If Mugello provided excitement on a grand scale, Catalunya put MotoGP on a new plane for high drama and great deeds. Loris Capirossi won on a Ducati, with Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda RC211V) second and crowd favourite Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V) third. But a mere finishing order cannot begin to convey the amazing events that transpired under a Catalonian sun in front of 96,000 race fans.
It was a stifling 35 degrees with the scorched track at 49 degrees, and the on-track action was white-hot from the lights. Capirossi got the holeshot and led Rossi, Gibernau and Olivier Jacque (Yamaha) out of the tricky esses and into a 25-lap race that would come alive at just over half-distance with an intensity that has not been seen in the new four-stroke era. And the previous races have not exactly been average.
Only 2.5 seconds separated the first five riders at mid-distance and Rossi, Capirossi, Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons RC211V), Sete Gibernau and Carlos Checa (Yamaha) were looking as if the punishing conditions might force them to circulate in that order for the second half of the race. It was by no means processional, but it wasn't exactly a festival of adventurous riding either.
All it took to change that was a small mistake from Rossi at turn four. He ran wide and the predatory Capirossi seized the moment to dive inside and try to make a break from the World Champion. Rossi knew he couldn't let him get away and immediately set about hauling Capirossi's Ducati back in. But on the next lap and at the same place he ran straight into the gravel. He kept his RC211V upright and fired it back on track in sixth place with nine laps to go. He then produced some of the most forceful riding yet seen to snatch back four places - three of them two laps from the finish. He almost looked as if he was lapping backmarkers when he stormed past Shinya Nakano (Yamaha), Checa and Biaggi in one lap. He then took Gibernau on the penultimate lap and for a moment even Capirossi, 2.9 seconds in front, looked vulnerable.
But the improbable in the end proved impossible and Capirossi responded sufficiently by pulling out a tenth of a second on his charging pursuer by the flag. If each of the 96,000 crowd tells a friend about this race, Catalunya can expect 192,000 in 2004. It was that good.