triumph, compared to the 150 000 that attended last year's F1 grand prix.


However, the Shanghai circuit's slow, wide corners and two long straights provided spectators with much excitement as China became the 28th country to host the event in the sport's 56-year history.


The day's major shock came from Jacque, who reduced Rossi's lead over the final laps before having to settle for second place at the end of the 22-lap race.


"It's like a dream, it's a big surprise," said Jacque, who, until three weeks ago, was sidelined from the sport for seven months.


"It's magic. But it's very strange to be back after one year. I feel like a hair in a soup, or rather a fish in water."


The 31-year-old Frenchman had stepped in at short notice to replace injured German Alex Koffman, who cracked his wrist in a demonstration ride last month.


Rossi, nicknamed "Speeding Dragon" by Chinese fans, was equally surprised at Jacque's podium finish.


"When I saw Olivier's name on the board I didn't understand who it was, because they only put an 'O' there," the Italian said. "I wondered who 'O' was and thought it was perhaps a Chinese rider -- but then I realized it was OJ!"


Italy's Melandri on a Honda was third after he overtook Spanish team-mate Sete Gibernau, whose rear tyre shredded, on the last lap.

Spain's Carlos Checa, Australia's Troy Bayliss and Japan’s Troy Bayliss, Carlos Checa and Shinya Nakano fell foul of the conditions and retired.


Many teams found it difficult to set up their bikes without previous reference points on the new circuit and battled with alternating wet and dry weather conditions over the weekend.


Rossi made an early decision to get to the front and avoid being blinded by spray down Shanghai's back straight.


The Italian, who started sixth on the grid, was modest after his triumph: "I think this was the biggest surprise of my career. (But) I was consistent and focused through the race, it was great”.