Elias sends Spain wild with 250 thriller
11 May 2003
An injured Toni Elias sent the home fans wild in Jerez today, by winning the 250cc Spanish Grand Prix in a thrilling finale that saw countless lead changes on the last lap before Elias achieved the impossible and held off a hard charging Roby Rolfo.
Elias punched the air with delight - and disbelief - as he crossed the line, triggering celebrations that only happen when a Spaniard wins in Spain: Flag waving and deafening 'Toni, Toni' cheering from the masses, before he ran through the gravel trap to celebrate with the huge 'bowl' of fanatical fans, where he abided by tradition by lighting his own line of the almost military strength fireworks.
Yesterday, Randy De Puniet took pole position for the second consecutive race, and third time ver, after a hard fought battle in the hot afternoon sunshine, recovering from a crash late in the final session to snatch top spot from Manuel Poggiali on his reserve machine.
With Franco Battaini also riding strongly it had become a three way Aprilia tussle for the front spot on today's starting grid, but De Puniet's 1min 44.723secs finish was enough to edge out series leader Poggiali to second spot and hold back Battaini in third.
The final front row position went to Roberto Rolfo, who finished second here last season and is showing signs of progress on the Honda.
Whilst the injured Toni Elias was unable to improve on his time from Friday, team-mate Fonsi Nieto, who took his first GP victory here last year, did make slight progress and qualified just ahead of his fellow Spaniard in fifth place.
Sebastian Porto suffered another crash but made the outside of the second row in eighth place, just behind Australian Anthony West.
Onto today's race and Fortuna Honda rider Rolfo pleased his home sponsors by grabbing the holeshot, but it wasn't to last as Nieto barged past into turn two, but the aggressive move would cost them both as Battaini took advantage to lead the field around at the end of lap 1, from Nieto, de Puniet, Rolfo, Poggiali, Elias and West.
Pole sitter de Puniet was soon pressuring Fonsi for second, but the Spaniard was given a welcome break when Battaini bobbled on the exit of turn one, allowing the Repsol rider back into the lead. De Puniet and Poggiali would follow Nieto past the out of rhythm Italian in the following turns.
Although out front, Nieto appeared to be holding the leading pack of nine up, and soon fell victim to the fellow Aprilia of Poggiali – then De Puniet – by lap 5, with Rolfo next in line to pick off the 2002 event winner.
By lap 7 Poggiali had build up a 1.3secs lead, but de Puniet was soon reeling the San Marinese in, his sights firmly set on a first GP win. Behind the top two, the order was Rolfo, Nieto, West, Battaini, Porto and Elias.
Lap 9 and de Puniet was right on the rear wheel of the no. 54, foiling the former 125cc World Champion's chances of a runaway win, while further back Ant West was now the man on the move, overtaking Rolfo's factory Honda for third under braking at turn 1 – triggering a fightback from the Fortuna rider.
Meanwhile, early leader Battaini's race came to a premature end when he suffered mechanical problems and stopped at the side of the circuit.
10 to go and de Puniet grabbed the lead by out braking Poggiali into the final left hander, with the top three (de Puniet, Poggiali and Rolfo) now nose-to tail. But behind them the injured Elias was thrilling the massive home crowd by taking West for fourth to become top Spaniard, Nieto now having slipped back to 7th.
8 to go and Rolfo momentarily passed Poggilai for second, but as far as the Jerez fans were concerned there was only one man to watch – Elias. Despite his injured left hand, the Repsol rider was now in touch with the leading trio, sending the crowd into full 'home hero' support mode, in a race that was going right to the wire.
Four laps later and the crowd knew 'their boy' was on a charge when he took third from Rolfo at turn one for a potential podium finish… but could he challenge the top two…?
Meanwhile, de Puniet and Poggiali were still testing each other up front, Poggiali trying different lines and coolly planning his last lap attack – when all of a sudden Elias threw his machine underneath him at the final turn with just 2 to go! That wasn't supposed to happen.
Poggiali tried to retaliate several times around the next lap, but every time Elias proved braver on the brakes and incredibly took the lead from de Angelis into the last turn with just one lap to go!
With the fans on their feet and screaming support de Puniet panicked and ran wide in the early part of the lap, then Rolfo came from no-where to take second from Poggiali, but Rolfo wasn't done yet and almost rode around the outside of Elias to take the lead with less than half a lap to go.
But today, despite his injuries, second just wasn't an option for Elias and with fireworks already going off the Spaniard took the lead back with another desperately late outbraking move, and clung on through the final corners for a dream victory.
Elias punched the air with delight - and disbelief - as he crossed the line, triggering celebrations that only happen when a Spaniard wins in Spain: Flag waving and deafening 'Toni, Toni' cheering from the masses, before Elias ran through the gravel trap to celebrate with the huge 'bowl' of fanatical fans towards the end of his slow down lap, where he abided by tradition by lighting his own line of the almost military strength fireworks.
Almost forgotten amidst the party atmosphere were fellow podium finishers Rolfo and de Puniet, with Poggiali's win streak finally ending as he came home fourth
Full results to follow...
3. de Puniet