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Magic Melandri makes it nine out of sixteen
3 November 2002
Marco Melandri cruised to his ninth 250cc GP victory of the season in his final ride in the quarter litre category today at Valencia, while battle of the race was between Gresini team-mate Rolfo and home hero Alzamora for second.
Yesterday, new 250cc World Champion Melandri had held on to pole position, despite not improving on his Friday provisional pole time and would start today's season finale alongside Randy de Puniet, Sebastian Porto and home hero Emilio Alzamora on the front row.
Telefonica team-mates Nieto and Elias were left min sixth and eighth respectively and eager to perform much better than that today in front of their fanatical home crowd.
When the lights disappeared it was the new World Champion that led the way into turn one, ahead of Elias, a fast starting Nieto, Porto, Debon, Rolfo and his team-mate local hero Alzamora.
So, with two Spaniard's immediately behind the Italian it looked as though the MS Aprilia star would face some serious opposition in his final 250cc Grand Prix before a move to MotoGP – almost certainly on a Yamaha - next year. However, taking no further part would be Rio winner Sebastian Porto, whose Yamaha ground to a halt on lap 2, while the Gresini Honda's closed in on the top three as they chased the first Honda quarter litre victory of the year.
Within four laps, Nieto was ahead of Elias, but by that time Melandri had a 2.4secs lead – and it was about to become bigger as Fonsi's front wheel folded on the entry to a left hander, sending him spiralling into the gravel and out of his home race.
By the midway stage of the 27lap race Melandri had pulled out a 5.5secs lead over Elias, with Rolfo a further 2.3secs behind and still battling with his team-mate Alzamora, with de Puniet a further 5secs back in fifth.
Lap 19 and the Gresini Hondas had pushed themselves up on to the tail of second placed Elias to create a three way fight. Rolfo didn't hang around in trying to pass the Motegi winner and soon outbraked the strangely slow Aprilia – with his team-mate following suit soon after. But despite the Fortuna machines doing all they could, neither could make any impact on Melandri's now 8secs lead – while Elias slipped further and further behind.
Onto the last lap and the eye catching battle was between Rolfo and Alzamora for second – as the Spaniard desperately tried to prize his way past the Italian to the cheers of the partisan crowd. The two traded positions but despite his best efforts Rolfo held a tight line into the final turn to keep his advantage at the line.
Alzamora didn't appear too disappointed though and the top Spaniard was soon waving furiously to the home crowd, after crossing the line, and having found a huge Spanish flag was soon running towards the packed grandstands.
But it was Melandri who cruised to his ninth GP victory of the year with a dominating performance in which he never looked pressured – and the Italian savoured his last 250cc GP victory by waving a flag of his own and then doing a huge burn-out in the pitlane.
Behind the top three, Randy de Puneit took fourth ahead of Locatelli (in his last 250 race before stepping down to the 125cc class with KTM) and David Checa.
“Before I came here I wanted to take pole and win to say (goodbye) to the 250cc class,” said a smiling Melandri afterwards. “But I was a little lucky because near the end my front tyre was finished and I couldn't push any more, but I had a big enough advantage by then.”
“It was a very difficult race,” said the politely spoken Rolfo after takings second. “I got closed in at the first turn but I tried really hard and I'm glad to finish the year on the podium for myself and the team. It was really nice for me to battle with Emilio and get a good result at a track I've never really gone well at.”
Rolfo team-mate Alzamora himself added:” It was an interesting fight with Rolfo – I couldn't quite get by on the last lap, but after a difficult season it's a great way to end the year on the podium. I don't know where I'll be riding next year but I'll be trying to give the Spanish fans more enjoyment.”
Full results to follow…
4. de Puniet
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