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Katoh destroys the opposition
9 September 2001
Daijiro Katoh worked his way steadily to the front in today's Portuguese 250cc Grand Prix – then never looked back, finishing a massive 16.9secs ahead of his nearest rival after 26 laps.
Tetsuya Harada had firmly taken the challenge to championship leader Daijiro Katoh throughout the two days of qualifying, and today's race looked destined to see another epic battle between the two Japanese riders – with McWilliams (who has crashed out of every race since his Assen victory), Melandri and even Fonsi Nieto (fourth on the grid) in the frame.
As the 250cc stars released their clutches and stormed into the tight first right hander it was Katoh who charged ahead – but Melandri put in an amazing late braking effort to squeeze inside Katoh, allowing Harada to also creep in front.
Harada then took the lead into the chicane mid-way around the first of 26 laps, with McWilliams fourth ahead of Fonsi Nieto. Into the chicane on lap two and Melandri returned the favour on teammate Harada by re-passing him for the lead, only for Harada to slipstream back in front at the end of the main straight at the beginning of the next lap.
By this stage the top three (Harada, Melandri and Katoh) were beginning to pull away from McWilliams, while Katoh's teammate Emilio Alzamora was now chasing the Ulsterman with Nieto (sixth) also still in contact.
Lap 5 and Melandri was once again back in the lead, as the top three remained inseparable, while Alzamora made his move on McWilliams for fourth and set about closing the 1secs gap to Katoh.
However, having waited until the frantic early race action had settled down, Katoh now began to threaten Harada – and duly split the black Aprilia's into turn one.
Next time around and Katoh repeated the move on Melandri to take the lead for the first time I the race on lap seven, while his teammate Alzamora was having an altogether different race as he crashed from his Honda.
Over the proceeding laps Katoh began to build a buffer up front by setting a lap time 0.3secs quicker than Melandri – and nearly 1secs faster than third placed man Harada, as the Brno victor began to fade.
By lap 10 Katoh and Melandri were still glued together up front, while Harada was now over 3secs behind – and clearly struggling. However, Harada was still a further 4secs in front of McWilliams, who had his hands full with Naoki Matsudo.
Katoh then began to break Melandri with a series of breathtaking laps, that saw the #74 machine increase it's advantage from just 0.1secs on lap 10 to a considerable 1.9secs just two laps later.
This demoralising (for MS Aprilia) pattern continued to the point that by lap 20 Katoh commanded a 7.1secs lead over Melandri, with Harada a further 11secs back in third and McWilliams still holding fourth (30secs behind Katoh), despite Matsudo's best efforts.
Indeed as the end of the race grew ever nearer the main battle in the top ten was four fourth as Robby Rolfo began to put in a late race charge, and was now threatening McWilliams.
The semi-privateer Italian found a way past with two to go into turn one, with Nieto now ahead of Matsudo - and looking to follow suit ASAP. Nieto duly made his move on the Ulsterman on the penultimate lap to take sixth.
However, it wouldn't be that easy as he nearly highsided from his Aprilia through the chicane – hanging on only by riding sidesaddle into the next turn as he tried to get back on board!
Meanwhile, into the last lap and Katoh now had an unassailable 12.050secs lead over Melandri, which he would increase by several more second s before the flag, with Harada third, Rolfo fourth and McWilliams fifth after holding off Matsudo.
Full results to follow…
2. Melandri +16.993secs
3. Harada +27.360secs
4. Rolfo +34.207secs
5. McWilliams +36.916secs
6. Matsudo +37.101secs
7. Nieto +44.441secs
8. Checa +45.404secs
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