Capirossi beats Pedrosa for Jerez victory.
Ducati's Loris Capirossi has taken victory in a dramatic season opening Spanish Grand Prix - after finally breaking the amazing challenge of MotoGP rookie Dani Pedrosa with just two laps to go.
The race started with high drama when reigning five times MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi - winner of the first race of the season for the past five years - was hit by Toni Elias at the apex of a claustrophobic turn one; the Italian being sent spinning across the asphalt before springing to his feet and punching the air in disgust.
The seven times world champion then slowly remounted his factory M1 - which looked to have sustained footpeg/rear brake lever and front brake lever damage - to continue the race almost a minute down and with his chances of victory well and truly over. Team-mate Colin Edwards was also caught up in the mayhem, dropping back down the field as he avoided the contact ahead.
Meanwhile, pole sitter Capirossi had held off team-mate Sete Gibernau to lead the field around turn one - with Marco Melandri third, Nicky Hayden fourth, Casey Stoner fifth - after a stunning first MotoGP start - with Shinya Nakano, Pedrosa, Randy de Puniet and Checa following.
2005 MotoGP runner-up Melandri dived past Gibernau later in the lap, but much worse was to follow for the Catalan - who had set the pace in morning warm-up - when he suddenly raised his hand on the exit of a turn, a lap later, to signal terminal mechanical problems for his Desmosedici.
At around the same time, fellow Spaniard Pedrosa was already starting to feature - the triple world champion carving his way confidently through the field to take third from Melandri, behind new second place man Hayden, on lap 4 - while Capirossi pulled clear up front.
However, any fears that Loris would walk away to victory were soon quashed as Dani blasted past team-mate Hayden and promptly began taking chunks out of the Italian's lead. It is no exaggeration to say that Pedrosa was already giving many of his new rivals a riding lesson - and cut Capirossi's advantage down to under one second within five laps.
By the halfway stage, that slim margin still separated the top two, with Hayden now a further three-seconds adrift and Melandri in turn two-seconds from the #69 and coming under pressure from new team-mate Elias. Behind the top five, Stoner, Nakano, Hopkins, Roberts, Checa, Tamada, Vermeulen, Edwards, Hofmann, Cardoso, Ellison and Rossi completed the remaining runners.
With the crowd cheering Pedrosa over every inch of the 4.4km circuit, the Spaniard continued to hunt down Capirossi - making ground on braking/corner entry and sliding less than the #65 ahead - and with 10 laps to go had well and truly caught the double 2005 race winner, lurking just a few tenths from his rear wheel.
But the closing stages were always where Pedrosa would face his biggest fitness challenge and, although he showed no signs of fatigue in terms of mistakes, the last five laps saw the #26 finally lose ground to Capirossi - although the #26's sensational victory challenge only realistically ended when he dropped 1.8secs from Loris with two laps to go.
Thus, Capirossi crossed the finish line to make a perfect start to the 2006 season, while Pedrosa - the revelation of the race - produced the best rookie performance since Max Biaggi's 1998 debut 500cc victory.
Further back, Hayden held off Elias by less than 0.1secs for the final podium position, while Rossi crossed the line over a minute down on Capirossi in 14th. Elias, having stepped from his bike to help light fireworks, apologised at length to Valentino for the first turn incident during their slow down lap - with Rossi's expressionless body language suggesting Toni could perhaps feel he was partially forgiven.
Regardless of what appeared a racing incident, Elias rode a brilliant race - a fact emphasised by the former Yamaha rider having caught, passed and then finished nearly 10-seconds ahead of race winning team-mate Melandri. Another strong ride came from Stoner, who clinched sixth by less than a tenth of a second from Kawasaki's front row starter Nakano, while Kenny Roberts Jr put the brand new KR211V an impressive eighth on its race debut by passing former Suzuki team-mate John Hopkins on the very last lap.
Konica Minolta Honda's Makoto Tamada completed the top ten, while Edwards 'recovered' to eleventh - less than two-seconds clear of Chris Vermeulen - with Tech 3 Yamaha's Carlos Checa the last rider to finish in front of Rossi.
The final point went to d'Antin Ducati's Alex Hofmann, while Checa's team-mate James Ellison was the final finisher - Kawasaki rookie de Puniet, who fell heavily in morning warm-up, joining the luckless Gibernau and Jose Luis Cardoso on the DNF list.
Round two of the 2006 MotoGP World Championship will take place at Qatar on April 8 - in which Rossi will hope to both solve his chatter problems and close the current 23-point gap to Capirossi.