Majestic first win for McWilliams!
30 June 2001
There could not have been a more deserving winner of the 250cc Grand Prix at the daunting 6km Assen track, as Jeremy McWilliams dominated the Dutch TT to take his first ever GP victory – and the first British win since 1986.
The wet conditions at Assen on race morning had already played into the hands of McWilliams, as the Ulsterman fired a warning shot by leading the field in the soaking warm-up.
By the time the field assembled on the grid a few hours later the weather conditions had improved slightly, but the track was still 'wet' – though drying, and both McWilliams and teammate Rolfo took the decision to start the warm-up lap from the pitlane to give them the chance for a vital late tyre change.
As the red lights went out to signal the start of the race, pole sitter Tetsuya Harada made a terrible start (after a long delay before the light sequence began) while other front row starters Katoh, Melandri and McWilliams lead the way in first, second and third respectively.
Melandri passed Katoh for the lead half way around the first lap, with McWilliams following suite a corner later – then taking Melandri for the lead a few corners later, as the 37 year old revelled in the tricky conditions.
By the start of the second lap McWilliams and Melandri had begun to pull significantly away from Katoh, with Matsudo fourth and Porto now in fifth, while Harada was still down in fourteenth!
By the end of lap two the intermediate shod McWilliams was beginning to pull away – and one of the few riders not to have 'wet' tyres fitted, although Alzamora appeared to have slicks on in fourth, while de Gea was now up to third and apparently also on dry rubber – while the track was drying further.
Lap 4 of 18 and McWilliams had a lead of 8.7secs over Melandri, while de Gea and Alzamora hunted the young Italian (on a full wet set-up). One lap later and Alzamora was up to third ahead of de Gea, then took second from Melandri, as his tyres came into play.
Lap 6 and McWilliams held a 13.307secs lead over Alzamora, with de Gea now up third, ahead of Melandri, Boscoscuro, Rolfo, Katoh and Battaini.
Lap 7 and McWilliams was still the fastest man on the track, his lead now over 14secs – with the track now over 10secs faster than it had been during the warm-up.
One lap later and Alzamora was 0.5secs faster than the #99 machine, signalling that perhaps the time had come when they would be faster – while Harada flew into the pits from seventeenth – for a double (front and rear) tyre change! Such was the dryness of the track, at almost exactly the halfway point.
Lap 11 of 18 and McWilliams was in control, having broken Alzamora's spirit to maintain his lead at 13-14secs – despite the track conditions now playing into the hands of the slick shod runners in second and third, with Guintoli now up to fourth.
In the next few laps McWilliams continued to pull away from Alzamora, the Ulsterman's eyes staring intensely through his un-coloured visor, as he rode at a blisteringly pace around the legendary track.
4 to go and McWilliams was now 18secs ahead out front, and lapped his teammate Knowles, while the British and Ulster flags in the packed crowd gained momentum, as they began to see the long, long wait for a McWilliams GP victory - possibly - coming to an end.
Into the last two laps, and fingernails were being bitten to the bone in the McWilliams pits, after so long, so many disappointments, could the day have finally come?
McWilliams crossed the line for the penultimate time to start the final 6kms – the longest 6kms of McWilliams' life. The hard-as-nails veteran completed his last lap in majestic fashion, showboating his way home, waving his fist and wheeling over the line before being mobbed on his slow down lap by the ecstatic British fans, whom he delighted with burn-outs while they gave him enough pats on the back to last a lifetime – he deserved every one.
Full results to follow…
2. Alzamora +16.371secs
3. de Gea +38.409secs
4. Guintoli +39.214secs
5. Battaini +1min 09.461secs
6. Melandri +1min 29.468secs
7. Boscoscuro +1min 37.463secs
8. Chiarello +1min 41.959secs