Poggiali cruises as de Puniet self-destructs
8 June 2003
250cc rookie Manuel Poggiali got his season back on track in style today at Mugello, taking a dominating victory after his only rival Randy de Puniet crashed out after losing the front of his Aprilia - twice.
Yesterday, de Puniet took the fourth pole position of his 250cc career after an intense battle with championship leader Poggiali.
The Aprilia pair enjoyed an intriguing duel throughout the session, setting some scintillating lap times that set them apart from the rest of the quarter-litre field.
Fonsi Nieto was third quickest but his best time was over a second slower than De Puniet's pole record 1min 53.586secs - with Poggiali 0.246 seconds behind the Frenchman.
Franco Battaini completes an all-Aprilia front row, whilst Toni Elias will start from fifth place after failing to improve his time from yesterday. Elias is joined on the second row by Honda pair Roberto Rolfo and Sebastian Porto and French Aprilia rider Sylvain Guintoli.
Into today and as the lined up on the grid naturally expecting the 21 lap race to start at any moment – however instead of the red lights going out, flashing amber ones appeared alongside them to indicate an aborted start... and no-one had any idea why!
A 20-lap restart was immediacy announced for five minutes time, with still no obvious reason for the original delay, and the riders were left to seek shade while they waited.
The second start fortunately passed without problem and it was points leader Poggiali who used all his works Aprilia's power to out drag his rivals to lead by the mid point of the first lap, from Elias, de Puniet, Rolfo, Nieto, Battaini, Porto and Guintoli.
Poggiali's scorching early speed soon gave him a slight lead over the rest of the field, leaving de Puniet, Elias, Nieto and Rolfo battling furiously for second.
After some hectic early laps, de Puniet and Nieto settled down to second and third respectively and immediately began reeling in Poggiali, and dropped Rolfo in the process.
By lap 8, the pace of Poggiali and de Puniet was proving too much for Nieto and he began to fall away at around 0.5secs a lap. Nevertheless, the Spaniard still had a comfortable five secs gap to the fourth place battled between countrymen Rolfo and Battaini for top Italian honours, with Battaini's Campetella team-mate Guintoli stalking the pair of them.
Poggiali was still leading de Puniet by the smallest of margins five laps later when the Frenchman lost all chance of a first GP victory when he lost the front of his LCR machine midway through a long right hander. His hastily remounted and returned to action in fifth, just ahead of Rolfo.
The Italian, along with Nieto, should have been the main beneficiary of de Puniet's tumble – but the Fortuna Honda rider had himself suffered a near escape just a lap earlier when he was thrown from the seat of his silver and red machine, allowing Battaini and Guintoli through.
4 to go and de Puniet was running on red mist, carving his way quickly through the field up to third, ahead of Battaini, and fast closing on Nieto – only to fall again when the front let go, this time at a much higher speed, and although unharmed his LCR Aprilia would be going no further.
All this meant that with 2 to go Poggiali was a huge 20secs clear up front, with second placed Nieto 4secs ahead of home hero Battaini, with Rolfo and Guintoli still in contention for the final podium place.
The last lap saw Poggiali predictably cruise to victory, while Nieto held on to second - for his first podium of the year - from top Italian Battaini, delighted with his first home podium.
Rolfo finished a further second back in fourth, while double 2003 race winner Elias had a quiet day, possibly due to his heavy practice fall, and came home a downbeat sixth behind Guintoli.
16 year old Chaz Davies was rewarded with his best ever GP finish of 13th after doing double duty with GCSE exams in the run up to today's race. His reward is yet more exams tomorrow.
Full results to follow...