Three in a row for Ui, as Elias' hopes evaporate
21 October 2001
Youichi Ui won his third Grand Prix in as many races at Sepang today, cruising across the line 5secs ahead of Championship leader Manuel Poggiali and Lucio Cecchinello.
Poggiali's hard earned second place, coupled with main rival Toni Elias finishing just seventh, means that Poggi will take a 23 point lead into the season finale at Rio over Ui – with Elias now out of the running for the championship.
Elias' title hopes had been boosted when the Spaniard took pole for today's race (having been a lowly 17th on the grid in Phillip Island one week ago), while championship leader Poggiali would start on the outside of row two for the crucial encounter.
However, both had been overshadowed by Youichi Ui in recent races, and with the Japanese rider sitting in second on the grid there was every chance of him completing a hat trick a victories in as many starts as he tries to keep his slim championship hopes alive.
As red lights went out and the field charged towards the tight first corner it was Elias who rocketed away from pole to lead from teammate Pedrosa and Ui, while Poggiali hadn't got the start he'd hoped for and instead slipped to thirteenth.
An early retirement was Pablo Nieto, who lost the front of his #22 Derbi – while seconds later his teammate Ui who take the lead along the back straight, as the 125cc stars started lap 2 of 19.
By the start of lap 3 Poggiali had fought back to eighth, 4secs behind leader Ui, and with Angel Nieto Jr now in his sights, while at the front the Telefonica teammates (Pedrosa and Elias) were coming under pressure from Gino Borsoi, who slipstreamed ahead on the run past the huge grandstand towards the hairpin.
Poggiali continued to close the gap in time to the leaders, while the top five broke away, leaving Nieto Jr and Masao Azuma between him and the slipstreaming battle for the lead ahead.
Borsoi and Ui traded the lead through the next couple of laps; leaving Elias poised patently in third (and protected by Pedrosa) while Lucio Cecchinello hung on to the tail of the pack in fifth.
The end to the Ui/Borsoi battle came on lap 7 when Elias outbraked the Italian for second into turn one, as Ui put the hammer down and tried to break the tow – setting the fastest lap of the race in the process (faster than Elias' pole time) - as he attempted to repeat his Phillip Island performance one week earlier.
Poggiali was also on the move, as the San Marian worked his way around Azuma and into sixth, with a 1.1secs deficit between himself and the lead pack ahead – while by lap 9 Ui had amassed a 3.1secs lead!
If the battle for race victory looked to be all but over, the hoped for championship tussle between Elias and Poggiali was just beginning as Poggiali, having now caught the lead group, slipped inside his adversary at turn one.
Azuma followed suite soon after to leave the #24 machine at the tail of the fight for second, which was now headed by Borsoi from Cecchinello, with Poggiali fourth and Pedrosa fighting off veteran Azuma for fifth.
Lap 11 and Ui's lead was up to 4.991secs, from Cecchinello while Poggiali, now staring a 19 point championship lead in the face with just the Rio finale (and 25 points) to go, pressing Borsoi for third.
Positioned stayed more or less the same until lap 14, when Poggiali sliced decisively ahead of Cecchinello to lead the pack - while by contrast Elias had now slipped to the tail of the group in a lowly seventh (and with Arnauld Vincent now closing).
If Elias finished where he was, the 18 year old would now be overtaken by Ui for second in the standings, handing Poggiali a 23 point advantage heading to Rio.
Into the last three laps and Poggiali began to pull away from the snake of rider, with Cecchinello clinging to his tail, but behind Elias was getting increasingly desperate to keep his championship aspirations alive and ran over the rumble strips on several occasions as he tried to move up the order.
One lap later and Elias sat in fifth behind teammate Pedrosa, but as the final lap began he and Vincent began a frantic fight for sixth that left the Spaniard unable to move up the order as the race came to a climax.
Ui cruised over the line for victory, casually looking back to enjoy the fight for second between Poggiali and “Birthday boy” Cecchinello that went right to flag almost 5secs later. Borsoi took fourth with Pedrosa outperforming Elias, who finished two places back behind Vincent and so loses any chance of the world crown needing 26 points to catch the San Marian, but with just 25 available.
Full results to follow…
2. Poggiali +4.964secs
3. Cecchinello +5.153secs
4. Borsoi +5.910secs
5. Pedrosa +5.952secs
6. Vincent +6.786secs
7. Elias +6.813secs
8. Azuma +7.607secs