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Fantastic first 250 win for Melandri
22 July 2001
Marco Melandri won his first 250 Grand Prix at the Sachsenring after a fantastic late race charge saw him catch and then pass race leader Daijiro Katoh with a brave move at the final corner - and win by just 0.052secs.
At the start pole sitter Tetsuya Harada found all his hard work in qualifying undone at the first corner as Katoh stormed into the led from third on the grid, with Melandri keeping his second place start and the injured McWilliams – arguably the star of qualifying – moving into third.
However, halfway through the first lap Melandri sliced ahead of Katoh – was quickley re-passed by the Honda rider – but then both Aprilia's (Melandri and Harada, now ahead of McWilliams in third) got stunning drive out of the final uphill left hander and overtook Katoh at the first corner.
Worst was to follow for Katoh as McWilliams also moved ahead of the 24-year-old championship leader, while Luca Boscoscuro high sided while accelerating out up the hill at the final corner – the Italian sliding down the track and the luckless Roberto Locatelli hit his bike head on – throwing him up in the air and cartwheeling into retirement, 'Loca' being fortunate to walk away relatively unhurt.
Meanwhile, back at the front, on lap 5 of 29, Harada still led from Melandri, McWilliams, Katoh and Alzamora, with Fonsi Nieto trying desperately to tag on to the lead pack in sixth.
The formation at the front continued with the three Aprilia's leading the two Honda's over the next few laps, with McWilliams – riding with his broken collar bone - stealing second from Melandri.
As they crossed the line for the eighth time Alzamora lost his Telefonica Honda even before he turned in to the first corner, leaving Katoh to face the Aprilia's alone. The Aprilia cause would lose one of their own on the same lap though, when the #99 machine slid off the track and into the gravel trap after the front washed away – leaving Ulsterman McWilliams unharmed – but furious with himself.
So, with just over a third of the race completed Harada still led from Melandri and Katoh (just 0.472secs behind Harada), the trio now commanding a two second lead over fourth placed Fonsi Nieto as the race shaped up for a thrilling Katoh versus Aprilia finish.
By lap 13 Katoh had found a way by Melandri's #5 machine, but the brave Italian fought back and a different line through one of the many right-left corners saw Katoh back in third. But Melandri made clear he wasn't simply protecting Harada as he moved inside his Japanese teammate for the lead later in the lap.
Meanwhile, Rolfo had and de Puniet had overtaken the injured Fonsi Nieto for fourth and fifth respectively, but the pair were over six seconds behind third placed Katoh.
Lap 16 and Harada swept inside Melandri and the bottom of the hill as the top three remained nose-to-tail at the front, with Melandri retaking the lead at the end of the main straight on the following lap – as Katoh stalked them both in third, never even attempting to pass either Aprilia at this stage.
The laps counted down and it not be until lap 21 of 29 that Katoh made his move on Harada for second, sliding effortlessly ahead at the first turn and pressuring Melandri – as the leaders began to catch backmarkers.
Melandri negotiated his way safely through them – even pulling a slight gap on Katoh – while Harada lost out the most, dropping back from Katoh.
Lap 24 and Katoh had recovered the deficit to Melandri and was clearly looking for a way past the MS Aprilia, this he found at the first turn, while Harada rejoined the fight soon after when a backmarker closed the top three up once again.
Melandri, still looking for his first 250cc Grand Prix victory, stayed glued to Katoh's rear wheel over the next few laps – while Harada seemed to be unable to match the lead duo, although he was benefiting from the backmarkers.
Then, heading into the final corner to start the last two laps Melandri's Aprilia bobbled badly under braking – forcing him to run wide and back off the power. Harada tried to pass but also had to back off as he nearly hit the rear of Melandri's machine.
Melandri started the final lap determined to make up the significant gap to Katoh - and was handed a lifeline when Katoh ran wide, but the Honda hero hung on – although Melandri was now all over him and a do-or-die move looked likely.
That move came with a skilled dive down the inside at the bottom of the daunting hill, and he swept through the final turn to hold the lead from Katoh across the line with Harada wheelieing home in third – clearly delighted to witness his teammate's victory.
Melandri was so delighted he stopped his Aprilia and in Sanna-like celebrations he ran up to the huge mass of fans and was immediately hoisted high in the air as the emotional Italian shook his fists with delight.
Full results to follow…
2. Katoh +0.052secs
3. Harada +0.203secs
4. Rolfo +18.310secs
5. de Puniet +28.108secs
6. Debon +36.566secs
7. Hofmann +36.566secs
8. Matsudo +36.918secs