Dani Pedrosa opened his 2003 account in style today in South Africa, putting in a pair of precise passes on Andrea Dovizioso
and race leader Youichi Ui on the very last lap to take 125cc victory.
Qualifying had seen Ui counter the late challenge of Pablo Nieto to defend his pole position, with first time front row starter Andrea Dovizioso, then Alex de Angelis, Suzuka winner Stefano Perugini, Steve Jenkner, Pedrosa and Mika Kallio
completing the top eight on today's grid.
One person in trouble even before the race began was Gabor Talmacsi, who was left to start from the pit lane with mechanical problems. Meanwhile, when the red lights went out, it was Ui who converted his pole into an early lead, from Nieto, Dovizioso, Perugini, Jenkner, de Angelis, Pedrosa, Azuma and Barbera.
But soon leaving the pack was Perugini, who abruptly sat up and signaled some form of terminal failure half way round the first lap, leaving the disappointed Italian to crawl back to the pits with little power left.
After the usual first lap shuffling the top six – Ui, Nieto, Dovizioso, Jenkner, Pedrosa and de Angelis - began to break away from the chasing field, led by battling team-mates Lucio Cecchinello and Casey Stoner.
Despite the LCR riders' efforts, the leaders pulled steadily away by around 0.5secs a lap, with the main gainer being Pedrosa, who rose up the order into third (behind Ui and Dovizioso), with half of the 24laps gone.
While Ui continued to command the field over the following laps, he was coming under increasing pressure from Dovizioso – who was looking at every way possible to pass the solid Japanese veteran, who appeared oblivious to his efforts.
Into the final and Ui began to make a break, with Jenkner, Dovizioso and Pedrosa now fighting over second, with Nieto and de Angelis still in touch. Onto the last lap and Ui had lost the small advantage he'd built up and was having to defend against Dovizioso.
Then Pedrosa made his move, diving inside Dovizioso at on turn – then taking Ui at the next! The young Spaniard hung on at the front, while Ui's attempt to retake the lead were lost as he found himself battling an increasingly determined Dovizioso.
Andrea eventually dived inside the 30 year old Japanese for second on the final turn, with Ui trying to tough it out around the outside, but running wide onto the grass on the exit of the turn – dropping him to a distraught fourth on the run to the line, as Jenkner took third.
But Pedrosa rode a masterful race, biding his time – and tyres - for most of the race before putting in some precise passes for eventually victory, and putting his championship campaign back on track.
Further back, KTM took their first GP points courtesy of reigning World Champion Arnaud Vincent finishing 12th.
Full results to follow...
6. de Angelis