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Poggiali keeps perfect 250cc record

27 April 2003

Class rookie Manuel Poggiali kept his perfect 250cc record by taking his second win on his second start today in South Africa, after climbing through the pack and defending himself from a determined Alex de Angelis for the majority of the race.

Qualifying had seen Randy de Puniet take his second ever pole position, outpacing Suzuka winner Manuel Poggiali by just 0.097secs. Friday pace setter Fonsi Nieto was third, with Porto, Elias, West and Rolfo completing the top two rows.

Meanwhile further down the order, 16-year old Chaz Davies (20th on the grid), was chasing his place in history – should he finished in the top 15 today he would become the youngest ever rider to score points in 250cc Grand Prix racing.

But even before the red lights disappeared to signal the start of today's race, Alex Debon was in trouble – his bike having stalled he desperately jumped off it and began pushing it to the side of the circuit – at the very instant the lights went out.

It was questionable whether the start should have been stopped before that stage, but having narrowly avoided being run over and then bump started his machine, Debon was given a jump-start penalty! The unfortunate Italian having moved his stalled bike from its grid slot, as he dismounted from it, before the lights disappeared…

Clearly fuming about the penalty, the now flying Debon refused to come in – and was promptly black flagged a few laps later.

But having no such problems was de Puniet, who held his starting sport advantage into turn one ahead of Nieto, Elias (riding with an injured thumb after his Friday fall), Battaini, Poggiali, West, Porto and Rolfo.

Soon on the move was Battaini, who worked his way past the Repsol Aprilias and into second, by the end of lap 2. While Battaini settled in behind de Puniet, Poggiali was starting to prove that his debut class victory three weeks ago was no fluke as he worked his way up to fourth (on lap 3), then took Nieto for third a lap later, with Battaini being forced to yield to the San Marinese just two circulations after that.

Now closing quickly on de Puniet, the MS liveried rider used his factory Aprilia horsepower to glide past the Italian on lap 6 and lead the quarter litre field with exactly 20 laps of the Welkom circuit to go.

Over the next 10 laps, Poggiali failed to break de Puniet and Battaini - with the three covered by just 1secs - but they nevertheless pulled a 3secs lead over the fourth place battle between Rolfo, Nieto, West and Porto, while Elias' thumb was costing him dear as he slipped out of contention.

Moving into the final quarter of the race and the three-way fight for first became a straight Poggiali/de Puniet duel, as Battaini dropped 2secs back as the top two upped their pace to almost qualifying level.

Onto the last lap and the race was going to the wire with just 0.2secs between leader Poggiali and the chasing de Puniet, while Battaini sat in a safe third 2secs back, but 6secs clear of Porto and Rolfo, with West and Nieto dropping off.

Poggiali held firm and used his top speed advantage to good use – but de Puniet has never won a GP and wasn't going to hand the class rookie a second victory without a fight. With asphalt rapidly running out, de Angelis tried a desperate out braking manoeuvre at the end of lap hairpin, but couldn't crack 'The Pog' and was forced to sit up at the last moment to avoid contact.

That gave Poggiali some space through the final sequence of turns and the 2001 125cc World Champion duly kept his perfect 250cc record, and a 23-point championship lead over Battiani.

Further back, Chaz Davies fought back from 21st on the opening lap to take that vital – and historic - final points scoring position and his place in the GP history books. The result was hard earned with the Aprilia Germany rider closing down a 4secs deficit in the final quarter of the event.

Full results to follow...

1. Poggiali
2. de Puniet
3. Battaini
4. Porto
5. Rolfo
6. West
7. Nieto
8. Elias


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